A tour of Spain through literary adaptations to the screen

Since the beginnings of the seventh art, cinema has accepted the mission of bringing other forms of artistic expression to the public. A good film is capable of bringing together all the great arts and condensing them into an audiovisual channel that allows them to be broadcast on a screen. But if there is a favourite source of inspiration for filmmakers, it has always been literature. How many of the books you have read seem like scripts designed to be told visually?

To begin this unique journey, we have chosen some novels written in recent decades in which the place where the action takes place is another character in the plot and in the film. We suggest you to practice screen tourism with Vigo Film Office, Pontevedra Film Commission, Vitoria Film Office, Cataluña Film Commission, Extremadura Film Commission and Navarra Film Commission.

This is the route we propose for you to experience Spain through your favourite novels, then your favourite series and films and, finally, your favourite holidays. 

Let’s get started!

Vigo and “The Beach of the Drowned”

The first stop on this journey in which we jump from literature to the screen takes us to Galicia. One of the best Spanish writers of recent years, Domingo Villar, has written three books whose action takes place between Vigo and the province of Pontevedra: “Ojos de agua”, “La playa de los ahogados” and “El último barco” introduce us to a couple of policemen who are unique in their contrasting ways of being and their understanding of life.

Gerardo Herrero chose the second of Caldas and Estévez’s novels, “La playa de los ahogados”, to adapt it to film in 2015. Carmelo Gómez was chosen to play the stoic Leo Caldas, while the character of the temperamental Rafael Estévez was played by Antonio Garrido.

In this case, as in those that follow, there was no doubt that the only ones that could be considered to have been possible scenarios for filming the story were the original ones reflected in the book.

The “beach of the drowned” is in the municipality of Nigrán (Pontevedra) where it is known as A Madorra. This small corner, close to Vigo, offers a wonderful route through the landscapes of the novel and the film. The route includes five stops at key points: the port of Panxón (where Caldas and Estévez interrogate the fishermen), the beach of La Madorra (where the corpse that gives rise to the plot appears), the Votive Temple of the Sea (it is here that Estévez’s character is enraptured by the views), Punta Lameda, on the peninsula of Monteferro (a solitary place that puts Caldas on the trail of the murderer) and the Monument to the Universal Navy. It is perfectly signposted and can be done in less than three hours.

Monument to the Navy, in Nigrán (Pontevedra) / Pontevedra Film Commission

The common thread of Villar’s novels is, however, Vigo. The city of Vigo, traditional and modern, vibrant and calm, reflects the evolution of Galician society in recent decades. For the reader, to walk with Leo Caldas through Vigo is to visit corners, streets and bars that smell of the sea and good wine, unhurriedly enjoying those small everyday pleasures that life gives us.

Vitoria and “The Silence of the White City”

“El silencio de la Ciudad Blanca”, “Los ritos del agua” and “Los señores del tiempo” are the three novels in a trilogy written by Eva García Sáenz de Urturi, whose plot is mainly set in Vitoria and the province of Álava. Aside from the detective plot, in few novels does a city play such a central role as in these novels. From the Middle Ages to the 21st century, the writer gives us a portrait of Alava’s society through its way of life, its folklore and its history. A characteristic that the film adaptation of the first novel (Atresmedia, 2019) took very much into account when filming in the main locations of the capital of Alava.

Filming of “El silencio de la ciudad blanca” in the Plaza de Santa María/Samantha López / Vitoria Film Commission

The city council of Vitoria proposes a route that will allow you to follow the investigations of Kraken (Inspector Ayala) on the hunt for ritualistic murderers. Urturi’s books also take us to other emblematic places in the province of Alava. In the municipality of Lagrán is the village of his grandfather, Villaverde, a refuge for Unai and his brother and a recurring place in the story of Kraken. The beautiful village of Laguardia, emblem of the Rioja Alavesa, is another obligatory stop to follow the adventures of the main characters. The Aizkorri-Aratz massif, Deba and San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (in Guipúzcoa) complete the journey through all the settings that appear in the White City trilogy and are the perfect way to get to know this part of Spain.

Barcelona and “The Cathedral of the Sea”

And if we are talking about literature adapted to the screen, we cannot fail to mention “La catedral del mar”, the first novel by Ildefonso Falcones. From its evocative title, it shows us what life was like in 14th century Spain. Cathedrals were being built in many cities of the time. All Gothic and all magnificent. In the case of Barcelona, the city was growing towards the coast. The then new and humble fishermen’s district (la Ribera) decided to build, with its own money, the largest temple that had ever existed: Santa Maria del Mar.

