The Don Quixote trail: following in the footsteps of one of the greatest novels of all time
We're not exaggerating when we claim that Don Quixote of La Mancha is one of the most famous novels in the history of literature. This novel, which tells the adventures and especially the misfortunes of a man who wanted to be a knight-errant in the land of La Mancha, was written by Miguel de Cervantes in the 17th century, and is among the world’s most translated tales. That period in Spanish literature is known as the Golden Age, and 400 years on we suggest following in the footsteps of the "Knight of the Sad Countenance", who could not distinguish fantasy from reality.
Get ready, because you'll have to fight giants that are actually windmills, try to win Dulcinea's heart, and taste dishes like "duelos y quebrantos" (scrambled eggs with chorizo). Because it's not just a literary route – it's a journey through some of the most magical spots in Spain. The route we're suggesting is best done by car: it crosses 13 inland towns and lasts around seven days. But it's up to you to create that story. You choose the main characters and the length. The main plot is taken from what is possibly the greatest book of all time.
- 1 Day 1: Alcalá de Henares
- 2 Day 2: Madrid
- 3 Day 3: Esquivias – Toledo
- 4 Day 4: Consuegra – Alcázar de San Juan
- 5 Day 5: Campo de Criptana – El Toboso
- 6 Day 6: Argamasilla de Alba – Ossa de Montiel – Villanueva de los Infantes
- 7 Day 7: Ciudad Real – Almagro
Day 1: Alcalá de Henares
The most obvious place to start our journey is Alcalá de Henares. Why? Because this town in the Region of Madrid is a World Heritage City and Cervantes' birthplace. That is, where it all began. You can start your visit on Calle Mayor, leading into a charming square, Plaza de Cervantes (you’ll see the curious old theatre space, the Corral de Comedias) and from there, on to the famous University.
Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes. Comunidad de Madrid.
Next comes the main attraction, the Cervantes Birthplace House-Museum, a reconstruction of the house where the writer is believed to have been born and spent his childhood. You'll feel as if you're travelling back to the 16th and 17th centuries when you see this typical old house, with its kitchen, dining room, ladies' room and even a surgeon's office (the profession of Cervantes' father). You might also be able to attend one of the workshops or see one of the shows organised by this centre. By the way, the two statues at the entrance are the story's two main characters: Don Quixote and his squire, Sancho Panza. Fancy taking a selfie with them?After this special visit you can explore other sites in Alcalá, like the Cathedral and get your strength back by going out for tapas - order a drink here and you'll also get a delicious traditional tapa (included in the price). Then you can stay the night in Alcalá or travel to Madrid, which is 30 kilometres away.
Day 2: Madrid
If you decide to spend the night in Madrid, you can start exploring the city early in the morning. Here it depends what you prefer to do and how much time you have, because Madrid is Spain's largest city (and the capital), and you could easily spend a whole week here!
But if you don’t have that much time, and you want to choose an iconic location associated with Cervantes in Madrid, there is one: the church and convent of Las Trinitarias Descalzas (Calle Lope de Vega, 18). The evidence suggests this might be the place where Cervantes and his wife are buried, so you can visit the funerary monument that has been erected in his honour, and read a plaque that includes an excerpt from one of the author's works: "Time is brief, anxieties grow,/ hopes diminish/ and despite all this,/ I conduct my life with my desire/ to live."There are plenty of other places associated with Cervantes in Madrid, such as Casa Alberto, a tavern in the building where Cervantes wrote The Travails of Persiles and Sigismunda and the second part of Don Quixote; the Sociedad Cervantina, located where the first edition of Don Quixote was printed in 1605; the National Library, which preserves a copy of the first edition of Don Quixote; and Plaza de España, with statues of the writer and his characters.
Day 3: Esquivias – Toledo
Then we travel 40 kilometres to Esquivias (in the province of Toledo) for a brief stop. It's worth stopping because Cervantes' wife was born here, they got married here in 1584 and they lived in the town for a while in the so-called "Cervantes' house". Nowadays this house is a museum, which you can visit.
Just half an hour’s drive from Madrid is the city of Toledo, an impressive World Heritage city, known as the city of three cultures because it is home to a stunning cathedral, mosques such as Cristo de la Luz and synagogues like El Tránsito (next to the interesting Sephardic Museum). This city is a place not to be missed. For a stunning view of the city, we suggest visiting the Mirador del Valle viewpoint.
Day 4: Consuegra (Toledo) – Alcázar de San Juan (Ciudad Real)
Our next stop is 60 kilometres from Toledo: Consuegra. And as you approach the town, you'll be surprised to spot the famous windmills on the horizon. Or are they giants you need to fight, as Don Quixote thought in his madness? You'll have to come and see for yourself.
We can assure you that you'll love climbing to the top of the hill and taking in all the different colours, the endless plain and these twelve windmills, which are some of the best preserved in Spain. They all have nicknames linked to Don Quixote, but one of the most important ones is "Sancho", because it still has all the 16th century machinery. If you want to see inside one, the “Bolero” mill is always open for visitors. In Consuegra, take the opportunity to try one of the traditional dishes of La Mancha, like gachas, migas, or duelos y quebrantos.About 30 minutes away by car we find Alcázar de San Juan. Cervantes was named this town's favourite son, and they claim that he was baptised here (in the church of Santa María la Mayor). You'll love the windmills (don't miss the sunset from here) and its streets steeped in history, where you can imagine how the old noblemen lived. You can also visit the Hidalgo House Museum and the Cervantes Visitor Centre.
