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
The crowd enjoy Latitude Festival 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
'I do think a woman's place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.'

Is this the end of the Dowager Countess?tv
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

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.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn