In a mere week, you can take a road trip through one of the most beautiful yet little-visited areas of Spain: La Mancha. The adventure kicks off straight away as you'll hop in a rental car and drive from Madrid south to medieval towns like Almagro and Villanueva de los Infantes. You'll also stop for a wine tour and visit storybook national parks like Ruidera Lakes. 

Highlights

  • Embark on a road trip through La Mancha
  • Take a wine tour of the Valdepeñas region
  • Stop at unspoiled national parks like Daimiel and Ruidera Lakes

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Madrid - Pick up Rental Car - Tour La Mancha Daimiel
Day 2 Drive From Daimiel to Almagro - National Park Tour Almagro
Day 3 Tour Almagro - Optional Trip to Campo de Calatrava Almagro
Day 4 Drive From Almagro to Villanueva - Wine Tour villanueva de los infantes
Day 5 Tour Villanueva de los Infantes villanueva de los infantes
Day 6 Drive From Villanueva to Alcázar de San Juan - Stop at Ruidera Lakes Alcazar de San Juan
Day 7 Drive to Madrid - Optional Activities - Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Madrid - Pick up Rental Car - Tour La Mancha

Welcome to Madrid!
Welcome to Madrid!

Welcome to Spain!

After arrival at the airport in Madrid, you'll pick up your rental car begin your road trip to La Mancha. Take the road towards the town of Consuegra on a route that passes along the arid plateaus of central Spain. This was the home of the Ingenious Gentleman protagonist of Spain's most celebrated novel, Don Quixote. He may be a fictional character, but the windmills featured in that everlasting work by Cervantes are very real staples of La Mancha, and you'll pass by them on the drive.

You'll also stop and enjoy a tour of the area led by an expert guide. You'll visit not only the windmills but also Castillo de la Muela, a well-preserved castle that dates to the 10th century. Throughout the tour, your guide will reveal insight into these landmarks to help you understand their history. An optional stop on the tour is the Saffron Museum, which features exhibits about the history, cultivation, and qualities of Spanish saffron, which is said to be the best in the world. 

You'll likely work up an appetite after all that sightseeing. Around lunchtime, you can stop off on the drive at a local restaurant for a traditional La Mancha meal. Afterward, you'll continue on to Las Tablas de Daimiel, a national park protecting the area's largest wetland eco-system. You'll overnight here in a hotel.

Day 2: Drive From Daimiel to Almagro - National Park Tour

Take a pleasant stroll through Tablas de Daimiel National Park
Take a pleasant stroll through Tablas de Daimiel National Park

After an early breakfast at the hotel, you'll drive to the entrance of Las Tablas de Daimiel National Park. Here you'll meet a private guide for a half-day tour.

At 7,413 acres, this is Spain's smallest natural park, but you wouldn't know it by the abundant flora and fauna. It's home to various migratory waterbirds, like herons and egrets, who flock to these expansive wetlands during winter. On a brisk walk around the park, your guide will lead you along wooden pathways to the best vantage points for viewing nesting flocks. Savor the experience, because Tablas de Daimiel is the last floodplain wetland in the central Iberian peninsula. 

After the tour, you'll hop back in the car and continue a short way to Almagro, where you'll check into your hotel. This town of fewer than 10,000 people may be small in scale, but it abounds with rich history and beautiful landmarks. Its well-preserved 15th-century architecture is a throwback to when Almagro was defined by its aristocratic culture, which you can see in the stately manor homes and grand Plaza Mayor that's lined with colonnaded buildings.

But the city is most famous for its 16th-century open air-theater, the Corral de Comedias. You can tour the Corral during the day, and some nights they feature performances from Spain's golden age of theater of the 16th and 17th-centuries. It also hosts a theater festival in July.

Day 3: Tour Almagro - Optional Trip to Campo de Calatrava

The Plaza Mayor, Almagro
The Plaza Mayor, Almagro

In the morning, you'll meet up with an expert guide and embark on a city tour of Almagro. This town of fewer than 10,000 people may be small in scale, but it abounds with rich history and beautiful landmarks. Its well-preserved 15th-century architecture is a throwback to when Almagro was defined by its aristocratic culture, which you can see in the stately manor homes and grand Plaza Mayor that's lined with colonnaded buildings.

But the city is most famous for its 16th-century open air-theater, the Corral de Comedias. You can tour the Corral during the day, and some nights they feature performances from Spain's golden age of theater of the 16th and 17th-centuries. It also hosts a theater festival in July.

