We travel around different parts of Spain following the stork trail.
Have you ever heard that babies come from storks? The myth, which comes from central Europe, is based on the effort which these storks put into caring for their young and protecting their family.
This tale started when a pair of storks emigrated to Paris instead of Africa. They made a nest in the roof of a house where a couple lived and they had a baby not long afterwards. The myth which spread around the whole city claimed that the baby had been brought by the storks hanging from one of their beaks.
What is true is that this bird is usually found on church bell towers on city outskirts. However, in Spain we are able to travel along the Stork Route, visiting key points where these birds live and nest, or places of interest dedicated to revealing more information on this topic.
In the heart of Madrid, there is a place where storks are the main feature. It is the Centro de Divulgación y Conservación de Avifauna (Dissemination and Conservation of Avifauna Centre), which is next to the Parque del oeste. This centre has interesting scientific activities dedicated to the dissemination and investigation of the life of storks, and it has served as a resource for both school children and adults for finding out more about this bird.
Further north, we follow our route, stopping off in Patones de Arriba, 60 kms from Madrid. There we can visit San José church, which is currently a centre for tourism and cultural initiatives, but which conserves its architecture intact. A church with charm, where storks tend to nest.
We go through Madrid to eat in the restaurant El Chiscón, where we cannot miss out on trying the salmorejo con bogavante y huevo escalfado (cold, thick tomato soup with lobster and poached egg), or the roast beef con trufa (with truffle). For desert there is nothing better than rice pudding with different textures.
We head off towards Berrueco, situated on the M-131, where we find its spectacular castle, between hills and slopes of different sizes. They say that the storks that flew over this castle announced the death of Pedro Girón, who was not able to marry the woman who was later to be Isabella the Catholic.
Very near to Berruecos is Torrelaguna, where we can find the parish church of la Magdalena; built in the 14th century, and with special architecture which is considered one of the best examples of gothic Madrid.
On our route we cannot forget to go past Alcalá de Henares, a town that would not be the same without the storks. With their nests and their elegant presence, they decorate the monuments and roofs of the buildings which are found there. The presence of these birds is so important that their settlement on the historical buildings has become an excellent itinerary for tourists to get to know the city.
Storks have always liked Alcalá de Henares, basically because it has many churches where they can nest, and because it is situated in the fertile lowland of the river Henares, which has crop fields where they are able to find food.
The presence of these birds in the town is even more noticeable, and makes it a key point of our trip. If we want to take a break, or to try typical foods from the area, there is nothing better than the Parador Alcalá de Henares, a hotel situated in the heart of the historic centre.
It started off as the convent of Santo Tomás de Aquino, which over the years became a school and, later, a reformatory and a prison. Today it is the recently opened parador hotel, which welcomes us with a modern architectural style, and it shows us through its restaurant full of Cervantine cuisine, that Alcalá de Henares not only deserves to be visited, but also to be tasted.
We follow our route towards Ciudad Real, where we stop off in Almagro. Nowadays, its square is closed off by central European style windows which makes it unique in Spain. In the old days, these galleries were used as a stage for public functions, like the famous bull fights which were banned by Carlos III. In the square we can also find the Corral de Comedias (open-air comedy theatre), which was declared a Monument in 1955.
In this area we find the Parador de Almagro, a hotel which was completely renovated in 1999. It has a total of 54 rooms with windows which look out onto the interior patios, making this a magical place to rest. We can also find the Hotel La casa del Rector, and in its restaurant Mesón El Corregidor be sure to try the cochinillo crujiente con puré de manzana (crunchy suckling pig with apple sauce).
Very near to Almagro are las Tablas de Daimiel and its National Park. There we will see storks, partridges, sandgrouse, collared pratincole, and many more birds. This national park is in an exceptional state, both inside and its surroundings. Coinciding with autumn migration, in the month of August, water levels in the river Guadiana and the river Cigüela drop, which is what attracts a lot of birds to the park to feed from the banks. Therefore we will be able to see storks, avocets and dunlins among other species.
If we carry on towards the Toledan area of Consuegra, we will find one of the best preserved collection of Windmills in the world. Of the twelve windmills that crown the top of the Cerro Calderico ridge, four of them still have machinery in good condition: Sancho, Rucio, Bolero and Espartero. These windmills are what inspired Miguel de Cervantes in the famous episode of Don Quijote and his fight with the giants. The others also have Don Quijote nicknames, like Chispas, Caballero del Verde Gabán, Mambrino, Clavileño, Alcancía, Cardeño, Mochilas and Vista Alegre. Once we have visited the windmills and the castle, we will go down to the town of Consuegra, where we will find the Santísimo Cristo de la Veracruz Church, which stands out because of its white marble facade.
In this town is the Hotel Rural La Vida de Antes, a typical 19th century house from La Mancha, measuring 1,000 m2 where we can rest while feeling like we are at home.
We arrive in Barbate, a town in the province of Cadiz, situated to the south of the capital. The location of this town is privileged with regard to nature. It has some excellent fine sand beaches and also the Acantilado y Pinar de Barbate Natural Park, where pinyon pine, a protected tree species, is grown and also where storks live that look for nests protected by the rocky wall.
Finally we finish in Tarifa, a town in Cadiz situated only 40 km from Africa. There, volunteers from the Colectivo Ornitológico Cigüeña Negra (Black Stork Ornithological Group), with the collaboration of the Environment Delegation of the City Council of Algeciras, have initiated a regional collaboration of nesting boxes for small birds in the Parque periurbano de Torrejón. These nesting boxes favour nesting in woodland areas, and are used by storks to make their homes in a natural environment.