The region where the nature and culture go hand in hand
Castile and Leon region is the largest autonomous community based on area. It offers a diverse natural landscape, majestic historical monuments and a wide range of delicious regional cuisine. The Saint James Way pilgrim route goes through this region. The region boasts nearly 40 protected natural spaces and will amount to an excellent holiday for any nature lover. Towns like Avila, Segovia and Salamanca are beautiful and attractions like Burgos Cathedral and Atapuerca archeological sites are worth the trip. The local delicacies like botillo, roast suckling pig and black sausages are quite famous, and you can pair the food with some of the best wines in the region like those from Ribera de Duero appellation.
Places – top 3 to visit if you are in Castile and Leon
1. Salamanca – An island well worth discovering
Salamanca is in the central area of Spain, 212 kilometres from the capital, Madrid. Its historic centre has been designated a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. Salamanca is the ultimate university city. Besides being one of the oldest in Europe, its university is also one of the country’s best examples of Renaissance architecture. In its heyday it was one of the most highly regarded European universities. For this reason, it has been attended by some of the greatest Spanish thinkers, artists and writers. In 2018 the University celebratede its 800th anniversary. In the 15th century, Salamanca saw the production of the first Grammar of the Castilian Language, which would become an essential tool for its expansion throughout the world. The city is also a favourite destination for foreign students wanting to learn Spanish. The Vía de la Plata (Silver Way), the old Roman road linking northern and southern Spain, passes through Salamanca. It is a good base for exploring interesting towns and villages nearby, also on the path of this ancient road, such as Guijuelo and Béjar. Salamanca is rich in history, but it’s also modern, lively, and fun. Thanks to the students, this city is full of life and movement 24 hours a day. Salamanca should be seen by day and by night, but especially at sunset when the sun gives a golden hue to the stone from Villamayor used to build it centuries ago.
2. Avila – A hidden gem in the Sierra Gredos Mountains
Sheltered by the Sierra Gredos Mountains lies Ávila, a World Heritage City. Behind the city walls of this Castile-Leon capital there is a valuable set of churches and Renaissance palaces that bear witness to the past wealth of the town as a textile centre. Being the birthplace of Saint Teresa of Jesus has left its mark across the city, both inside and outside the city walls, with a large number of religious buildings linked to the saint’s life. The European Commission has given Ávila the Access City Award 2010. The symbol of the city is the wall, one of the best preserved walled sites in Europe. Its perimeter is two and a half kilometres, with about 2,500 battlements, 100 towers, 6 doors and 3 secondary entrances. The Los Leales Gate, one of the main entrances to the old town, leads straight to the cathedral, which looks like a fortress and was built between the 12th and 14th centuries. Its apse, known as “cimorro”, is attached to the wall and is the largest defensive turret on the bastion. While there are superimposed Gothic and Baroque elements on the façade, inside there are intricate reliefs in the retro choir, and the tomb of El Tostado, made of alabaster. The Plaza del Mercado Chico, where the old Roman forum used to be situated, is the city centre. The façades of the Town Hall and of the Church of San Juan are facing the centre. Throughout its history, Ávila was the birthplace of famous Spanish mystics such as Santa Teresa de Jesús and San Juan de la Cruz. This is why there are many churches and convents scattered round the city. Outside the walled area of Avila is the Monastery of La Encarnación, built in the 16th century, where Santa Teresa lived as a nun for more than 20 years. It is worth stopping at the places in which the writer used to stay, like her cell or the chapel of the Transverberation. There are many places to stay in the capital. The Ávila Parador Hotel is next to the walls, set in the old Piedras Albas Palace.There are important towns in the province of Ávila, such as Arévalo, a beautiful example of Mudejar style from Ávila, designated a Historic-Artistic Site; Madrigal de las Altas Torres, birthplace of Catholic Queen Isabella; Las Navas del Marqués, with Magalia Castle; El Barco de Ávila, with the Gothic church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción 14th century) and Castillo de Valdecorneja.Some of the archaeological findings that are worth seeing in the province are Castro de Cogotas, one of the most important sites in Spain, and Toros de Guisando, Celtic stone sculptures. And finally, the Sierra de Gredos Regional Reserve, a great alternative for nature lovers.
