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A night on the town in Valencia de Don Juan

Sometimes you can’t face another famous city centre, cathedral, or castle.

We hit peak culture late yesterday afternoon in the deliciously named Spanish town of Valencia de Don Juan.

We are making our way through northern Spain, to the south of France where we will spend a family Easter just outside Nice.

We had already ditched plans to explore Bilbao, and specifically the Guggenheim.

We have seen a lot of great art in the last few months and doubtless will see more, but not this week. We still have to fully process the stuff we have seen.

So we are taking the small town route to Nice, which frankly I prefer.

But as we turned the corner into Valencia de Don Juan, there in front of us was a huge, very well preserved medieval castle.

“You didn’t tell me it had a castle,” I wailed.

“I didn’t know,” responded Nigel. “I only checked for camperstops”.

“Well, let’s not visit it,” I muttered.

After parking at the camperstop on the edge of town – a designated place for motorhomes, complete with fresh water and dirty water dump, all free – we set off to explore Valencia de Don Juan.

Wikipedia didn’t tell us much about it, save that in 2013 its population was 5,199 and it was named after its first lord and duke, Infante John of Portugal. Disappointingly not the other Don Juan.

There wasn’t much to see if you skipped the castle. The town is surrounded by farms and peppered with food processing warehouses.

Many of the homes had been built in recent years, so are functional but dull, and the main square is well, a rectangle with a small playground and some park benches.

But I did spot a sign to the Plaza de Toros, so we set off in hunt for the bullring.

Bullfighting is still a big deal in Spain, with thousands cheering on the matadors each week during the season, which runs from March to October. I really wanted to see the building, if not the blood sport.

The Valencia De Don Juan bullring, pretty in pink, was built in 1924, and is clearly still a very popular venue with a full programme for the season on display.

Luckily for us, the next spectacle was not for a few days, so we didn’t face a moral dilemma.

Would we have gone if there had been one on last night?

We decided yes, because bullfights are so much part of Spanish culture, but that we would have left as soon as it got bloody.

We then enjoyed a much more pleasant aspect of Spanish life. We stopped off at the Rosa café in the main square, where five older ladies, and one bloke were enjoying a noisy game of cards.

Another group of pensioners sipped coffee and nibbled cake while gossiping, and an elderly man sat at the bar passing the time of day with the barmaid.

I am so used to coffee shops full of young mothers and students, and bars full of shrieking lads and lassies, that it was quite a shock to be in the company of older people enjoying themselves in a bar, and not banished to the back room of a community centre.

Then I realised that I was rapidly becoming one of those older ladies, which is probably why, after only one small glass of local red wine (1.5 euros a glass), we headed home for an early supper and bed.

And no, we didn’t visit the castle.

  • Corrida de toros (the running of the bull) is an important part of Spain’s culture, stretching back to 711 AD. Read about the national debate on its future here
  • If you’re interested in the Castilla de Valencia de Don Juan, you can read about it here
  • And here’s some everything you need to know about the Guggenheim Bilbao

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