From Argamasilla of Alba in the very heart of La Mancha through to Molina of Aragon in the mountains of the Alto Tajo, Don Quixote, his servant Sancho Panza, and horse Rocancinante, travelled in search of adventure.

Miguel Cervantes’ novel from 1604 is an influential piece of fiction in western civilization and, for our purposes, one of the world’s first travel books. We take our own quixotic tour in this episode of Literary Journeys as we join the knight in his travels through Spain.

In a village of La Mancha the name of which I have no desire to recall, there lived not so long ago one of those gentlemen who always have a lance in the rack, an ancient buckler, a skinny nag, and a greyhound for the chase.

At this point they caught sight of thirty or forty windmills which were standing on the plain there, and no sooner had Don Quixote laid eyes upon them then he turned to his squire and said, ‘fortune is guiding our affairs better than we could have wishes; for you see there before you, friend Sancho Panza, some thirty or more lawless giants with whom I mean to do battle…’”

What giants?” said Sancho Panza.

”Those that you see there,” replies his master, “those with the long arms some of which are as much as two leagues in length.”

The party arrives to the well-known Venta. The Quixote was eager to face the giant that was harassing the princess. Such was his zeal that he thought he’d seen the evil giant in the leather containers of red wine from the cellar. He faced them and, believing he was stabbing the enemy, he slashed all the leather containers and the valuable wine spilled out in the entire room. Drunk with wine and madness, Quixote could only leave the Venta in one way: as a prisoner.

In his right hand he held an unsheathed sword with which he was laying about him in every direction, and all the time he kept talking to himself as if he were really fighting with some giant. The best part of it was that he had his eyes shut, for he was still asleep and dreaming that he was doing battle with the giant, the adventure which he was about to undertake…Under this illusion he had given the skins so many thrusts, believing them to be the giant, that the entire room was filled with wine.

“Sir,” said Sancho, “is it a good rule of chivalry for us to be wandering lost in these mountains, without road or path, in search of a madman who, when we find him, may undertake to finish what he has begun—and I do not mean his story but your grace’s head and my ribs, by smashing them altogether this time?”

“I tell you once again, Sancho, be quiet; for I will inform you that it is not so much the desire to find a madman that leads me to travese these regions as it is the hope of accomplishing here an exploit that will win for me perpetual renown and fame through the whole of the known world.”

Caged and mounted on a cart, he is driven back to his town again.

Let’s leave the Quixote on his way back to his house and continue ours toward Valdepeñas, capital of the wine of Castilla – La Mancha. The city of Valdepeñas receives strangers with a row of large heather jars which were used at the time to store hundreds of gallons of wine. Formerly more attention was paid to the quantity produced than to the quality of it. The Mancha therefore ended up producing alone as much wine as all the other Spanish regions together.

After traveling for a couple of days, Don Quixote and Sancho reach the banks of the Ebro with its clear and abundant, gently flowing waters.

It was midnight on the hour, a little more or less, when Don Quixote and Sancho left the wood and entered the city of El Toboso. The town was wrapped in a peaceful silence, for all the good people were asleep, or were stretching a leg, as the saying goes.


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