Tag Archives: Valladolid

Travels in Spain, The Next Road Trip…

Map Route

Alcalá de Henares completed our road trip around central Spain. Thanks to everyone who joined me on the circumnavigation of Madrid, next time in Iberia I will head further north into Castilla y Leon and towards the Northern Kingdoms.

Cities of Castilla y Leon

Before that I am going to visit some historical sites in France…

Dinan Brittany France

… And then I am going to Naples in Italy…

Centro Storico Naples

… As always you are welcome to join me…

Travels in Spain, The Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor Siguenza

We enjoyed our brief stay in Almagro and especially our time spent in the Plaza Mayor and as we had a final glass of Rioja on the balcony of the hotel we began to compile a list of our favourites.  The more places we visit the more difficult this becomes so we have now extended this list from five to ten and introduced two categories – cities and towns.

The Plaza Mayor is arguably the most important part of a Spanish town or city and I really cannot think of an equivalent in the United Kingdom where we have public squares but use them in an entirely different way – all day drinking, littering and anti-social behaviour.

In Spain the Plaza Mayor is the place where people meet, relax and enjoy themselves; it is generally flanked with shops and restaurants and usually has the town hall and the main church somewhere close by.  This is the beating heart of a Spanish community and when we arrive somewhere new it is usually the first place we make for because sitting with a glass of wine and complimentary tapas it is the best place to be to get a feeling for the town and its people.

Plaza Mayor Siguenza Spain

In the search for real Spain (not the coasts and the Costas), in the past five years, we have visited and enjoyed dozens of Plaza Mayors; Madrid, the largest, Salamanca, the second largest, Toledo, next to its towering cathedral and the tiled Plaza de España in Seville.  We liked them all and we began now to compile a list with a view to choosing our favourites.

We considered Ávila,  Mérida and ValladolidCáceres and Santiago de CompostellaOviedo and León  but after a lively debate weighing up the pros and cons and putting forward the case for each one in turn we finally agreed on the top five in each category but could not reach consensus on the actual order.

First the cities:  Segovia in Castilla y Leon because of the Cathedral and the architecture and the little streets running away from it like spokes from a wheel, Trujillo in Extremadura, because of its unspoilt medieval charm, its grand palaces and dusty, sunburnt aura and then Salamanca with its grand baroque architecture and after that Alcala de Henara and the Plaza de Cervantes with its statues and gardens and grandly colonnaded perimeter and then we would simply have to add Palencia  because of its unspoilt charm and the timeless quality of the buildings and architecture – a real gem!

Vic Catalonia Spain

And so to the towns: the unpretentious and functional Ciudad Rodrigo, reeking of the Spanish Peninsula War in every crack and crevice, Chinchón with its open balconies and bullfights and Siguenza with its stone simplicity, cobbled alleys, sharp stairways, deep arches, shady courtyards and stone buttresses leaning across the street and leaving barely a single shaft of sunlight and which was the probably the closest yet that I have been looking for in Spain.  Almagro with its stone colonnaded arches and Tuscan columns supporting overhead galleries all painted a uniform shade of green and fully glazed in a central European style which makes this place unique in all of Spain.  Finally Tembleque which we visited on a dreary overcast day but despite that there was no ignoring the quality of its fine Plaza.

That was a difficult debate and lasted as long as long as the bottle of wine and two dishes of olives but once we had finished we drained our glasses and thought about moving on in the morning.

Chinchon

Northern Spain – The City of Valladolid

Valladolid Spain

“The celebrated plateresque façades of Valladolid strike me as being, when one has recovered from the riotous shock of them, actually edible.”  –  Jan Morris – ‘Spain’

The road to Valladolid and Palencia was just as dreary as the previous roads through Castilla y León as we entered the Tierra de Campos, an expansive fertile and arable farmland area, over seven hundred metres above sea level and to the traveller a vast desolate plain with virtually nothing but flat fields and open sky.

The road drifted north through a succession of characterless towns and villages but for naturalist entertainment they were flanked by swaying verges decorated with wild flowers – regal purple thistles, rigid and erect, sunshine yellow low-level daisies, shy and demure and blood red poppies, showing off and bending and bowing in the breeze like obedient courtiers.

Read the full story…

Alternative Twelve Treasures of Spain – Salamanca

The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain” was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope. The final results were announced on 31st December 2007.  I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited and having completed that I thought I might come up with a personal alternative twelve.

The official winning twelve included five Cathedrals, but I have only one – at number eleven – Salamanca.

Salamanca is one of the most magnificent Renaissance cities in all of Europe.  It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988 and a European City of Culture in 2002.  Sandstone coloured buildings overwhelmingly fill the city, earning Salamanca the name of La Ciudad Dorada (The Golden City).

