Last tango in Toledo

Moors, Mozarabs, `Mudejars' and Moriscos ... all have contributed to Toledo's turbulent past - as well as its colourful present.

Just run that past me again. The Visigoths were overthrown by the Moors in the fifth century. The Christians took over in 1085, but lived alongside the Jews and Muslims in an atmosphere of religious tolerance. Fine, I've got that. What's next? Well, the Mozarabs were Christians living in Islamic Spain, and the Mudejars were the Muslims living under Christian rule. And then there were the Moriscos, who were Muslims who claimed to have converted to Christianity but really carried on regardless. My mind is reeling, and we haven't even got to the Catholic monarchs yet.

The trouble with visiting somewhere like Toledo is that there is just too much history and architecture to take in on a day trip. Important and fascinating as it all is, you cannot help feeling secretly relieved when 6pm comes and the churches and museums close their doors for the night.

This is also when the tour buses head back up the motorway to Madrid, and the city is handed back to the residents. Although Toledo in its entirety is classified as a national monument, it is certainly not a museum, as you will see if you stick around for the evening. Instead of taking an organised excursion from Madrid (about pounds 25), get the regular coach service (pounds 5 return) and spend the money you have saved on a hotel for the night.

Set on a steep, granite promontory, the city is looped by the River Tagus. A path has recently been opened by its banks. A stroll along it is the ideal way to unclutter your brain after this cultural overload, making room for a few of Toledo's many myths and legends. To get there, simply head down the hill from the cathedral.

The street pattern is unmistakably Arabic, with sharp corners and tiny, mysterious blind alleys. Dilapidated townhouses conceal beautiful courtyards. Looking up, you see the carved wooden balconies that evolved from the latticed shutters of Moorish tradition, as well as strategically placed windows and covered gangways linking buildings across the streets.

We walked down the Calle del Pozo Amargo, "the street of the bitter well". The name dates back to the seventh century. Apparently, a Jewish girl fell in love with a Christian boy, a match frowned upon by her parents. When another suitor killed her sweetheart, the girl was so distraught that she threw herself down the local well, and her tears tainted the water for ever. Well, that's the romantic version. There is another more scatological theory as to why the water thereafter tasted so foul.

Narrow as this cobbled street is, it is just wide enough to get a car down, so be prepared to leap sideways into a doorway if a local driver comes careering down the hill.

Miraculously arriving safely at the river, we turned right along the path, called the Senda Ecolgica. I wasn't in the mood for a nature trail, but what I could see ahead was stranger than any rare plant species. With music blaring out from a kiosk bar, about two dozen people were expertly doing the tango. It would, I anticipated, be a true noche toledana - an expression used throughout Spain to describe an unforgettable and sleepless night.

In fact, the sinister event that gave rise to the phrase took place just up the hill from here. In the ninth century Toledo was ruled by the ruthless Yusuf Ben Amr, who was killed by a group of noblemen. His father, who stepped in to replace him, invited several hundred of these local bigwigs to a banquet at his palace. As the guests entered they were set upon by guards who decapitated them and threw their severed heads into a ditch.

The Toledans are rather more welcoming these days. As night fell, we crossed the river to the Venta del Alma (Cerro de la Cruz, 35), a 16th- century roadside inn with a galleried courtyard reminiscent of a Wild West saloon. Such places, which crop up frequently in the works of Cervantes, were first built to accommodate pilgrims and merchants, and can be found throughout La Mancha. After restoration, this one has become a trendy watering hole where, for some reason, they serve jelly babies with the beer.

We were in need of more serious sustenance, so we returned to the heart of the old town. Abadia (C/Nunez de Arce 3) is a boisterous bar situated in the brick-vaulted refectory of a former abbey. Although the decor is rustic, the tapas were the fanciest I have come across, making much of local specialities from the Montes de Toledo. Venison was available in a number of guises: in sausages, in stew or as slices of cured meat in sandwiches. We also had salt-cod croquettes, deep-fried goats' cheese with herbs, and dates stuffed with almonds and wrapped in bacon.

After a drink in Broadway (C/Alfonso XII 12), a jazz club, we crossed the road to the discreet entrance of the Cafe de Garcilaso (G/Rojas 5, corner of C/Alfonso XII) and swept down a grand staircase to the ballroom. The couples we had previously seen solemnly tangoing were now frenetically spinning around to salsa music. Yes, it was definitely going to be a noche toledana.

Toledo fact file, next page

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?