Castilla y León (España 3)

Don’t miss the beginning! This article is part of a series that starts >> here <<.

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The day I left Madrid was by far the coldest of this trip. It was very cloudy and the train went very slowly up into the pine forests of the Sierra de Guadarrama. After 20min it was all covered by snow, it would have been amazing with a bit of sunshine. Then it went down in Castilla y León, under the limit of snow, and I stopped in the city of Ávila.

Ávila

Few people outside of Spain are aware of the existence and location of this small town. But it has some of the best medieval fortifications I’ve ever seen.

The modern city extents from the train station to the medieval centre. Once I crossed it, I discovered those amazing walls and a gate to the city.

Puerta del Alcázar

Next to the gate, the back of the cathedral is part of the city wall.

Back of the cathedral

The inner-city is not that pretty, but the main square, surrounded with columns, is very Spanish.

Ayuntamiento

Everyone comes to Ávila, either for pilgrimage to Santa Teresa, or for the city’s beautifully preserved walls.

City walls

They are complete over 2.5km with 88 watchtowers.

Panorama on Ávila

Behind it, the Sierra de Gredos is snowcapped but unfortunately it was still very cloudy.

Sierra de Gredos

At some point it was snowing in the city. I had a beanie hat, but I definitely should have taken gloves. But in Spain I couldn’t guess it could be that cold in April.

Snow in Ávila

It’s also because this city was the highest I stopped in.

Ávila height

After a few hours mostly wandering around the walls, I took another train and went on to Salamanca.

Salamanca

I stayed 2 nights there, and experienced mostly rain. But it was still the most picturesque city I’ve seen. After the quiet Ávila, here is crowded with tourist. The city’s beauty alone attracts many people, but it was also the beginning of Easter weekend. The processions during Semana Santa in Salamanca are very famous, and I saw one as soon as I arrived.

Semana Santa in Salamanca

The youth hostel had the biggest dormitory I slept in, with 20 beds. There were some pilgrims on the way to Santiago, from Sevilla this time.

From the othe side of Rio Tormes, the view on both cathedrals is impressive. Yes there are 2 cathedrals, next to each other, but it seems to make just one.

View on Salamanca

At night the city is really beautiful, and as the weather is not great, it makes the pictures look better! Almost every renaissance building or church has very detailed carving.

San Esteban

On the university wall, there is a (very) small frog that you are supposed to locate to have good luck. So the frog is a symbol of the city and you find every kind of frogs in souvenirs shops.

University

Street in the center

The heart of the city is the Plaza Mayor, probably the most beautiful in Spain.

Plaza Mayor

Among all the renaissance buildings, I found the casa de las conchas very nice.

Casa de las Conchas

Around the new cathedral’s gates, there are many funny people and monsters. For instance on this picture you can find an astronaut and a monster who holds some ice cream.

Astronaut and ice cream

With all those sights, it is in my opinion the most scenic city on this trip.

After renaissance, I headed back to middle ages, and more precisely the Romanesque era.

Zamora

An hour north by bus from Salamanca, Zamora is full of Romanesque churches and is supposed to host some of the best Semana Santa celebrations.

The cathedral was unfortunately closed. It was Easter sunday. From outside, the aspect is rude, except for the dome above the transept. The picture is taken from the Castillo, at the very end of the hill on which Zamora stands.

Zamora cathedral

Many other small churches are purely Romanesque, and as in many other cities north of Madrid, the campaniles are occupied by stork’s nests.

San Isodoro

Church portal

Stork on San Cipriano

The hill of Zamora is above the Douro river. We are just a few kilometres away from Portugal.

Zamora above the Douro

On the plaza mayor, several brass bands were playing and it was like the all city was outside, enjoying this last day of Semana Santa.

Plaza Mayor de Zamora

It was very foggy in the morning and it lasted until far after midday. But when I reached the city of León the sun was shining bright.

León

The city is crossed by the Camino Francese, the way to Santiago coming from France, the most popular one. The cathedral of León is an important milestone for pilgrims on the camino. It was inspired by the french gothic cathedrals, and I confirm it’s obvious, it could be in the north of France.

León cathedral

The city built it when it was only 5000 inhabitants, I wonder how they found the energy and money to build such a temple.

Inside there are 1800 square meters of stained glass. Which makes it probably the most important place for this art after Chartres’ cathedral in France.

Inside León cathedral

Beside the cathedral there are nice civil buildings, such has the San Marcos parador and the casa de Botines, built by Gaudi.

San Marcos

Casa de Botines

And again, the city wouldn’t be Spanish without a Plaza Mayor!

Plaza Mayor de León

There was live music in the evening and the city centre is very animated. Also further from tourists roads, the tapas were really cheap.

The next morning I started to go East and headed to the capital city of Castilla y León.

Valladolid

Valladolid is also the biggest city of the region, a busy ryanair hub and on the fast train line from Madrid. But it wasn’t supposed to be a very pretty city, so I was pleasantly surprised by what I discovered.

The main colour for buildings is a very dark red. The same colour was also present in Andalusia, but with a predominance of white and ochre.

Plaza Mayor

But the churches are all in white stones which makes them stand out of the rest of the city.

Valladolid cathedral

Santa Maria

The main sight is the church of San Pablo and its Hispanic-flemish style façade.

San Pablo

Later on I took a bus to another city on the Camino.

Burgos

It is very famous among pilgrims because it hosts probably the finest gothic cathedral in Spain. You can see it from everywhere in this medium-sized town, even right after stepping outside the bus station, behind the arco de Santa Maria.

Arco de Santa Maria

For sure it’s a masterpiece. The front façade reminded me of León, but from other sides it looks totally different.

Cathedral of Burgos

cathedral from behind

Sarmental Portal

Above it, is a small forest-covered hill with a castillo, which offers nice views on the city.

Burgos from the castillo

Describing the inside of the cathedral would take several articles, so I’m just putting a picture of those astonishing vaults.

Inside Burgos cathedral

The most famous character of Burgos is el Cid. Well I’m still not up to date with Spanish history, so ask wikipedia if you want to know about him!

El Cid

This was my last stop in Castilla y León. I really loved this region, further away from the crowds of Madrid and Andalusia, a more genuine Spain, which profound Christian culture left stunning monuments.

Then I left for the Basque country and the autonomous province of Navarra, which are totally different and thus deserve a separate article. It will be the last one, and don’t worry if you are lost after reading about so many cities in Spain, there will be a map to sum-up all this at the end.

Go on in the Basque Country  >>

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