A Culinary and Cultural Tour of Castilla y Leon

The Walls of Avila in central Spain
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(Castilla y Leon, Spain) – While I was recently in Castilla y Leon to enjoy its celebrated wine and food, I could not ignore its culture. The Ruta de Santa Teresa, a self-initiated tour of the historically significant sites this famous Spanish saint is associated with, zigzags through the region.

A Culinary and Cultural Tour of Castilla y Leon
A Culinary and Cultural Tour of Castilla y Leon

One of the 17 Discalced Carmelite “palomarcicos” or small convents that St. Teresa of Avila founded is in Valladolid. It houses St Teresa’s simple room, the church, cloister and a small on-site museum of documents and artifacts associated with her life and work.

The best-preserved walls of Avila
The best-preserved walls of Avila
The Walls of Avila in central Spain
The Walls of Avila in central Spain

Valladolid, the largest city in Castilla y Leon, Spain, is fortuitously sited in the fertile Douro River Valley. It is a city of amazing history. It was once the capital of Spain where the Catholic monarchs Isabel and Ferdinand were married, and it is where Christopher Columbus died. Such glory began simply, when the Celts sailed up the Douro River in the 5th century BC and built a small palisade in the lowlands.

Valladolid Cathedral
Valladolid Cathedral
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When visiting Valladolid, be sure to stroll through the old, pedestrian-only section for the great shopping and the many street fairs and arts events running continuously in this vibrant University town. You can also tour the Cathedral, the many palaces and museums, and admire the diverse architecture.

Facade of Valladolid Cathedral
Facade of Valladolid Cathedral

Valladolid becomes a city of flowers in the summer, with floral displays and gardens vying for your attention. So, get into all the historic buildings on those rare rainy days (medieval texts refer to the city as Vallisoletum, meaning “sunny valley”, but the true origins of the name Valladolid remain obscured by time) and be sure to spend the rest of the time outside admiring this beautiful city.

jamon, chorizo, salami & lomo (cured pork loin)
jamon, chorizo, salami & lomo (cured pork loin)

The wine and food of Castilla y Leon are big business. There are more than 1000 wineries in the region employing more than 20,000 people. The local cuisine, especially the slow-roasted baby lamb, the cured pork and beef, and the aged sheep cheeses rival the best in Spain. In fact, the majority of all the tourists that visit Castilla y Leon come for the wine and food. I had my choice of great wines from 13 Designation of Origin (DOC) regions by following seven different wine routes, the most of any region in Spain!

Walking Tour of Salamanca
Walking Tour of Salamanca

For more culture, there are the three nearby UNESCO cities of Avila, Segovia and Salamanca, offering perfectly preserved medieval ramparts, Old Towns, Roman aqueducts, cathedrals, and one of the oldest universities in Europe.

Entrance to Salamanca’s 13th century library (no photos allowed inside)
Entrance to Salamanca’s 13th century library (no photos allowed inside)

The city of Avila, the home of St. Teresa, is surrounded by the best preserved ancient walls in Spain, arguably in all of Europe. A walk inside the parapets around the ancient city offers the views for miles across the surrounding plains that illustrate why this such a defensible position.

Inside the walls you’ll see the amazing medieval architecture which culminates in the 11th century gothic cathedral which, originally doing double-duty as a fortress, grows right out of the ramparts.

Ancient Roman bridge into Salamanca, with the “new” Cathedral in the background.
Ancient Roman bridge into Salamanca, with the “new” Cathedral in the background.

In Salamanca, known as the “Golden City” because of the warm yellow stone used in construction, the spires and domes of the unusual conjoined cathedrals, the “new” one from the 16th century and the old, 12th century one behind it, crown this beautiful city. Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor, the largest in Europe, is the social center of the city. You’ll find excellent restaurants and shops surrounding the all day and all night activities.

Don Mauro Restaurante on the Plaza Major, with bar & tapas
Don Mauro Restaurante on the Plaza Major, with bar & tapas

The plaza boasts a fake wall of official buildings, little more than a facade really, where dignitaries officiate over ceremonies and major events, but no real business of state gets done. As you stroll around, look for the nesting storks on the tall buildings, and the many examples of frogs, which are the symbol of the city.

Salamanca’s Plaza Major
Salamanca’s Plaza Major

In 2018, the ”Oxford of Spain”, as the University of Salamanca is affectionately known, celebrates its 800th Anniversary. It is the oldest university on the Iberian Peninsula and among the oldest in Europe. A visit there has to include the gilded beauty of the preserved library of ancient books and the original 12th century lecture hall (restored in the 16th century, see below).

Salamanca University, the Fray Luis de Leon Lecture Theater
Salamanca University, the Fray Luis de Leon Lecture Theater

Of special note is the courtyard dominated by the 200 yr. old sequoia (Giant Redwood) tree. It is said to be related to the ones growing elsewhere in Castilla y Leon that were grown from seeds the Spanish explorer, Coronado, brought back from this exploits in the New World.

Salamanca’s University
Salamanca’s University

Segovia is celebrated for its double arched Roman aqueduct, the best preserved aqueducts from the Roman period; the Alcazar, an amazing fortress and delicately spired castle that, it is said, was the model for Walt Disney’s Disneyland Castle; and a plethora of cathedrals, palaces and churches to explore.

Salamanca’s magnificent “new” cathedral
Salamanca’s magnificent “new” cathedral

Any visit to Castilla y Leon must include Leon, Spain’s Gastronomy Capital for 2018. While there are many reports that the city is named after the lion, in fact it was originally an encampment of the 7th Roman Legion, and can trace its name from “legion”.

the wines of the region are varied and delicious!
the wines of the region are varied and delicious!

It is an extraordinary place for tapas and other great Spanish food and wine. For centuries Leon has been a major outpost on the Camino, the Saint James Way, the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostella and Saint James’ Tomb. Leon’s cathedral, an important stop on the Camino, is said to be the most beautiful in Spain.

Architect Antonio Gaudi designed this beauty in Leon
Architect Antonio Gaudi designed this beauty in Leon

Antonio Gaudi, of Barcelona fame, designed a private residence/apartment complex called Casa Botines, which eventually became the headquarters of a bank. Today a museum on the ground floor hosts a homage to the famous architect, while upper floors are an art museum.

cecina, the famous cured beef of the region, presented 2 ways
cecina, the famous cured beef of the region, presented 2 ways

All these cities are located in the large agricultural region of Castilla y Leon. They can be easily reached from Madrid by car, high speed trains and busses. The fantastic foods of the countryside are complimented by the largest variety of wines available in one region. The Celtic, Roman, and Medieval histories are intertwined with the architecture and historic sites to create a history of Spain in a microcosm. Castilla y Leon also is the center of the Castilian Language, the purest form of Spanish, and is recognized globally as the best place to learn Spanish.

Castilla y Leon is the one place you haven’t been that has everything you look for in Spain. Come see what all the fuss is about.

For more information see www.spain.info and http://www.turismocastillayleon.com/turismocyl/en.

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