Through the character of Arnau Estanyol and his family, Falcones takes us on a journey through an era that is largely unknown in general, but in which most of the great urban landmarks of the capital that is now Barcelona were built. As the story was one that begs to be brought to the screen, it didn’t take long for a series produced by Atresmedia, Diagonal TV, in collaboration with Televisió de Catalunya, to be made available on Netflix. Predictable success: palace intrigues, medieval fights and impossible loves, combined with an exceptional setting, were a winning combination.

Filming of “La catedral del mar” / Javier de Agustín for DiagonalTV

So, for your next trip to Barcelona, here’s the route of “La catedral del mar”. In less than three hours you’ll see all the places where the series was filmed and you’ll have visited the most beautiful spots in the centre of Barcelona.  

Of course, cities have changed a little in 700 years. Or a lot. That’s why filming a whole series in the same location is sometimes not possible. Fortunately, what is no longer possible in Barcelona is possible in other locations. For this reason, this filming used no less than five other locations to recreate the 14th century city of Barcelona: Tarragona, Sos del Rey Católico (Zaragoza), Cáceres, Segovia and Toledo. All of them preserve magnificent medieval historic centres, and in each one a building, a street or a beach was chosen to recreate the Barcelona of Arnau and his family.

Extremadura and “Los Santos Inocentes” (The Saintly Innocents)

If the route of the settings of “The Cathedral of the Sea” has brought us to Cáceres, our next literary adaptation to the cinema takes us to Badajoz. In three of its most beautiful municipalities, Mérida, Zafra and Alburquerque, Mario Camus’ film “Los santos inocentes”, based on the novel by Miguel Delibes, was shot in 1984. The Castilian writer had conceived the work with the intention of showing the ignorance and poverty to which the workers on the large estates bordering Portugal were subjected in the mid-20th century.

However, we are left with the Extremadura of today, vibrant, modern and beautiful. To see for yourself, we suggest a tour of these three gems of Badajoz. The first, indisputably, is the current capital of Extremadura: Mérida. In addition to its incredible Roman archaeological site, one of the most important in Europe, it preserves the legacy of the Visigoths, Arabs and Reconquistadors.

Roman Amphitheatre of Mérida / Extremadura Film Commission

It takes just over half an hour to get from Mérida to Zafra, the second of the locations of “Los santos inocentes”. This peaceful and charming town has witnessed many of the great events in the history of Spain, especially during the time of the Reconquest. From those turbulent times it preserves a heritage that includes pre-Roman, Roman, Arab and medieval remains. As a good guild town, it has always been a commercial centre, especially active during the time of the discovery of America. 

Alburquerque (the original, not the one in New Mexico where “Breaking Bad” was filmed), is the third of the locations of the novel and the film. Half an hour from Badajoz, this village is in the middle of the Sierra de San Pedro, a place of pastures and meadows (and Iberian ham, of course).

Although the filming of Camus’ film was practically centred on a farm located on the outskirts of Alburquerque, both the technical team and the actors stayed in Mérida and alternated between the three locations. Paco Rabal is especially remembered in the area for frequenting the bars of the locals, and sleeping in their houses.

Navarra and The Baztan Trilogy

Closing this eminent list of famous novels adapted to the screen is one of the most spectacular publishing phenomena of recent years in Spain. Just ten years ago, an unknown writer called Dolores Redondo published “The Invisible Guardian”. Amaia Salazar, an inspector of the Homicide Department of the Navarre Police Force, was introduced to society. The rest, as they say, is history. 

With hints of Nordic noir, the plots (gruesome but fascinating), the characters (charismatic and unique) and the disturbing landscapes of the Baztan valley (surrounded by folklore, mysticism and magic), together with Redondo’s undeniable narrative mastery that maintains a constant tension until the last page, make this series of novels set in a small rural setting, have become a best-selling phenomenon.

A beautiful view of Elizondo (Navarra), where the trilogy of the same name was filmed / Navarra Film Commission

The book series was completed with “Legacy in the Bones” and “Offering to the Storm”. Their adaptation to the cinema was inevitable and was almost immediate. The films (one for each book) were shot in the original locations where Dolores Redondo set her plots, such as the village of Elizondo, the main setting. Once again, another perfect example of a film location becoming the protagonist of stories that could not be told anywhere else without losing their essence. 

The action of the Baztan trilogy takes place between the Navarrese capital, Pamplona, and, obviously, the Baztan Valley, which gives the saga its title. Depending on the moment of the story, the action pivots from one point to another of these attractive tourist destinations, allowing us to discover places of extraordinary beauty. 

In this video, Dolores Redondo herself shows us her favourite places. It may inspire you to prepare your trip to this beautiful region. 

So much for our particular selection of books taken to the screen in Spain. Soon, we will be able to add two more best sellers: “Reina roja”, by Juan Gómez Jurado, which has already finished shooting in Madrid, and “Memento mori”, by César Pérez Gellida, filmed in Valladolid. Which one will you choose for your next trip?

By María Parcero

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