Seen from a distance the windmills that line the Cerro Calderico ridge lend credibility to Don Quixote’s belief that he was facing battle with monstrous creatures. Under a hot and hazy Castilla-La Mancha sun, it seems perfectly reasonable that Cervante’s most famous literary creation might have mistaken windmills for giants and charged them, lance in hand, Sancho Panza following on behind.
Draped across the line of the ridge the twelve windmills of Consuegra are a dramatic sight, and tick just about every Don Quixote cliché imaginable. These are probably the most famous windmills in Spain, and it is easy to see why. Despite their fame there were only a couple of groups of visitors, and the scene was peaceful and felt untouristy.
It isn’t just the windmills that lend the scene an air of romanticism. The Cerro Calderico is also home to the Castillo de Consuegra, parts of which date to Moorish times but mostly dates from just after the Reconquista in the 12th Century. The castle was the regional base for the Order of Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, a religious-military order better known as the Knights Hospitaller. The castle was of strategic importance and the Hospitallers were granted revenue from a tax on the city of Toledo to completely reconstruct it, improving its defences as they went.
The castle fell into disrepair in the 18th Century and was partially destroyed during Napoleon’s Peninsular War in 1813. Luckily for the modern tourist the local town council had the foresight to reconstruct the castle in the 1960s. Today it offers spectacular views over the plains below, across the windmills strung along the ridge and down to the small town of Consuegra. It is a glorious place to visit. In August each year the town holds a reenactment of the Battle of Consuegra, when Christian forces captured the castle. One thing makes this battle stand out, El Cid’s son died in the fighting.
The windmills themselves date from the 16th Century onwards and at least a couple were still being used in the 1980s. Some are open to the public, although not the day we were there; like their Dutch peers, they all have names. After clambering around the castle we strolled amongst the windmills along the full length of the ridge. It’s an atmospheric place, evoking a deep sense of the history of this region.
We made our way back to the car and popped down the hill into Consuegra itself. There isn’t much to the town but it has a lovely main square and a couple of interesting churches. In that very Spanish, very surprising way, each October the town springs into life when it hosts a Saffron Festival. This area is famous for saffron, and I can only imagine what the surrounding countryside must look like when the purple crocus flowers are in bloom. We had a snack and a cup of coffee before heading further south through yet more harsh Don Quixote landscapes towards Almagro.