The Tuscany of Spain
The Douro River hosts the popular Viking European River cruise that begins in Portugal and travels into Spain as far as the city of Salamanca in the Castilla y Leon region. Unfortunately, the cruise cannot show visitors all the rich culinary and cultural heritage of this remarkable region of Spain before it turns around and retraces its route back to the sea.
The Douro River (Ribera del Duero) flows from north-central Spain west to the Atlantic Ocean through northern Portugal. The early Celts, and then the Romans after them, came inland following this natural route upstream (as modern river cruises do today), to settle throughout this section of the Iberian Peninsula.
Ancient Celtic sites and Roman aqueducts, roads, and amphitheaters, dot the landscape of this fertile land. They are joined by the UNESCO cities of Avila, Segovia and Salamanca, with perfectly preserved medieval ramparts, Old Towns, cathedrals, and one of the oldest universities in Europe, all so close together they could be visited in a long weekend.
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But you should spend longer than a weekend in Castilla y Leon, for within this small area – besides all the history – are five separate wine Designations of Origin (DO) representing the award-winning red, sparkling, white and rose wines of Ribera del Duero, Reuda, Toro, Tierras del Vino de Zamora, and Arribes. No other area this size has as many fine wine choices! Besides the wines, you will also find remarkable cheeses, the best-cured pork in the world — jamón ibérico de bellota — the black-footed, acorn-fed Spanish ham, and cecina, Spain’s beautifully cured, hardwood smoked beef, which all come from here.
Another part of Castilla y Leon’s culinary tradition is the cultivation and/or collection of wild truffles and mushrooms, a quality it also shares with its sister region in Italy – Tuscany. Or, as it was explained to me by Alberto Bosque of the Castilla y Leon tourism board over a delicious glass of local white wine, the Castilla y Leon region is the Tuscany of Spain – only with better wines!
And, if you could possibly need another reason to visit Castilla y Leon, this year the Universidad de Salamanca is celebrating its 800th anniversary. It is the oldest university in Spain, established by royal charter in 1218, and in continuous operation since then. Once known as the Oxford of Spain, the University of Salamanca still plays an important role in the education of students from around the globe. Festivities celebrating eight centuries of instruction include concerts, programs, forums and exhibits throughout the year.
For more information of the celebrations please visit here. http://marcaespana.es/en/current-news/culture/university-salamancas-800th-anniversary
More general information about Castilla y Leon can be found here. http://www.turismocastillayleon.com/turismocyl/en
Paradores are reasonably priced luxury hotels, usually located in converted historic buildings such as a monastery or castle, preserved by the Spanish government as a place for the people to rest.
Viking River Cruises http://www.vikingrivercruises.com/