Feature photo The Plaza Mayor Madrid Source CCL
Spain, rich in beauty, culture, and history, has always been one of the top choices for travelers. Catalonia took the lead in 2016 statistics with 17,989 international visitors, followed by the Canary Islands with 13,298. There is so much to see and do, whatever the season, whatever your tastes. But why not make the trip with a twist? Miguel de Cervantes, known as the author of Don Quixote, also wrote a collection of stories called Novelas Ejemplares, or The Exemplary Novels, published in 1613 and consisting of two series differentiated by their underlying themes: idealism and realism. Most of these novellas are set in Spain, drawing upon existing locations and historical context, which makes them a good source of tourist inspiration. So pack your bag, form a sound plan, and follow in the thematic footsteps of Cervantes. Don’t forget the book!
Monuments – Madrid
The Plaza Mayor is a prominent feature of Madrid, shown in The Illustrious Scullery-Maid among other praised destinations. The Plaza, originally built in 1619 upon Juan Gómez de Mora’s design, carries considerable historical, cultural and artistic significance in its architecture, frescoes and expansive locale. Additional structures to feast your eyes on are the Baroque Churches dotting the city in as much artistic grandeur as most other 17th and 18th century Spanish monuments. Any indulgence in art, architecture, and religion, whether in Madrid or elsewhere, would be true to the concepts that lace the Novelas Ejemplares.
Education – Salamanca
Further food for thought can be discovered in Salamanca, specifically at its University – which Cervantes repeatedly pays tribute to. The Licentiate Vidriera briefly focuses on the study of law, an important department of the institution. It was Francisco de Vitoria, elected chair of Theology in 1526, who challenged the morality of colonization during the occupation of the Americas, contributing to the development of human rights and international law. Tours are readily available to introduce you to Salamanca, both contemporary and old, its historical monuments and institutions as welcoming as its nightlife.
History – Toledo
There is more to be learned about Spain through cultural exploration. Flanders and its martial context is occasionally spoken of in Cervantes’s novellas, like The Lady Cornelia and The Deceitful Marriage. The Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648) is what this refers to, the conflict over the independence of the Netherlands. The Spanish military and naval history is a fascinating topic that should not be overlooked. A military castle and museum, the Manzanares el Real, is situated about 50 minutes from the capital, but Toledo’s Army Museum is also worth a visit for its vast collection of artifacts and memories from the 19th century until today.
Song and Dance – Seville
After so much intellectual stimulation, Seville, the birthplace of flamenco, would be the place to really let your hair down. It appears often in the stories, but it is in The Little Gypsy Girl that the festival of Santa Ana and its revels are introduced, an event that still takes place in the last week of July. In celebration of the Triana district’s patron saint, the event offers a great range of experiences from flamenco dancing and food to strange but hilarious games, like “la Cucaña”. This takes place on a riverboat where one must walk the length of a greasy pole with two possible destinations: a prize-winning flag on the end or the water below. This being one of the several festivals in the city, it could not be easier to dive into the spirit of the Spanish fiesta, while practicing the language at the same time. Mingling with locals is indeed a good way to learn a second language, as recommended by The Fairytale Traveller.
Blackjack – Seville
Another element found in at least two of the novellas, The Illustrious Scullery-Maid and Rinconete and Cortadillo, is that of gambling. In the latter, for example, a character mentions “vingt-et-un”, otherwise known as blackjack. According to online sources, this is the first written account of the game in history, although it seems to have been more of a variant. The historical link between Cervantes and card-playing is highly valued in Seville with collectibles, like these custom-illustrated Don Quixote-themed card sets produced by Graphic Art News, selling for robust prices. Today, the city has a lively casino scene where the game can be played, including luxurious casino hotels such as the Palacio Villapanes.
Leisure – Zahara
Your final stop could be the fishing town of Zahara de Los Atunes, one of the other places included in The Illustrious Scullery-Maid. It is still highly regarded for its busy and gastronomically adept restaurants and bars that do little to dampen its calming beach-side atmosphere, but which also offers various forms of entertainment, including sea sports and an outdoor cinema. The trip can happily wind down here before heading back to Seville for a flight home.
Unless the charms of Cervantes and Spain have provided you with a new one.