If you’re looking to take a unique day trip this weekend, Patones de Arriba is an opportunity to travel back to another time without ever leaving the Madrid Community. A bit more than an hour away, it’s a quaint, quiet village on a hillside that seems in some ways not to have changed for centuries.
The history of Patones de Arriba is unique. Nobody really knows how old it is, but according to legend, the town is more than a thousand years old. Archaeological evidence suggests it’s even older.
Locals say that the first settlers arrived to the area during the advance of the Moors across Castile in the 8th century. Fleeing from the banks of the Jarama River to the nearby hills, they were able to keep their traditions during the many centuries of Muslim rule. And supposedly, the town remained independent for the rest of the following millennium.
They set up their own monarchy, and everything went smoothly under the leadership of El Rey de Patones.
The King’s loyal subjects consisted of only a few dozen families, who mostly lived on agriculture and goatherding, so the town wasn’t very prosperous. An account from the 18th century says that the King himself could sometimes be seen dressed in his goatherd’s clothing or selling bundles of firewood in the nearby towns of Uceda and Torrelaguna.
It is also said that Patones was the only village in Spain to remain independent when the French conquered Spain under Napoleon. Did the French troops simply not know of its existence? Perhaps.
In any case, there is very little that we can know for sure, because–also according to legend–the town was governed throughout its entire history without ever writing anything down!
The laws were all carried around in the people’s heads, and conflicts were resolved by sitting down with the King and talking things over. The archives in Uceda, which could potentially have contained some information about life in Patones, were burned during the Civil War. So we’ll probably never know.
In any case, Patones de Arriba is Madrid’s best example of la arquitectura negra, an old style of architecture in which the buildings were built of slate, and have a typically dark, primitive look. Up the hill from the town are several ruins of old buildings, and there are several hiking routes in in the surrounding areas.
After the Civil War, a second (much uglier) town called Patones de Abajo was formed a couple kilometers down the hill. That’s where the city hall is and where the bus stops.
Today, Patones de Arriba is mostly bars, restaurants, and shops selling local artisan products: honey, candles and sausages. Since it’s well off the beaten path, prices are refreshingly cheap. You can eat a menú del día and have a few beers for around 20 euros a person.
Nearby is la Cueva del Reguerillo, the most important cave in the Madrid Community both for scientists and for climbers and spelunkers. Unfortunately, years of misuse led to the authorities closing the cave to the public. There are plans to reopen it someday, but for the time being it’s off limits. There are also some place to go rock climbing.
If you have a car, you’ll have to park just outside town. On weekends it’s pretty crowded. It’s also possible to arrive by bus from Plaza Castilla. Take bus 197, the trip takes an hour and a quarter. There are only two or three buses a day, so be careful! Plan your trip so you don’t end up having to spend the night. From the bus stop at Patones de Abajo, you have to walk a couple of kilometers up to Patones de Arriba. Follow the signs… it’s all uphill! The pedestrian path goes straight up and is much shorter.
What other unique day trips can you take in Madrid? Tell us about your favorites in the comments!
Daniel Welsch is a teacher and author who moved to Madrid at a ridiculoulsly young age. Now, he's not as young as he used to be. He writes a blog for ESL students at madridingles.es and books which are available on Amazon and many other places online. Check out his personal blog at The Chorizo Chronicles.
Image Credits: repor 1