León and La Rioja
| The inland region
of Castile and León lie to the north and
northwest of Madrid and occupy the northern part of the Meseta
Central, the plateau that covers much of central Spain.
Like the Madrid region, Castile and León
are hemmed in by high mountains to the north, east and south and
are the catchment area for a large river, the Douro,
which flows westward into Portugal. Hot and dry throughout much
of the year, the region’s extensive plains nonetheless make
it an important agricultural asset for a country as mountainous
as Spain. The wine region of La Rioja is small
and tucked away to the northeast of Castile and León.
Castille La Vieja
Superbly situated on a plain overlooked by the Sierra de
Gredos and the highest provincial capital in the country
is Avila. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is famous
for its perfectly preserved 11th-century walls and as the birthplace
of the 16th-century mystic, St Teresa. Walking
the ramparts is the most obvious attraction. The sights most closely
associated with St Teresa are the 17th-century Convent now named
in her honour with a small museum exhibiting items of clothing and
other possessions, the Convento de la Encarnación,
where she served as a nun and the Convento de San José
which she founded in 1562. The Cathedral is a curious hybrid of
the Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance styles.
is renowned for its 800m-long Roman aqueduct, one of the best preserved
structures of its kind in the world. Its other attractions include
18 outstanding Romanesque churches and a Gothic cathedral by the
Arab Alcazar. The turrets soaring from its rocky outcrop are said
to be the inspiration for Walt Disney’s fairytale
castles. A short distance from the town is the wonderfully
sited Summer Palace and gardens of La Granja, built
in the first half of the 18th century for Philip V.
The province of Soria has a large number of archaeological
remains of the Celtiberian and Roman civilisations, many of which
can be seen in the Museo Numantino in the provincial
capital of the same name. Around 9km (6 miles) north of the town
is the site of Numancia, a fortified Celtiberian
town. Attractions in the town of Soria include the 13th-century
Church of San Juan de Duero, the Cathedral
of San Pedro and the Renaissance Palacio de los
Condes de Gómara.
was the birthplace of the knight El Cid, the embodiment
of the chivalric tradition. His tomb, and that of his beloved Doña
Jimena, can be viewed in the magnificent Gothic cathedral.
Palencia, the capital of the province of the same
name, was the one-time residence of the Kings of Castile
and seat of the Cortes of Castile. The 15th-century
Gothic Cathedral is the main point of interest, though it can not
stand comparison with Burgos. The city has several
other late-medieval buildings and an archaeological museum.
The industrial city of Valladolid with a population
of approx 500,000, capital of a province rich in castles and other
ancient buildings, is famous for the Holy Week Procession
at Easter and the Ferias Mayores (Great Fairs)
in September. At the end of October, the city hosts a major international
film festival. Book ahead if a visit is planned at any
of these times. The city is associated with some of the most famous
names in the history of the Iberian peninsula. Columbus
(although not a Spaniard) died here in 1506, the Museo de
Colon has objects and artefacts from the Mayan,
Aztec and Inca civilisations, the great
Spanish poet, Miguel de Cervantes, also had a home
here, which is now a museum. The Museo Nacional de Escultura
has the best collection of polychromatic religious sculpture in
the world. There’s also a beautiful medieval cathedral and
a university. The superb castle at Peñafiel
houses a Museum of Wine of the Ribera del Duero region,
and commands stunning scenic views.
The lively city of León was recaptured from
the Moors during 850, and the architecture reflects
its long history under Christian rule. The cathedral is one of the
finest examples of the Gothic style in the country and boasts some
outstanding 13th-century stained glass. Also worth seeing is the
Pantheon in the Church of San Isidoro, which contains
the tombs of the medieval kings of Castile and León
and is decorated with Romanesque wall paintings. There are several
places of interest within easy reach of León,
including the fabulous Puerto de Pajares, Benavente
and the attractive region around Astorga, a town
which, like other towns in the region, was a stopping point on the
Way of St James (see Santiago de Compostela
in the Northern Region section).
South of León is the province of Zamora,
the provincial capital of the same name was the scene of many fierce
struggles between the Moors and the Christians during the Reconquista,
in which the Spanish hero El Cid figured prominently.
The town has a Romanesque Cathedral and several 12th-century churches.
Approximately 19km (12 miles) northwest of Zamora
is an artificial lake, created in 1931, on the shores of the lake,
in El Campillo, is a Visigoth church dating from
the seventh century, which was moved when its original site was
flooded by the new reservoir.
The southernmost province of León, Salamanca,
has as its capital the ancient university town of the same name,
awarded the title of European City of Culture
in 2002. It is situated on the swiftly flowing Tormes
River and has many superb Renaissance buildings, weathered
to a golden-brown hue. The most famous of these are the two Cathedrals,
one Romanesque, the other late-Gothic in style
but not completed until the 18th century. The university and the
fine houses around the Plaza Mayor are also striking.
More unusual is the Museo Art Nouveau y Art Deco,
with its fascinating collections of objets d’art from the
first half of the 20th century. The fiesta in September
is very popular and bookings should be made well in advance.
La Rioja is famous for its vineyards. The capital, Logroño,
is in the centre of the Rioja region. It is a district with a great
historical past, the origins of poetry in the Castilian
language lie here and it contains the channel of a European
stream of culture, the Road to Santiago.