There is nothing so grand as a road trip in Spain. And when you glimpse a castle perched up on a mountain there is only one choice - explore!
I have been exploring this castle throughout the years since 2002. Before any of the latest renovations took place it was a wild and breathtakingly beautiful place full of mystery, with fallen walls offering little glimpses of what once was. It still is charming but in a more refined, dignified way that comes with progress.
Perched atop Roman ruins, this amazing castle may have been the site of the Roman Castelo de Ulver, built to defend the gold operations at Las Médulas.
The day we explored here we had the castle to ourselves. This was our first trip back since renovations were completed and we were anxious to get inside.
In 1211 Alfonso IX of León donated the area to the Knight Templars who rebuilt the castle. When the Knight Templars disappeared in 1312 the castle passed to Alfonso XI of Castilla.
We bought our tickets and followed the arrows. Self-guided, we toured the castle in a circular route.
From 1378 on the castle was fought over and nearly destroyed. Finally in 1486 the Reyes Católicos (Ferdinand and Isabel) gave it to the Marquesado de Villafranca del Bierzo.
I was curious as to where the castle got its drinking water. It turns out this castle has a huge water reservoir designed to catch rain water.
Count Lemos took over the castle in 1480 and retired here. He built a house with large windows overlooking the stunning scenery of El Bierzo.
This is what keeps me coming back – a castle perched on a hilltop in the Aquilanos Mountains with incredible views.
In 1900 the castle was donated to the village of Villavieja; who used it for years to shelter their sheep.
There are still sheep visible in the fields below, along with fantastic views down the valley.
The Historical Heritage Foundation (Fundación de Patrimonio Histórico) of Castilla y León, has been the force behind this restoration project.
They have completely excavated the building, recovering the lower levels and replacing the floors and some of the rooftops. The battlements and windows are also now accessible.
There are exibits in the restored buidings and little tidbits of how life might have been. Be sure to look down into the water reservoir! The roof of the reservoir was formed to catch condensation that falls into the tank. Ingenious!
Exploring the backroads in Spain and these small hidden gems means that bathrooms are scarce and the bars and shops may not be open in the little villages.
Be sure to carry your supplies with you. I always have snacks and water with us.
The Cornatel castle was declared a Cultural Heritage Site in 1949.
Easily combined with a day trip to the Las Médulas.
Since March 2021 the castle can be visited every day, except Tuesday and Wednesday, from 11:00 to 14:00 and from 16:00 to 19:30.
Held the last weekend in August, Noches Mágicas is an annual medieval music festival.
For more information, you can visit the website of the City Council of Priaranza del Bierzo.
Google Map showing where the castle is