Castillo de Villalonso

The 15th century castle belongs to the Cueto-Vallejo family since 1984 but their romance with the Castillo had started eight years earlier - when they first saw it. It was love at first sight.

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One of the best preserved castles in Spain's Castile and Leon is Castillo de Villalonso and I have the pleasure of talking to one of its owners - Alvaro R. Cueto. His grandparents bought the castle in 1984 and the restoration was done in two phases. Firstly, it was the keep which got the attention. The rest of the 15th century castle was restored in the 2000s. The venue is now open for tourists, it offers guided tours and can be used to organise weddings. Alvaro recalled one particular night he spent on top of the keep of his castle all alone in a sleeping bag - these memories sent shivers down my spine. He also told me why he does not live in the castle and what needs to be done to make it his family residence.
Castles_and_Palaces (CnP): Could you please introduce yourself.
Alvaro R. Cueto (ARC): I am Alvaro Cueto. Villalonso Castle belongs to the family of Cueto-Vallejo stemming from Valladolid, the capital city of Castile and Leon region in Spain's Zamora province.
CnP: How come you have this castle now? Was it because it featured in 'Robin and Marian' or 'The Birth of the Witch' movies?
ARC: Acquiring the castle was my maternal grandparent's idea, Jesús Cueto-Sesmero and Carmen Vallejo-Giralda. They went on a trip around the area in 1976 and all of a sudden they discovered this Villalonso village and its castle. And they simply fell in love with it! But the castle went on sale only in 1984 and this is when they finally purchased it. To be honest, they did it not because it featured in 'Robin and Marian' or 'The Birth of the Witch' movies. Back in those days my grandparents were not aware of these movies.
CnP: By the way, are you planning to capitalize on the castle's movie-making history?
ARC: After the second phase of the restoration (in 2011), the family conceived a related project. It is not exclusively devoted to the castle's cinematographic history, it has a wider scope. It covers all Spanish fortresses which featured in the international movies. The project, partially developed in the present, has been considered to be titled "Stories of Light and Stone".
CnP: I see. I wish you a success. Tell me please what was the state of the castle when your grandparents acquired it?
ARC: From the architectural point of view and in general, the structure of the castle was alright. I mean the keep, the towers and the curtain walls were kept in an acceptable condition. But, in terms if habitability, it was not that good at all. The keep was completely empty, it was impossible to access any levels which originally existed including the parapet walk - it was impossible to transit. Furthermore, there was a prominent breach along the east curtain wall.
CnP: To be honest the castle looks absolutely great now. It is small but looks strong and intact. What about the surrounding area?
ARC: For centuries, the barbican has been a ruin, it almost disappeared due to certain terrain processes. Unfortunately, this part of the castle cannon be restored.
CnP: Your grandparents acquired the castle in 1984 but major works started only 20 years later. Why?
ARC: The restoration process consisted of two phases. The first one occurred in 1992, it focused on the keep. The second one lasted from 2009 to 2011, this is when we basically restored the whole of the fortress.
CnP: What was the most difficult thing during the restoration works?
ARC: Well, I would say it was the restoration of the breach alongside the south wall, which also affected the window in it. It was repaired with stones from a different quarry to show the difference between the new stonework and the original one.

CnP: The 15th and 16th century kitchenware are great findings - what's the most exciting artifact which was found in the castle or during excavations?
ARC: Indeed, cooking utensils and some pottery were discovered. But what was even more interesting was the discovery of food waste! Yes! Because such a sample turns out to be fundamental for the understanding of what was the dwellers' diet back in those times!
CnP: Some say your castle is the best preserved in Castilla y Leon – is it suitable for living?
ARC: It's true that Villalonso Castle is the best preserved one in here. The original idea of my grandparents was to make the castle habitable, as a second residency for summer. But after the second phase of the restoration, we decided to open it up to tourists. We also started offering it as a venue for various events and celebrations. One thing is clear - with some furniture arrangements, we can move in any time.
CnP: Have you ever spent a night there?
ARC: I spent one night in the castle. My friends and I were filming here, and we brought along our sleeping bags in case we need to stay overnight. I remember that when I was showing them the top of the keep, they were talking about medieval cannons and how amazing it could be to have some of those in the castle. Then the night fell. It was a summer night. I wanted to sleep on top of the keep to be able to see the stars and I told my pals 'come on, join me up there'. But it tuned out I was the only one on top of the tower. Now imagine this - I woke up in the middle of the night because of a very peculiar sound. It was the sound of a cannon!!! But what was even stranger – the sound seemed to have been very low as if it was happening far away from me. But at the same time I could hear it as if the cannon was next to my ears!
CnP: Sound really scary! Maybe it is why you still haven't moved in, isn't it?
ARC: Haha, maybe. But I think I could do it in the future, at least for summer.

CnP: You've just told me this story which to be honest sent shivers down my spine. Any other paranormal activities in the castle? Ghosts maybe?
ARC: I have another story for you. We have four towers here. One of them is hollow and it hosts an electric generator which runs on petrol. Its gas tap has disappeared four times. But bear in mind that: first, it is quite difficult to remove it, second, the place is closed, there's no wind. I think it is very suspicious.
CnP: I tend to agree. But who knows, birds are very clever creatures. So, the square keep used to have 4 floors, what's inside the keep now?
ARC: It is empty at the moment but it will house the permanent exhibition of the "Stories of Light and Stone" project.

