Alcalá de Henares, which means citadel on the Henares river, is a town thirty minutes outside of Madrid by train. Famous Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, who wrote Don Quixote has brought this town fame for being his birth town (though he grew up elsewhere). On an recent visit to Madrid to visit my dear friend Angelica, we decided to trade in the hectic-ness of Madrid for an afternoon in a medieval town. We braved overcast skies and visited this quaint town on a Saturday afternoon. I quickly scoured a few Spanish expat blogs before we headed to Atocha train station to take a cercania (local trains) and learned Alcalá de Henares is also famous for serving free tapas with every drink you order. Score. This town is like Ameria province with a menu of tapas you can choose from with every drink you order. Who knew
We arrived at 4 in the afternoon and let our senses guide us to the center of town. We didn’t bother bringing a map, though in hindsight we had one in the guidebook, nor ask anyone. Alcala is a small town and rather easy to find your way. We noticed Arab influence within minutes of arriving from when the Moors arrived in 711. It’s not only the region of Andalucia that has the beautiful Arab architecture.
We snapped pictures of the town as we made our way to the center…
...but with food always on my mind, I was worried most of the tapas bars kitchens would be closed before we would have a chance to sample Alcala’s tapas. Spain has strict eating and kitchen hours and being a food lover, I’ve learned if you don’t want to settle for a Doner Kebab or McDonald’s, you have to make food a priority with your plans to ensure you don’t arrive hungry to a closed restaurant.
We ran into the first bar we saw, Indalo, and I recognized the name from the blogs and a guidebook, both giving this place a worthy mention. “This place must be good, I keep hearing about it,” I thought. As we sat down, I asked the waiter if the kitchen was still open and seemed surprised by the question and told him our drink orders. We looked over the menus with photos of over 40 tapas and you know what? I wasn’t impressed and only a few sounded appetizing. Maybe it’s because I lived in the land of free tapas last year, I had my fill of mediocre and excellent tapas. But when my tapa of croquetas arrived lukewarm, my suspicions were confirmed and I wondered why Indalo seems to be the place to be. Neither of us thought highly of the food but we’re happy to hear kitchens in Alcalá don’t close after the afternoon lunch hour, like most places in Spain do.
But with our late start and daylight savings time not on our side, and our tummies upset from eating too much salty and unhealthy food for 3 days in a row, we opted to explore the town rather than the insides of tapas bars.
We made our way to the Cervantes plaza. No one is sure of the exact place Cervantes was born but many people believe he was born where his statue stands in Cervantes plaza.
Alcala is a university town and has famous resident white storks who have made many of the tall buildings their home. The storks are a symbol of the university.
With the Henares river nearby, the storks have plenty of food and wildlife available to them to make Alcalá de Henares a perfect place to live.
Though we weren’t hungry, we decided to sample the custardy, meringue flaky, desert, Costrada. Tasty but very sugary. Our mouths enjoyed Costrada but our tummies weren’t happy with our decision.
Having a conversation with Cervantes
Angelica and I hanging out with our friend, Cervantes
Have you been to Alcalá de Henares? Have you been to an author’s town/city? If so, Where and What did you think?