3. Cuidad Rodrigo – A quaint Italian cathedral city
Ciudad Rodrigo is a small cathedral city in the province of Salamanca, in western Spain, with a population of 12,896. It is also the seat of a judicial district. The site of Ciudad Rodrigo, perched atop a rocky rise on the right bank of the River Águeda, has been occupied since the Neolithic Age. Known also as Mirobriga by those who wish to associate the city with an ancient Celtic village in the outskirts of the modern city. A key border fortress, it was the site of a 10-day siege by the Duke of Wellington and its capture from the French opened up the invasion of Spain in 1812. Ciudad Rodrigo has a Mediterranean climate characterised by hot and dry summers, and cool, damp winters. The historic centre of Ciudad Rodrigo is enclosed by the city walls. The walls were built during the 12th century. In the 17th century the walls were rebuilt and reinforced by bastions, ravelins and artillery batteries. The Cathedral of Santa María is a medieval cathedral situated in the town which was constructed in the 12th century in late Romanesque style and was refurbished in the 16th century by Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón. The cathedral contains many artworks: The Portal of the main façade (Portico del Perdón), the 16th-century choir stalls, baroque retables, medieval sculptures, and tombs. There are also several well preserved Renaissance and Baroque mansions and palaces such as Castro’s Palace, and the Palace of the Aguila, with a garden and two courtyards, one of them in Plateresque style.
Food and Drink – top 3 to try in Castile Leon
After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own family
Castilla-Leon is the largest of the Spanish Autonomous Regions. It is comprised of nine provinces which share flavours and tastes but conserve their own traditions. The traditions of huge historical and artistic richness are clearly reflected in the gastronomy of the area and it has fondly been given the nickname “España del Asado” (Spain of the Roast). Without a doubt, Castilla-Leon is best known for its roast suckling pig and lamb. These may be the main dishes of the local cuisine, but they are by no means the only ones. There are many others well worth trying which are prepared with all sorts of different ingredients. For Castilla-Leon, cooking is almost a cult. The visitor only has to witness one of the many food conferences which can be dedicated to lamb, to pork, to game, to wild mushrooms etc., take part in the age-old ritual called the “matanza” (home butchering), or visit the international trout week, to see just how important quality cooking is to the locals. In Castilla, the chef prepares his dishes with great care. This care is also reflected in the sweets, some of which are traditional recipes from old monasteries and convents. Castilla-Leon is well known for producing hot food for a cold climate. Soups in the region, can be light or thick such as garlic soup, which tastes even better when an egg is poached in it, trout soup, typical from Órbigo de Leon, and Zamora soup, which is basically garlic soup with ripe tomatoes and hot chilli peppers.
1. Soria: Pork Crackling – The world’s most famous crispy pork crackling
Soria pork crackling, also known as Torreznos are made from thick strips of pork belly, sprinkled with salt and fried in olive oil until very crispy and crunchy. They are perfect served hot or cold or with a nice cold beer or local wine. Soria are also used in other dishes such migas (based on shredded bread, garlic, olive oil, and other ingredients) and patatas revolconas (a similar dish based on potatoes).
2. Palencia: Stewed River Crabs – River crabs at their best
Originating in the town of Herrera de Pisuerga, just under an hour’s drive north of the provincial capital (and which even has a river crab museum and a March crab festival), these cangrejos del río are boiled, then dressed with olive oil, white wine, garlic, onions, and guindilla peppers. Peel and appreciate!
3. Salamanca: Baked Meat Pie – A new take on a pork pie
Castille and Leon is most famous for its pork and one of its signature treats is hornazo, pastry stuffed with pork loin, savoury chorizo sausage, and hard-boiled egg. Generally, they’re made large and served cut into slices, and are tasty at room temperature but even more delicious served right out of the oven.
Wine – Top 3 To Know About Wines
Enjoyable wines from the largest autonomous Spanish community
The history of wine production in this region can be dated back to the Roman times although the wines of Castile and León started gaining importance only during the eleventh century. Although the region’s economy has traditionally focused on cereal crops, viticulture has been a significant economic activity in the area for more than 2000 years. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the acreage devoted to vineyards fell significantly, and the focus was shifted from quantity to quality. Today, Castile and Léon is home to some of Spain’s most respected Denominaciones de Origen (DOs). Most notable are Ribera del Duero, Toro, Rueda and Bierzo. The Castile and Leon Vino de la Tierra title covers the entire wine region. It has much less restrictive regulations, and a wide range of grape varieties are permitted. It covers lesser-known, newer or less intensively planted locations which also gives winemakers a chance to work on less-traditional wine styles. In terms of climate, Castilla y Léon has a remarkably strong continental feel, given how close it comes to the Atlantic Ocean. Hot, dry summers here are followed by sharp, cold winters, when temperatures regularly drop well below freezing. Diurnal temperature shifts are equally pronounced, and play a vital part in the local wine styles. Cool nights refresh the vineyards after long, hot days. The area is completely shielded from the maritime influence of the Bay of Biscay by the Cordillera Cantábrica mountain range. On the other side of these mountains lie the Asturias, Cantabria and Pais Vasco regions. The international success of key Spanish producers in Castile and Leon has done much to raise the region’s profile. Among these are Vega Sicilia, Numanthia-Termes, Campo Eliseo and Bodega Palacios Remondo have spearheaded modernization in the region and brought renewed interest to its wines.
