Albacete holds a place on several “worst places to visit in Spain” lists including some created by Spanish travel sources as well. Really. I’ve seen the lists. It’s there. If you mention Albacete to Spanish you’ll either get a look of sympathy that you have been there, a look of shock that you’d ever think of going there, or you’ll hear the popular rhyme, “Albacete??!?!? Caca y vete” which essentially means that all Albacete is good for is to make “caca” and leave.
It’s not horrible, really. It’s a big-ish city with nice shops, pretty parks, and really amazing restaurants. It’s just generally a historically uninteresting city stuck in the the middle of Castilla La Mancha with nothing really much in its immediate vicinity. No beaches, mountains, lakes… What I’ve found with these sort of places is that where there is absence of something, people create it. The most “boring” towns are where you find your closest friendships. Here, it’s where you find the best nightlife. We’re not really sure where they come from, but at 10 at night a trickle begins and by midnight the restaurants and tapas bars are overflowing with huge masses of people of all ages. Children play on the playgrounds in the summer to 1am and later. People are out laughing and smiling. It may not be a popular town with the Spanish as a whole, but the people who live here really live and enjoy their life.
THE DRIVE: It’s an easy two hour drive to Albacete from Valencia, but along this route are several castles and castle ruins sitting on top of hills beckoning to the curious. So if you do go to Albacete for some reason, there’s plenty to do on the way down. Suggestions: Almansa, Montesa, and Chinchilla. All fabulous little towns with castles on top. Chinchilla is my favorite and only 15 minutes from Albacete.
THE FOOD: The really good thing about Albacete. Families are out into the morning hours with young children during the summer months when the temperatures are only tolerable at night. It’s a very social place.
Favorite restaurants: El Callejon and La Taperia. Both closed on Mondays. In fact, Mondays is the worst day to visit Albacete. Thursday – Sunday is when the night life is at its peak.
Tapas: Gambas, dates wrapped in bacon, chicken wings… unlike Valencia where most tapas are centered around fish, there is a lot of variety here and a lot more pork.
The datilles con bacon (dates wrapped in bacon) aren’t always on the menu, but are almost always available. Ask for them. They’re delicious.
Another delicious local item is the fried goat cheese with jam. It’s some sort of dark jam – may be blackberry. Definitely worth a try.
Oreja a la plancha translates to grilled ear, but who’s ear? Pig’s ear. It’s a local thing and, according to our Romanian waitress, is “muy rico.” Apparently it’s served in Romania as well. To my American palate, it tastes like pork fat probably due to the large squishy balls of pink tinged fat clinging to the white ear pieces. The ear itself tastes ok, but the texture is what you’d expect from an ear. A bit firm with that small crunch of cartilage. Ok for the more adventurous, but if you have strong food aversions this one might be better to skip.
THE FERIA: 2010 marks the 300 year anniversary of the annual Feria in Albacete which is known even beyond the borders of Castilla La Mancha. The folks in Albacete know how to throw a good party. There is music, bull events, food… and it lasts the entire month of September.
It may not be a great tourist destination, but the nightlife is good. And the food, if chosen carefully, can be delicious!