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Last updated : Nov 2009
The Castile, León and La Rioja
The Castile, 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.

Segovia 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.

Burgos 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

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.