April 15, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Madrid, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain

Yesterday, I found myself surrounded once again by the congregation of kitties that infest the village of Patones de Arriba. Around every turn, you will see them hiding inside a dilapidated building, beneath the overgrown thicket, or peeking at you from the top of a crumbling wall. While I’ve seen my fair share of pussycat-infested pueblos, this one certainly takes the prize.

The miniature town of Patones de Arriba cozily nests in a mountainside crevice near the northern border of the community of Madrid. It’s a slate wonderland filled with slate roads, slate houses, and, well, cats, all which perch on layers of flakey rock that jet out from the earth.

The size of the village surely wouldn’t take up more than just a few Madrid city blocks, and its peculiar placement doesn’t make for the most modern of lifestyles. As a result, most of its inhabitants (kitties excluded) have relocated to the newer (and unfortunately far less charming) city on the valley floor, aptly named Patones de Abajo (Lower Patones).

Despite not being the most ideal of homes, Patones de Arriba (Upper Patones) makes for a mighty fine getaway – for Madrileños, in particular. Only about 45 minutes north of the city, and so entirely different than any other place you’ll find in Spain, it’s just the place to go for a heavy dose of fresh air and an equally heavy lunch. However, don’t expect to see many people there, and certainly not many foreigners. So few, in fact, that yesterday the bartender at El Rincón de Patones knew just who I was. “You’ve come here before, haven’t you?” she asked. Once again, my American-ness had no one fooled.

Like the amount of cats in this town, the number of times I’ve visited Patones is countless. And no trip ever feels the same. On scorching summer days, the hillsides are crispy and dry with shrubbery, and the slate sizzling like a skillet from the unforgiving Spanish sun. When fall arrives, the fresh colors of seasons past transform into shades of amber, ruby and gold. During winter, the pueblo’s ethereal quality will give you chills as its stone walls of grey, brown and rust, sweat dew from the moisture of hovering fog. And then, on a spring (primavera in Spanish) day like yesterday, the city comes alive with tangles of green vines, fragrant blossoms, and the buzz of insects elated by the nectar of a new year (and me not so elated by the bugs).

Just as the seasons change, so does the crowd. Some days the pueblo brims with Spaniards enjoying a day out of the city to fulfill their craving for mouth-watering cordero lechal (lamb fed only milk, which, my father proclaimed as one of his top five favorite meals EVER). On other days, like yesterday apparently, you will only find me, a couple of friends and some guys donning old school military uniforms while filming a movie about deep Spain. (We are hopeful that if you look closely in the final film, you might just see three Americans swatting at flies in the background.)

Then, occasionally, there are days when there’s not a soul around. Except for the cats – herds of cats – frolicking, napping and playing in their own private slate playground.

November 10, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Travels in Spain

Yesterday was Jacob’s 34th birthday, so we decided to head out to a familiar spot – Patones de Arriba. The last time we went was probably a year and a half ago, and I had forgotten how much I loved the little city of slate.

Patones de Arriba is about 50 minutes north of Madrid and sits at the top of a long windy road that creeps its way up a large mountainside. The city is entirely made of slate – cobbley slate streets, slate bricked houses, and roofs made of….oh wait, the roofs are not slate….you would think, but no. Peculiar. Meandering through the narrow little streets filled with homeless cats transports you to another place – a place that hardly seems Spanish, or really like anything that you’ve ever seen. On the hillsides behind the town you can see the remains of what must have been a larger town – the hills are speckled with the ruins of old slate homes and the walls that surrounded them. It looks like a wonderland of history and is hard to stare at without getting lost in imagining what the town must have been like hundreds of years ago.

We first stopped for aperitivos at a modern looking Spanish bar at the mouth of the pueblo. It was called Rincon de Patones. It had yummy tapas and warm, neighborly service (Jacob and I were starting to get used to being treated as strangers after our trip to Lupiana, but this certainly wasn’t the case at this place).

Following our aperitivos, we headed up the maze of streets to another restaurant called El Abuelo Manolo where we had reserved a table for two by a window overlooking the rocky hills. I was mesmerized by the view during the entire lunch, taking breaks from day dreaming only occasionally in order to take bites of the obsession-worthy homemade croquetas, empanadas and finally my cappuccino which was truly a piece of art.

I think I enjoyed Patones de Arriba even more the second time than the first…maybe because there’s so much to discover, both in the town and on the mountains surrounding it. My mom, aunt and cousin will be coming out for Thanksgiving in two weeks, so I think I might need to return again very soon!

June 2, 2008 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travels in Spain

Well, first of all, it’s still raining here!!! I am very optimistic that this week the weather will take a turn for the better though….it has to! My week was filled with many more adventures involving me getting lost in the rain trying to get to my English classes. Now that I am at home and dry I can laugh about it :).

This week’s main excursion included a small Sunday trip to Patones de Arriba. It is a very tiny town about 45 minutes north of Madrid. The village is nestled in a valley in the mountainside and all of the small buildings and streets are composed completely out of slate. What is so fascinating is that it appears about 75% of the town exists as ruins on the hillside – you can see the walls of what seem to be many, many ancient homes, all made out of slate. We were able to hike up onto the hillside and walk among the many old homes – it was quite the historical playground. There were also beautiful views of the valley below. With all of the rain lately everything was so green and lush (it reminded me of home a bit, tear!).

As is tradition, we opted to have a meal in Patones. The small towns here in Spain are known for their amazing cuisine because they usually have speciality dishes that they have made for centuries. As a result, we love to try the food in each of the places we visit as it is very much a part of each city’s history and culture. I realize my salad probably wasn’t a cultural favorite of the locals hundreds of years ago :), but I definitely enjoyed bites of Jacob’s dish!

After our visit to Patones de Arriba we took a short drive up to the Presa de Atazar (the Dam of Atazar). I don’t think I have ever seen a lake in Spain, so this was quite a beautiful site. I posted a small album from the entire trip to Patones de Arriba in the “albums” section of this site if you are interested!

More to come next week!