If you take Spain’s curvy A-1 highway a full three hours northeast of Madrid you might end up in Pradoluengo. But, then again, you might not, since this is probably the first time you’re hearing about it.
I try to get to Pradoluengo as often as I can. It’s where my dad was born and where a lot of my family still lives. My most recent trip, which I counted as number 11, was last November, and like the seven or so trips before it that I’ve taken alone as an adult, the route was the same. It always goes like this: I take a six-hour flight from New York to Madrid, after which I fall asleep on a two-hour bus ride from the airport to Burgos, the stunning city in Castilla y León and my closest point of reference when people unfailingly tell me they haven’t heard of Prado. At the Burgos bus station I tear up instantly as I catch a glimpse of whichever aunt, uncle, cousin, or some combination of the three is waiting for me. From there, we catch up over the 45-minute, sunflower-field-lined drive to Prado.
My visits are typically spaced a little over a year apart, but little about Prado changes while I’m gone. (During that November visit, the elders in town were a bit pissed about a new camping lodge that opened up with an attached restaurant and boutique, while the younger generation was pleased to welcome a business that’s doing what it can to put Prado on the map.)
All of which is to say, Pradoluengo is a small town. How small? Its most recent headcount clocked in at around 1,151, and my family will be the first to tell you that that number is only getting smaller. Pradoluengo sits at the bottom of a green valley, its name, meaning “long meadow,” an attempt to describe its long and narrow shape. Here, buildings are no taller than five stories; there are no stop lights; and there’s only one major intersection, a fork in the road anchored by Regoluna, one of Pradoluengo’s few but very beloved bars. Still, there is plenty of room for two panaderías.
One is Panadería Pastelería Alarcia, a bread and sweets bakery well into its fifth generation of ownership. Its current owner, Ramon Alarcia, took over the shop in 1994 after studying confectionery in Valencia and apprenticing at a Madrid pastry shop. Before Ramon came along, the tiny storefront was known as Panadería Alarcia and sold only fresh bread to the town and its neighbors.
Ramon runs the shop with his sister, Maria, and mother, Amparo, and the trio only closes each year from December 25 to January 1. One of the early additions to Alarcia’s sweeter offerings after Ramon took over? Lazos, or lacitos, meaning “ties’’ and “little ties,” respectively. Pieces of puff pastry are twisted to look like bows, baked, and then soaked in honey and powdered sugar.