We arrived  just after midday, easily slipped into an underground car park and made our way into the city.  On every visit to Spain I seem to be visiting a new World Heritage Site so when I counted them up I was interested to discover that I have now been to sixteen and that is over a third of them.

In 2005 I visited Barcelona in Catalonia and saw the works of Antoni Gaudi and Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital de Sant Pau. Then in 2008 I saw the Historic Centre of Córdoba,  the  Caves of Altamira in Cantabria, the Old Town of Santiago de Compostela and the Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville.  In 2009 in the motoring holiday around Castilian cities I visited the Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct, the Historic Walled Town of Cuenca, the Historic City of Toledo and the Old Town of Ávila.

It was still misty even though the sun was struggling to break through as we walked through cobbled streets and buildings of rich caramel coloured Villamayor stone and directly to the centre of the city.  Then around the busy  University buildings and visited the public library and after that the centre of the city and the inevitable Plaza Mayor where because it was too chilly to sit at a pavement café groups of men were wandering around deep in conversation discussing the important matters of the day.

Elderly men are a way of life in Spain because just as Gerald Brenan explained in ‘South from Granada’ “…almost every Spanish peasant becomes wise when he passes fifty.”

It was a good Plaza, but despite being the second largest in Spain after Madrid with vast  harmonious arcaded space designed by Alberto Churriguera in the eighteenth century we did not consider it one of our favourites, but still worth a visit and when we had finished admiring it we left through a stone arch and looked for a bar and somewhere for lunch and we found what we were looking for just outside the square so stopped for tapas and a beer.

It was easy to conclude that there is something special about Salamanca almost as though in every street, with every building and in every Church and Palace that this represents the real Spain that we have been searching for and this may well be because it has the oldest University in Spain which rivals in historic importance that of Oxford and Bologna and houses one of the oldest libraries in the World and is considered to be the source of the ‘pure‘ Spanish language and associated culture of Old Castile.

As we ate an optimistic old lady passed by selling sprigs of rosemary and I didn’t know why until later when I looked it up.  Rosemary, apparently, is widely thought to be a powerful guardian and to give power to women and therefore it is used by many people to ward off evil in the home and bring good luck in family matters. If I had known this at the time I might have bought some to see if it might improve the weather because the mist wasn’t shifting when we left and went to visit the cathedral.

I should say cathedrals because Salamanca has two, an old one and a new one that are joined together into one massive structure.  We paid €3.50 each for tickets to visit and then commenced a tour of the towers and the balconies that involved an awful lot of spiral staircases and a labyrinth of stone corridors took us from one to the other.  It was a spectacular building and well worth the money but it was a pity about the weather because the drab overcast sky and persistent patches of mist spoilt what would certainly have been spectacular views from the top.

Salamanca Roman Bridge and Cathedrals

After the visit we returned to the streets and walked to the 1st Century Roman Bridge across the River Tormes, which was flowing west towards the Embalse de Almendra that we had visited yesterday and then with no real prospect of weather improvement we abandoned Salamanca to the mist and returned to the car and set out for Vallodolid.

My Personal A to Z of Spain, Y is for Castilla y Leon

” Castile has no coast, so tourists in search of a beach leave it alone…. Castile is almost overlooked.  If Spain is hard, extreme, hot, cold, empty, then Castile is more so.”                                                                                                                          Christopher House – ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

A few weeks after returning from Castilla-la Mancha to the south of Madrid we were going back to Spain and this time to Castilla y Leon to the north of the capital. We had been here in March this year to Ávila and Segovia but this time we were going further north and west, flying in to Valladolid and staying in the small city of Ciudad Rodrigo.

We had been looking forward to this because Castilla y Leon is as far away from the coastal strip as it is possible to get and is home to half of Spain’s cultural heritage sites including seven UNESCO World Heritage treasures, over two hundred castles and eleven magnificent cathedrals. It is the birthplace of the Spanish language, which after Chinese and Hindi is the third most common language in the World just ahead of English.

We had a late morning flight and as we flew south across Spain the clouds increased and there was nothing to see until we began to descend toward Valladolid where they began to break into various patchy fragments and below us we could see large colourful fields, russet, grey, cream and yellow broken now and again by bottle green forests, shimmering blue lakes and occasional villages with ochre tiled roofs.

Valladolid airport is only small with limited facilities but there was a sign apologising for this and promising imminent improvements. We collected a steel grey Seat Ibiza from the Avis rental car office and set off immediately on the two hundred-kilometre drive to Ciudad Rodrigo.