Day 5: Campo de Criptana (Ciudad Real) – El Toboso (Toledo)
Day five takes us to Campo de Criptana (less than 10 kilometres away), which is also a "land of giants" because here you'll find its famous windmills, which apparently are the ones that truly inspired Cervantes when writing Don Quixote's adventures. There are guided tours all year round. You should recover your strength at lunch because afterwards we'll be off looking for love, and that's never an easy task! "Dulcinea del Toboso is the fairest woman in the world, and I the most unfortunate knight on earth; it is not fitting that this truth should suffer by my feebleness." This is how Don Quixote talks about his eternal love, the myth that he created: Dulcinea del Toboso.
El Toboso really exists (20 minutes by car from Campo de Criptana) and you can even visit the Dulcinea House-Museum which recreates a typical 16th-century house of the region. Tradition has it that this house belonged to Ana Martínez Zarco de Morales ("Sweet Ana"), who inspired Cervantes to create Dulcinea. In Plaza Mayor you'll find a monument that El Toboso dedicated to Dulcinea and her admirer. You can also discover the Cervantes Museum which has numerous editions of his work in up to 70 different languages and many signed by international political and cultural figures.
Day 6: Argamasilla de Alba (Ciudad Real) – Ossa de Montiel (Albacete) – Villanueva de los Infantes (Ciudad Real)
50 kilometres away we find Argamasilla de Alba, where Medrano's house is a must. That's because the Medrano Cave, where Cervantes was held prisoner, can be found here. Legend has it that he started to write the adventures of Don Quixote here. Can you imagine being in the famous village of La Mancha, the name that the narrator of Don Quixote had no desire to call to mind? There are many, however, who claim that this village in the book is in fact Villanueva de los Infantes.
We continue our journey towards Ossa de Montiel (another 50 kilometres) because it is close to two landscapes with special significance in the adventures of Don Quixote: the magic cave of Montesinos (where he descended through time) and the ruins of the Castle of Rochafrida. Bear in mind that if you want to visit the cave you will need to book in advance with an authorised company, so get information from a tourist office beforehand.To make the most of this day, travel to Villanueva de los Infantes (where you can find the house of Don Diego de Miranda, who according to tradition was the Knight of the Green Coat, whose great deeds were mentioned so often by Don Quixote), or the Lagunas de Ruidera Natural Park, some of the most beautiful wetlands in Spain, and spend the night in Ciudad Real.
Day 7: Ciudad Real – Almagro (Ciudad Real)
A place that cannot be missed on this route is Don Quixote Museum in Ciudad Real. Here you can see interesting reproductions of the characters "talking" to each other.In the afternoon you can head towards Almagro (only half an hour away by car). It is one of the most charming towns in Spain. Its Plaza Mayor is absolutely beautiful. In this square you can visit the Corral de Comedias theatre which dates from the 17th century (even better if you go on a dramatised visit). And if you are thinking of staying on a few more days, you might want to visit the National Theatre Museum.And this is the end of this route that will enable you to find out more about the figure of Don Quixote and the man who brought him to life. We are sure that it has been worth it because "he who reads much and travels much sees and knows a great deal".
Tips and interesting facts
- There is a sightseeing train called Tren de Cervantes between Madrid and Alcalá de Henares. It's lots of fun, especially if you are travelling with the family, because there are actors who provide entertainment and give out traditional sweets. It runs from May to December, except for August.
- There are several dates on which Cervantes-related activities take place. For example, Cervantes Week is held in Alcalá de Henares in early October, and World Book Day is celebrated all over Spain on 23 April.
- As well as the places we suggest, you can visit other very interesting places on your journey. For example, the beautiful Las Tablas de Daimiel National Park (close to Ciudad Real), or the fascinating Carranque Archaeological Park (not too far from Esquivias).
- We recommend visiting one of the wineries and cheese shops on this route. You can purchase the world-famous Manchego cheese. It's truly delicious! Another typical product of the area is saffron.
- If you're looking for a souvenir to take back to your friends (so you can make them jealous because you had such a good time), you should know that pottery is typical in this area. You can also buy all kinds of swords in Toledo (even replicas of swords from The Lord of the Rings).
- There are more Cervantes museums in other parts of Spain, like the Cervantes House-Museum in Valladolid, and longer routes throughout the region of La Mancha.
- Writer Pedro Salinas suggested calling Alonso Quijano (Don Quixote) the "patron saint of readers".
- In 2002, a group of 100 writers from 54 countries named this book the best work of fiction in history.
- It is said that the former Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurión, learnt Spanish in order to be able to read the original version of this book.
Although all the towns on this route are linked by bus or train, it's perfect for driving in the car or even in a motor home. If you're coming in your own vehicle, you don't need to worry about transport. But if you're coming from further afield, it's best to fly to Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport and consider hiring a car there.