1. Wine highlights
Red wines rule in Castille and Léon, and the Tempranillo grape variety is unquestionably the king. It is known here by various synonyms including Tinta del Pais, Tinto de Toro and Tinto Fino. It is the grape behind all of the region’s finest wines except Bierzo, which makes good use of Mencia. The supporting cast includes the French varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Castile and Léon’s white wines are far fewer in number than the reds, but only marginally less prestigious. They are made mostly from the white grapes Verdejo and Viura. Wines from this region can be traced back to the monks of Cluny, who came to the Iberian Peninsula along the Santiago Way, bringing with them the vines that would give rise to the magnificent Tinto Fino variety, basis of the Ribera del Duero’s finest wines. The Ribera del Duero region approached quality from a completely new angle and has been closely followed by Rioja. The reds from Toro have a potential which is hard to beat. The same, though at a more modest level, could be said of the wines made from the Mencia grape in Bierzo, or the clarets and reds from the emerging region of Cigales.
2. Grape varieties
3. Style of wines
The DO Arlanza of Castile and Leon extends its vineyards from the southeast of Palencia to the west of Burgos. The grapes used are Tinta del País, Mencía, Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon in reds; Albillo and Viura in whites. The red wines of this DO should be made with at least an 80% of Tinta del País (the rest should be all grapes from the red varieties) and have an alcohol content of at least an 11.5%. The rosés should have at least a 60% of Tinta del País and an alcohol content of at least 10.5%. The DO Arribes lies in the northwest of the province of Salamanca and in the south eastern province of Zamora. DO Arribes produces red, white and rosé Castilian wines, and the grape varieties allowed are Juan García, Rufete, Tempranillo, Mencía and Garnacha for the reds and Malvasía, Verdejo and Albillo for the whites. The types of wines they produce are Crianza, Joven, Rosé and White. DO El Bierzo is in the northwest of the León province, in the valley of the Sil river. The main varieties of grapes are Mencía for the reds and Doña Blanca and Godello for the whites. Six different types of Castilian wines are produced in DO El Bierzo. The DO Cigales was established in 1991, but wine making has been part of the day to day of this region from the 10th century. The grape varieties allowed are Tinta del País, Garnacha Tinta and Garnacha gris in red and Verdejo and Albillo in whites. The vines of Tinta del País occupy at least 70% of the whole plantation, which makes it the most used variety.
Nature – top 3 to visit in Castile and Leon
Nature and adventure tourism at its best
The region of Castile-León is home to some simply outstanding natural attractions: a national park, 12 nature reserves, five designated nature area. There are so many ways that these attractions can be enjoyed from hot air ballooning or enjoying live music in a national park. This is a new way to experience tourism.
1. Cave of Franceses – Nature’s own work of art
The Cueva de los Franceses (Cave of the French) has emerged through the action of water, which, over the centuries, has created a finely sculpted natural work of art. The cave is situated between Covalagua and the Páramo de la Lora and was once the burial ground of many French soldiers during the War of Independence. Inside the cave there is a beautiful collection of stalactite formations that can be admired along a distance of 500 metres
2. Acebal de Garagueta – Immerse yourself in an endless holly forest
The Acebal de Garguerta is the largest forest in the Iberian Peninsula and southern Europe. It comprises 406 hectares of forest, of which 180 hectares are pure holly trees that grow in a labyrinth forming vaults in which thrush and deer shelter. The area has an extraordinary ecological value. It is thought that its origin is natural and that it comes from the degradation of oak and beech forests, in which holly appeared as accompanying vegetation.
3. Royal Site of San Ildefonso (La Granja de San Illdefonso) – A Royal site to behold
La Granja de San Ildefonso is, first and foremost, a Royal Site. The small town of San Ildefonso, designated as a monumental historical site, is a token of the glory of the Spanish Monarchy in the eighteenth century. The Royal Palace, the Glass Factory and the fabulous, Versailles-like gardens are icons of such splendour. San Ildefonso boasts a stunning natural setting and a rich cultural heritage. The Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso is reminiscent of Versailles not only because of its sumptuous halls but also due to its magnificent fountains, sculptures and gardens, which were designed by René Carlier, a disciple of Louis XIV’s architect. Across its 146 hectares of forests and landscaped gardens, visitors will find 26 monumental fountains, a French-style maze and a large pond known as ‘The Sea’, which supplies water to the fountains. A selection of fountains are turned on from mid-March to mid-October, although if you’re lucky enough to be visiting on 30 May, 25 July or 25 August, you’ll get to see all the fountains in action. In addition, most Saturday evenings in July and August the fountain known as the Baths of Diana is switched on from 10.30 to 11.30pm.