There were plenty of things to stop and see along the way but it was mid afternoon and we were in a hurry to get to our destination so we took the Autovia de Castilla and with virtually no traffic to share the road with had an easy journey all of the way.

We were crossing the Meseta, the great central plain of interior Spain, which at two hundred and ten thousand square kilometres makes up forty percent of the country and has an average altitude of six hundred and fifty metres. It is split in two by the Sistema Central, the Guadarrama and Gredos mountain ranges, creating Old Castile to the north (Castilla y Leon) and New Castile to the south (Castilla La Mancha). The northern ‘submeseta’ is the higher of the two at over eight hundred metres and coming from below sea level in Lincolnshire I worried that we might require oxygen cylinders.

After about half way we passed by Salamanca and we could see its golden coloured cathedrals standing proud and high above the city and after that the landscape began to change (I say cathedrals because Salamanca has two, an old one and a new one that are joined together into one massive structure). We left behind the pretty coloured fields and entered a different environment of green fields and woodlands and more and more livestock.

After a couple of hours of really enjoyable motoring we came to Ciudad Rodrigo, which is the last city in Spain before reaching Portugal, a fortress city built to protect the western border of the country and as we approached we could see the walled city and its fortifications standing on a rocky outcrop in a commanding defensive position.

P3210578

I knew roughly where the hotel Molina de Águeda was and as we kept an eye open for directions Kim had one of her navigational fluke moments and spotted a half hidden sign that signposted our destination. As we pulled into the car park there were a few spots of rain but it came to nothing and there were blue skies above us as we unloaded the car and went inside to reception. It was a very nice hotel indeed located in an old water mill on the river Agueda, elegantly refurbished and surrounded by woods and we had a good room on the front with a nice view of the river and the old city about a kilometre away.

As a consequence of a severe Atlantic storm we woke to a hissing wind and dark scowling clouds that the mountains of Portugal had failed to detain storming in from the west. It was mean and moody but there was no rain so that was a bonus. From the hotel balcony it was possible to appreciate just what a land of contrasts Spain really is.

This was about as far away from the traditional view of Spain of the holiday brochures as it is possible to get and it was different too from our visit the previous month to Castilla-la Mancha. Here we were getting close towards green Spain in the north with more small farms, livestock, deciduous woods, fast flowing rivers and Portugal just twenty-five kilometres away, which was where we planned to visit later.

After breakfast it was still misty so we were forced to abandon our plans to return to Ciudad Rodrigo for blue-sky photographs and set off instead to visit the historical city of Salamanca. Because it was earlier than we had anticipated we decided to take a scenic route rather than the direct Autovia de Castilla. Leaving the city for the last time we took the road signposted towards Béjar in a southeasterly direction towards the Gredos mountains and in particular the Sierra de Francia, one of the ranges belonging to the Sistema Central, the mountain range that separates Spain in two.

At first the road was long and straight as it cut through a flat landscape of livestock farms and woods that were slowly beginning to emerge from the swirling mists of a November morning. As we drove through a succession of quiet towns the sun began to poke through and the sky started to turn blue. After a while we hit the edge of a national park with pine covered mountain slopes and then deciduous woods of alder, oak, pine and ash in splendid autumn finery that made it look like a field of gold. The road became more difficult as we entered a series of hairpin bends with glorious views over the valleys and mountain passes below.

I had miscalculated the driving distance towards our turn for Salamanca and we seemed to keep going forever but the journey and the scenery was magnificent and another valuable Spanish geography lesson. Eventually we reached the road junction we were heading for and turned northeast towards Salamanca. At first the road continued to twist and turn but after a few kilometres we dropped quickly back down to open range and the agricultural plain and started to pick up speed and make good progress.

Travels in Spain, The Search Continues

Since early 2009, as part of our own Grand Tour of Europe, we have been drawn time and again  to the Iberian Peninsula in search of the real Spain and in November 2010 we returned once more, flying to Madrid and planning a short three night stay in the city of Ávila about one hundred kilometres north west of the capital city.

Read the full story…

Salamanca and Valladolid

 

We arrived in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Salamanca just after midday, easily slipped into an underground car park and made our way into the city.  On every visit to Spain I seem to be visiting a new World Heritage Site so when I counted them up I was interested to discover that I have now been to sixteen and that is over a third of them.

Read the full story…

Castilla y Leon

A few weeks after returning from Castilla-la Mancha to the south of Madrid we were going back to Spain and this time to Castilla y Leon to the north of the capital.  We had been here in March this year to Ávila and Segovia but this time we were going further north and west, flying in to Valladolid and staying in the small city of Ciudad Rodrigo.

Read the full story…