In the afternoon, you can head to the nearby Campo de Calatrava, a comarca (traditional region) known for volcanic hills and glassy lagoons. It was named after the military Order of Calatrava, who controlled the region in the 10th-12th centuries when La Mancha was the frontier between Christian and Muslim Spain. Here you can visit well-preserved castles, like Calatrava la Nueva, and interesting archeological sites like Oreto and Zuqueca, home to the remains of a Visigoth necropolis and an ancient Muslim city.

Day 4: Drive From Almagro to Villanueva - Wine Tour

Tour the vineyards of La Mancha
Tour the vineyards of La Mancha

After breakfast, you'll continue your road trip to the well-preserved medieval town of Villanueva de los Infantes. However, you'll stop off along the way for a wine tour of Valdepeñas. Not only does this region enjoy the Designation of Origin (D.O.) mark of quality, but La Mancha as a whole is the largest continuous wine-growing region in the world. With over 300 vineyards and 22,000 grape growers, there are a lot options for things to do and see here. Luckily you'll have a guide for your excursion.

You'll meet a wine expert who will take you on a journey into the world of Spanish viticulture. After traveling to a local vineyard, the guide will teach you about the different grape varieties grown in the region. You'll see the care and techniques that go into harvesting grapes on a small-production vineyard. You'll learn about the external factors that can influence the quality of the grapes—everything from the weather to astrology. 

After touring the vineyards, you'll visit the actual winery and see firsthand the enormous terracotta fermentation containers where the grapes become wine. Each one holds an impressive 1,585 gallons (6,000 liters). After the tour, you'll be able to sample some wines. Popular varietals in La Mancha include Grenache and Tempranillo. 

In the afternoon, you can either hang around Valdepeñas for a while and enjoy the town or continue on to Villanueva de los Infantes. Upon arrival you'll check into your hotel and can spend the remainder of the day relaxing.

Day 5: Tour Villanueva de los Infantes

Plaza Mayor, Villanueva de los Infantes
Plaza Mayor, Villanueva de los Infantes

In the morning you'll meet a local expert guide for a walking tour of Villanueva de los Infantes. With its early 17th-century Plaza Mayor (central plaza) and various medieval hermitages and convents, this throwback village is straight out of the mind of Cervantes. In fact, Villanueva de los Infantes is generally accepted to be the town referenced at the beginning of Don Quixote as the home of the title character. 

You'll visit the major sights in town, including the Plaza Mayor and St. Andres Church, where the famed poet Francisco de Quevedo is buried. You'll also stroll cobbled streets lined with medieval manor houses that will astonish with their well-preserved history.

When the sun sets, you'll head out for dinner at a great restaurant in town. It's the perfect opportunity to discover and enjoy genuine La Mancha cuisine.

Day 6: Drive From Villanueva to Alcázar de San Juan - Stop at Ruidera Lakes

Lagunas del Ruidera
Lagunas del Ruidera

After a leisurely breakfast in Villanueva de los Infantes, you'll drive to the town of Alcázar de San Juan. On the way, you'll stop at another wetland region: Lagunas del Ruidera. This Oasis in La Mancha is comprised of 16 glassy lakes connected by cascading waterfalls. With its many beaches and swimming areas, the environment is almost tropical yet firmly rooted in La Mancha—the lakes are even referenced in Don Quixote

After spending the morning and part of the afternoon enjoying the lakes, you'll take a break for lunch. Instead of traditional Spanish cuisine, you'll dine at a restaurant that has won international awards for having the best pizza in Spain many years running. Afterward, should you choose, you can enjoy a tasting of artisanal brandies at a nearby distillery. 

Later in the afternoon, you'll continue to Alcazar de San Juan, where you'll check into your hotel. You'll have the evening free.

Day 7: Drive to Madrid - Optional Activities - Departure

The Campo de Criptana windmills
The Campo de Criptana windmills

In the morning you'll drive 1.5 hours to Madrid to catch your flight home. Not to worry, though, as you can enjoy one or two more activities in La Mancha before your plane leaves. You could visit the famous Campo de Criptana windmills, or stop in at a private workshop in the town of Villafranca for a hands-on lesson in producing traditional terracotta ceramics. You can even visit a farm that produces award-winning Manchego cheese from sheep's milk. Tastings included.

Whatever you decide, eventually you'll arrive at the airport in Madrid. This concludes your grand journey through La Mancha. Adios and come back soon!

Map

Map of Spain Off-the-Beaten-Path Road Trip: Madrid to La Mancha - 7 days
Map of Spain Off-the-Beaten-Path Road Trip: Madrid to La Mancha - 7 days