CnP: Which period does the castle represent now?
ARC: The general structure belongs to the moment of its construction, the 15thcentury, it corresponds to the "School of Valladolid" architectural style. It used to have chambers for soldiers and servants, which have now been remodeled into a big hall for events. There lies a terrace above this hall right at the level of the three "windows" of the castle walls.
CnP: What's the most exciting part of the castle's history for you?
ARC: The period related to the first two generations of landlords, because they took part in two different wars, which were significant for Spain's history. The first generation is represented by Don Juan de Ulloa, the founder of the castle while the second generation is represented by his son, Don Diego de Ulloa.
CnP: Please share a little known fact from the castle's history!
ARC: Look the castle was rebuilt in the 15thcentury and theprevious complex was mentioned in a bull by Pope Gregory IX in 1235. It belonged to the Order of Alcántara.

CnP: What's the story with the powerful Alcantara order? Excavations found that they might have owned the castle back in the days, right?
ARC: The actual building, dating back to the 15thcentury, never belonged to any military order. But you are correct - the castle's foundations include some odds and ends from a previous building. Some researchers believe that the previous building probably belonged to the Alcantara Order.
CnP: Have you found any hidden tunnels or ancient mechanisms?
ARC: We've found some stairs in the inner ward which lead few steps down to a lower level. As forancient mechanisms we don't have them unfortunately.

CnP: So we pretty much know what happened to the castle starting from the 15thcentury, right?
ARC: True - the Seignory of Villalonso emerged at the end of the 15thcentury. It was linked to Pedro Yanez de Ulloa, who acquired property in the surroundings of Toro city and did his best make his two sons - Juan and Rodrigo - closer to the king Juan II of Castile and his royal court. He succeeded.
ARC: Juan who was the eldest son obtained in 1449 the properties that had belonged to the Order of Alcantara in Villalonso, Benafarces and Pozoantiguo. The first document in which don Juan de Ulloa appeared as Lord of Villalonso dates back to 1470. Don Juan even placed his coat of arms and his wife's coat of arms above the castle gates.
ARC: In 1476, after the death of king Enrique IV of Castile, don Juan de Ulloa supported Juana la Beltraneja and Alfonso V of Portugal – it was "War of the Castilian Succession". His younger brother Don Rodrigo supported Isabella I of Castile – who later became known as Isabella the Catholic Monarch. The eldest brother died in the fight. His son Diego de Ulloa, who managed to recovered all the properties that once belonged to his family continued the fight in the next generation. It was the fight against Charles I of Spain and V of Germany - the Catholic Monarch's grandchild successor. Charles came to the Iberian Peninsula to rule Spain as the new king, forcing his Flemish court over the Castilian one and imposing taxes to both Castilian noblemen and peasants. Don Diego de Ulloa was one of the noblemen, who rose up against him. This conflict is known as the "War of the Communities of Castile".
ARC: In the Battle of Villalar, just 12 kilometres away from Villalonso, Charles' opponents were crushed. The three main leaders of the revolt were executed, while the rest were taken prisoner, Don Diego was among them. He should have been executed and deprived of Villalonso Castle but his wife Isabella de Fonseca paid 10,000 ducats to set him free

In 1599 the County of Villalonso was created, and its first Count was don Juan de Ulloa, great-grandson of don Diego.
CnP: These are twists and turns of the area's turbulent history. What are your plans for now? Do you want to transform the castle into a hotel or a restaurant?
ARC: The purpose of the comprehensive restoration was to make the castle accessible for public, for tourists. We wanted to make it a venue for all kinds of celebrations, weddings, communions, medieval dinners, concerts, exhibitions, etc.
CnP: What about guided tours? How can one apply?
ARC: Guided tours are our principal activity of at the moment. We have been receiving tourist from all over the five continents. We are currently developing our official webpage. One will be able to book a guided tour, or make a reservation for any event, or just ask for information. For now you can get our mobile number on the castle's Google profile.
CnP: What about medieval re-enactments?
ARC: We have hosted four medieval markets and two medieval fairs, which coincided with Villalonso village's festivities. There had sword fights, archery tournaments, equestrian exhibitions, traditional dancing and pyrotechnic displays. One of the weddings celebrated at the castle was arranged in the medieval style - the bride entered the castle gates riding a marvellous white horse!
CnP: Wow! This is the right way to attract tourists!
ARC: We keep working hard! We try to catch up with social medial, especially on Instagram and Facebook. We want people to get a better experience and we want them to learn about us easier.

CnP: What do you like most about your castle?
ARC: I love the panoramic views from the towers and from the top of the square keep. It is fantastic that I am able to contemplate the seas of golden wheat. It is such a typical landscape of this Castilian region. The surroundings of the castle have barely changed in the last five centuries!
CnP: What's your favorite place in the castle?
ARC: Personally, I like to lean on the battlements of a tower and let the inspiration come from the environment – it gives me power and strength and I can feel this inside my body!

CnP: How do you run the castle as a family?
ARC: All decisions are taken inside our family. Every member collaborates in different activities that require the castle's conservation and promotion.
CnP: What was the biggest surprise the castle had for you?
ARC: I don't know if it counts as a surprise but the very fact that such incredible stars as Sean Connery, Audrey Hepburn and Richard Harris were once here – when they filed several scenes for 'Robin and Marian' – is impressive.

CnP: What would you tell those who are dreaming about buying a dilapidated castle and restoring it?
ARC: If they love History, Art and id you feel respect for the Heritage of that place (and if you have enough savings), DO go ahead!
Do you like the story told by Alvaro R. Cueto, the co-owner of Castillo de Villalonso in Spain's Castile and Leon? Don't miss new stories by other castle owners - follow @Castles_and_Palaces on Instagram

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