Castile La Mancha (Toledo)
Castile-La Mancha, located in the middle of the Iberian Peninsula, is the third-largest region in Spain, surpassed only by Andalucia and Castilla y Leon. Toledo, the region’s capital, and the village of Cuenca are both UNESCO World Heritage sites.
This is Spain’s most mountainous region, with some 70% of its terrain sitting more than 600 meters above sea level. The arid plains of La Mancha, which lie at the center of the region, inspired Miguel de Cervantes – known as the Spanish Shakespeare – to write “Don Quixote.”
“La Mancha” derives from the Arabic term for “no water.” This, coupled with the fact that a number of well-preserved castles remain in the area, gives the region its romantic-sounding name. Castile-La Mancha is particularly associated with sheep, and shepherds have been driving their flocks across the plains of La Mancha, and producing a cheese that’s similar to the Manchego the region is known for today, for 4,000 years. Sheep were so important to the economy of Castile-La Mancha, in fact, that from the time of Don Quixote in the late 16th century to the middle of the 19th century, everything to do with sheep husbandry was controlled by the government.
Castile-La Mancha has played a major part in the history of Spain. Many of the most important battles between the Moors and the Christians were fought on La Mancha’s plains. Between 1085 and 1212, successive Kings of Castile re-conquered the region. In 1492, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile united the two kingdoms, forming the basis of modern Spain.
The Festival of the Bewitched in Cuenca is one of the most colorful – and noisy – traditions in Castile-La Mancha. Men and boys dress as devils, attach cow bells to their backs and dance through the streets alongside floats bearing images of Saint Blaise and the Virgin of Candlemas.
The Caballada, a procession on horseback following the route taken by 12th-century mule train drovers across the region, dramatizes the rescue of the boy King Alfonso VIII from the clutches of his wicked uncle in the middle of the 12th century.
While modern Spain is divided on the contentious issue of bullfighting, Castile-La Mancha is passionate about the ancient tradition. Live bullfights (corridas) are broadcast regularly on regional television and radio, although they are no longer shown on national television.
Moving to Castile-La Mancha
The population of Castile-La Mancha is 2.1 million. Of these, 230,000 – around 11% – come from outside Spain. Almost half of the immigrants to the region are Romanian, and around one-third originate from other parts of Europe. There is also a significant North African and South American presence in some parts of the region.
Property prices here are lower than almost anywhere in Spain, with average prices 53% less than the national average. The region has seen a dramatic decline in prices since 2006, when property prices were around 30% below the national average. The recession has hit Castile-La Mancha harder than many regions in Spain.
Its low population density makes it an ideal spot for people who like big open spaces, while those who prefer town or city life have more than 900 municipalities to choose from, including the popular cities of Albacete and Toledo.
The climate in Castile-La Mancha is typical of the Mediterranean dry regions, although there can be some staggering variations in temperature extremes. Since 2001, recorded extremes have shown 41 degrees centigrade in summer and -24 degrees in winter. As in many areas of Spain, rainfall is low. The official language of the region is Castilian Spanish.
Castile-La Mancha has an excellent transport network, with around 2,800 kilometres of motorways. A regional plan is aimed at ensuring that all municipalities with more than 10,000 inhabitants are within 15 km of a major motorway, which will provide 96% of the population with easy access to major transport networks.
The region is also well served by rail connections, with 670 kilometres of AVE (high speed) lines. Castile-La Mancha has two airports, at Ciudad Real and Albacete. Madrid airport is also convenient for some areas of the region.
Working in Castile-La Mancha
Despite its central location and excellent communications network, Castile La-Mancha is a depressed economic area. The construction industry has almost ground to a halt, and while there are some foreign companies in the region, none of the major multinationals are active there.
That said, things could improve in the future. The regional government has implemented a plan to link every municipality to a motorway, and there are various incentives and aid programs designed to attract employment providers to the region.
Castile-La Mancha is the home of Manchego cheese, which is enjoying a rise in popularity across Europe. Some of Spain’s largest cheese factories are located in the region, offering a variety of job opportunities. There are positions available in the service industries, and agriculture is thriving. As a result, workers are moving away from industry and into agriculture.
Living in Castile-La Mancha
The people of Castile-La Mancha are hard-working and family oriented, with traditional moral values. They are warm and welcoming to newcomers, especially those who try to fit in with local life and culture.
The food of Castile-La Mancha is as varied as the landscape. Much of the local gastronomy is derived from the days when shepherds drove their sheep across the plains of La Mancha, and lived off the land. Gazpachos de pastor – a one-pot meal of chicken, rabbit and vegetables – is very popular, as is pisto, a type of vegetable stew. Roast lamb and kid also figure strongly in the cuisine. Much of the food is flavored with locally grown saffron, a legacy from the days of Moorish domination.
The Castilians have a sweet tooth, and desserts are very popular, often made with local honey and marzipan from recipes dating to the time of the Moors. Toledo olives, Manchego cheese and Valdepenas wines are the signature foods of Castile-La Mancha.
The terrain of the region makes it ideal for outdoor pursuits such as hunting, fishing and horseback riding. The quality of life is high, the pace is tranquil and the cost of living is one of the lowest in Spain. For those considering the move to Spain, Castile-La Mancha offers many positives and few negatives.
Top 5 Sights
1) The capital city of Toledo.
2) The “hanging houses,” 15th-century residences perched precariously on cliffs, in Cuenca.
3) The 10th-century city walls and bridges of Guadalajara.
4) The route of Don Quixote.
5) The medieval town of Siguenza.