Thelma arrived at an unusually deserted Alicante airport and we were off on the road to Cuenca for the first day of our odyssey, promoting the idea of cinema tourism in empty Spain.
After a three hour drive we finally arrived, staying at one of my favourite hotels, the Posada de San José, up in the old town with views of the Parador; a lovely place run by Canadian Jenny.
A cowboy wants to capture a Tyrannosaurus Rex and put it in a circus in Mexico. Suddenly ‘Jurassic Park’ doesn’t sound so original. This was the plot, for want of a better word, for The Valley of Gwangi (1969).
In doing so the cowboy at least managed to see a fair bit of Spain, with filming at Tabernas and around the dunes of Cabo de Gata in Almeria, and other scenes, once they enter the Forbidden Valley, among the weird rock formations of Cuenca’s Ciudad Encantada, where Gwangi is first captured after a tremendous tussle with the cowboys in a lost world full of his compatriots (who don’t seem too fond of him either) supposedly “somewhere south of the Rio Grande,” but in reality in the province of Cuenca.
Finally Gwangi, who despite being the headliner gets a pretty bad deal, reaps havoc in the main square of Cuenca (quite a distance away), in which we can see him pass through the arches that lead to the main square (Plaza Mayor),
before the hero of our story, who sweeps up his victims like so many Munchies, is hunted down in Cuenca’s famously unfinished cathedral, which burns down with Gwangi still inside. They probably couldn’t get permission to do that today!
The Valley of Gwangi is the only English language film shot in this amazing monumental city, but in the province of Cuenca there are other locations.
The Pride and the Passion (1957)
Later, after attacking a French camp and killing every man, man and man, the guerrillas pass briefly among the weird mushroom-shaped rocks of the Ciudad Encantada in Cuenca, before stopping at some windmills. A photograph of the filming in Cuenca can be seen today in the bar of the Ciudad Encantada Hotel, just across the road from the entrance to the park.
The Colossus of Rhodes (1961)
Before he started on his spaghetti westerns, Sergio Leone tried some moussaka odysseys first.
The rebel camp was installed in Cuenca in the Ciudad Encantada, whose peculiar eroded rocks look like toadstools. It is here that Darius finds the rebels slaughtered, lying around like so many bloated picnickers on a Sunday outing.
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
‘Barbaric’ is a word that many would associate with Arnold Swartzenneger, mostly because of his mutilation of the English language, endearing him to those who connive to supplant English as an international language.
Conan was filmed all over Spain by director John Milius, who had already filmed here with Sean Connery and Candice Bergen in ‘The Wind and the Lion.’
The most striking use of Spanish scenery must surely be that of ‘La Cuidad Encantada,’ an eerie natural rock formation in the province of Cuenca.
This is the part of the film where Arnold makes love to a Wolf-Witch, who tells him he must go to ‘Zamora’ to resolve his quest, before he tosses her casually onto a fire.
The World is not Enough (1999)
‘Los Callejones de las Majadas,’ fascinating rock formations carved by wind and water, are used in the scenes of the pipeline construction site, supposedly in Azerbaijan, although the oilfield installations are the real thing at Baku.
The chapel carved into the rock, which protestors are intent on conserving in the film, was also there, although the interior was a Pinewood Studio set.
While on location, Brosnan stayed at the impressive Parador in Cuenca, an amazing city built on a hill at the confluence of two rivers, where one of the main attractions are the famous ‘Hanging Houses’, which seem to be always on the point of tumbling into the precipice.
Two other significant locations are Uclés, whose monastery appears in The Four Musketeers and The Bridge of San Luis Rey, and Belmonte castle, a location where the joust scene of El Cid was filmed.
Tomorrow’s kilometres will be fewer, but we will be visiting locations of Terminator, Sergio Leone and Doctor Zhivago, before sleeping, if luck is on our side, in a monastery.