Introducing Serranía de Cuenca
Spreading north and east of Cuenca, this is a heavily wooded and fertile zone of craggy mountains, sandstone gorges and green fields. Ríos Júcar and Huécar flow through the high hinterland, through landscapes well worth exploring with your own transport.
Head out from Cuenca 30km via the CM2105 to extraordinary Ciudad Encantada. Surrounded by pine woods, limestone rocks have been eroded into fantastical shapes by nature. The shaded 40-minute circuit around the open-air rock museum is great for breaking up a car journey. It's crowded on weekends.
The CM2105 continues north via the picturesque village of Uña, the crystal-clear waters of Embalse del Tobar and past the Reserva Natural de El Hosquillo, a protected park where reintroduced brown bears roam wild. Continue to the Nacimiento del Río Cuervo, a couple of small waterfalls from which Río Cuervo rises. From here you could loop around towards Beteta and the Hoz de Beteta gorge, encircled by lofty limestone crags and ridges.
Beteta has a charming porticoed Plaza Mayor with half-timbered buildings, and a crumbly hilltop castle. Lodging options in town include a couple of casas rurales. You can return to Cuenca via the CM210, a quiet rural route that passes several traditional villages, the source of Spain's trademark blue-bottled water, Solán de Cabras (with summer spa hotel), as well as Priego, a lovely valley town that dates from Roman times and has sights including medieval churches, Roman arches and Moorish towers.
If you're heading on to Sigüenza, track northeast from Beteta to Molina de Aragón, a pretty town utterly dominated by one of Spain's most spectacular castles, built by the Moors before being embellished after falling into Christian hands. It's regrettably not open to the public except by guided tour – call the tourist office on 949 83 20 98 or email email@example.com to see if you can join a group.