It was one of my favourite books, as a kid. Luckily it is part of the Hungarian education system as a mandatory read, so this is how I had met first time with this amazing story. And later I re-read it again, it was not an obligation anymore, not for homework, just for my own pleasure. I remember my Mum as well was a big fan of this book. We even went to the theatre to watch it as a play. I simply loved it, they brought it to live as some kind of musical, it was fantastic, I still remember the refrain: “Én vagyok Don Quijote, La Mancha lovagja…” of course it was in Hungarian for us, meaning “I am Don Quijote, the Knight of La Mancha”… And yes, of course I have seen some movie remakes out of the book, and I think for a lifetime I closed this story and its heroes into my heart then.
Yes, you could have already guessed, why I´m writing about a book related to the region La Mancha, to the windmills, yes-yes, because our next destination within Vuelta a España was “La Tierra de los Gigantes”, meaning “The land of the Giants”…
We left Toledo in the morning and agreed on two stops in La Mancha: Campo de Criptana and Consuegra. These villages are not far, from Toledo we needed to drive approx. 1-1,5 hours and then suddenly even from a distance we could have seen the iconic shapes of the famous Giants… those beautiful windmills… like somehow Don Quijote could have felt…
Regardless “La Ruta de Don Quijote” is somehow a touristy path now days – and thanks to the road signs as well it´s impossible to miss the road, how to reach the windmills on the hills – the time stopped there in the villages. Besides some random tourist busses and wandering tourists around the windmills, in the villages you can meet only local people, enjoying their time and their daily conversations with the neighbours on the tiny streets, somehow without even blinking on the windmills. Yes, for them it´s given, nothing new, but for as a first-time-visitor, it´s incredibly beautiful.
La Mancha is that wide region of Spain, where the past essence seems destined to remain. That happens in Toledo, and we can see the metaphor extended to the pale green and yellow fields dotted with mills. Watermills had been used since immemorial times to grind grain, however windmills were an innovation in that area which was raised up in 16th century. It is believed that it was as a consequence of a severe drought suffered in La Mancha. So it motivated the need to change the driving force for the mills gears. Today they are clearly considered as tourist attractions, but somehow it seems that they had always been there, as a part of the stopped-in-time landscape, and the truth is that the local old men still saw them work when they were children, since some of them remained in operation until the 1950s.
They are iconic and part of La Mancha’s identity. But if they are so visited for a concrete reason that is thanks to the most famous character in Spanish literature: Don Quixote de La Mancha. In one of the best-known chapters of Cervantes’ book, Don Quixote and his faithful squire Sancho Panza delve into what were probably the agricultural extensions of Campo de Criptana and Consuegra, where historiography has detected a large concentration of mills in the moment when Don Quixote was written.
The character of Don Quixote is a metaphor of a past time, written in 1606, in the midst of the transition from the Renaissance to the modern age, by the time the Middle Ages had ended. Spanish Empire was in full expansion and the peninsula lived a peaceful period, far from all the constant small wars of those medieval knights that Don Quixote’s himself used to read in his home as an impoverished and nostalgic hidalgo. Don Quixote, maddened by such fables of loot, fame and great feats, decides to go on an adventure in a real world that has changed, where there was no dangers and adventures that he reads in his books of chivalry adventures. He was accompanied by an illiterate man, much more practical and modern though, adapted to his time, Sancho Panza, who, under promise of financial gain, was convinced to join Don Quixote.
And when arriving at an area of mills, these new innovative structures, never seen by an ancient medieval knight, but which didn’t skip the knowledge of an illiterate peasant of the time, Don Quixote thinks he saw menacing giants to fight with. Meanwhile, Sancho warns him that such giants did not exist and that in front of him there were simply mills.
We were aware of being hunting some myth into the past time walking along present tense villages. Consuegra and Campo de Criptana have been developed a lot out of that asset. In Campo de Criptana you can find traditional streets painted in with and blue and inside a windmill a cute museum dedicated to the most famous local woman: Sara Montiel, who became a very important Spanish actress, singer and icon during the 60`s and 70´s.
Indeed there is much more than “molinos” there. You can catch up with authentic rural life into the real countryside inner Spain, where it’s worth to stay for a couple of nights getting lost on the old well-maintained streets.
There are some nice places to eat and stay but I definetly recommend the views to Campo de Criptana from the terrace of Restaurante Las Musas. From there, you can choose what atmosphere you prefer, to watch the village from the top or to take a look to literature’s history again.
La Mancha mills became by the hand of Cervantes one of the most complete allegories ever written, on the cropping land of an emerging Spain, the world’s leading power at that moment, a nation which was hesitating, as it continues to debate even today, between its future and past, between its brightness and darkness, between its enormous capacities and its internal weaknesses, which almost always consist in fighting with itself.
“Destiny guides our fortunes more favorably than we could have expected. Look there, Sancho Panza, my friend, and see those thirty or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle and kill each and all of them, so with their stolen booty we can begin to enrich ourselves. This is nobel, righteous warfare, for it is wonderfully useful to God to have such an evil race wiped from the face of the earth.”
“What giants?” Asked Sancho Panza.
“The ones you can see over there,” answered his master, “with the huge arms, some of which are very nearly two leagues long.”
“Now look, your grace,” said Sancho, “what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.”
“Obviously,” replied Don Quijote, “you don’t know much about adventures.”
Miguel de Cervantes