Perched on a hill, overlooking the Tagus River, lies the atmospheric, historic town of Toledo. Toledo boasts a splendid amount of architecture, dating back centuries and spanning various cultures who once called this famous town theirs. Romans and Visigoths preceded the peaceful period when Moors, Jews, and Christians cohabitated. Under Moorish rule, Jews had what is considered “a golden age” and participated in public life. In 1492, with the unification of Aragon and Castille’s kingdoms and the final victorious reconquest against the Moors in Granada, Spain was formed, and Christianity was made law. Under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel, it was decreed that Jews either leave or convert. Christened Jews, called “Conversos,” were forced to practice their faith in private or be treated as heretics. Toledo reflects its multicultural past in its foods and its architecture.
Today, Toledo is a delightful town, whose “Casco Viejo” is small enough to discover on foot. Visitors to the old town are rewarded dramatic views over the river, into the geometric fields of Castilla-La Mancha.
Gastronomy & Wine
Toledo is known for its sweet tooth and quality game like venison, partridge, and wild boar. Typical dishes include “Cuchifrito” (made with lamb, tomatoes, eggs, white wine, and Saffron), and “Pisto Manchego” (a classic cold dish from the region of La Mancha, made with tomatoes, onions, Olive Oil, eggplant, and zucchini). Plenty of Artisan cheeses are made in the area, along with the world-famous “Marzipan” treats.
The most important winery in the area of Toledo belongs to the famed Marqués de Grinóñ, Carlos Falcó, called Finca Dominio de Valdepusa. The winery is a former hunting lodge. Falcó studied agricultural engineering at Louvain in Belgium and enology at the University of California Davis. Upon return to Spain in 1973, he was the first Spanish winemaker in the area to experiment with the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. Toledo doesn’t have a “Denomination of Origin,” Spain’s appellation system, and Falcó had the freedom to experiment with grape varietals that were prohibited in the DO. Throughout the last 20 years, Falcó has consulted with the wine world’s most revered experts, including Bordeaux oenologist Emile Peynaud and Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm. The wines have won prizes worldwide and are widely acclaimed. Today, his wines fall under the category “Vinos de Mesa de Toledo,” theoretically table wine, but fetching “Reserva” prices.
Best wines include Marqués de Grinóñ Cabernet Sauvignon, Marqués de Grinóñ Emeritvs (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Syrah, aged in oak for 13 months) and the wonderful Marqués de Grinóñ Petit Verdot. Another brand under his control is “Durius,” and extremely quaffable, good value red and white. The white is made with Verdejo and Viura grapes sourced in the white wine DO of Rueda, and the red wine is made with “Tinto Fino” (Tempranillo) from the DOs of Ribera Del Duero and Toro.
Toledo’s cathedral is the most beautiful example of Gothic style in Spain, after Burgos (which is the second most prominent Gothic cathedral in Europe after Cologne). Construction began in 1227 and lasted for 3 centuries. It was built on top of a Mosque, which had been built on top of a Visigoth cathedral. In fact, a “Mozarabic mass” is still held here by papal permission. The cathedral dominates the skyline, with its Gothic tower and flying buttresses. The interior is a blend of various styles, from Gothic to Baroque, to Mudéjar. Paintings from many masters, including El Greco, Titian, Van Dyck, and Goya, grace the walls.
Alcázar in Spanish translates as “Fortified Palace,” and Toledo’s Alcázar was indeed the former military residence of Charles V. It stands on the same site of former Roman, Visigoth and Moorish fortresses. The Alcázar structure has been battered and abused throughout history, and in fact, was almost burned to the ground in the middle of fierce fighting during the Spanish Civil War. It now houses the Army Museum and is the second most prominent structure in the Toledo skyline.
Deceptively modest from the outside, this lovely synagogue dating back to the 1300s boasts delicate Mudéjar arches and Moorish geometric friezes. It’s a small gem in the old town and contains a fascinating museum dedicated to Sephardi culture. The Sephardic were the Spanish Jews, expelled in 1492. Amazingly, today, the scattered Sephardi communities still speak “Ladino,” a hybrid of medieval Spanish and Hebrew.
Called “The Moor’s workshop,” it is actually a Mudéjar palace housing a Tile and Ceramics Museum. It was used as a workshop during the 1300s by the workers and craftsmen building the cathedral.
Most famous for it’s El Greco masterpiece painting “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz,” this church dates to the 12th century (although most of what still stands are from the 14th). The most beautiful aspect of the church is its gorgeous Mudéjar Tower.