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 & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit