Meet Castilla y Leon and Valladolid
In this, the first of two posts brought to you in collaboration with Turismo Castilla y Leon, we’re exploring Valladolid. This Spanish provincial city serves as the administrative capital of the fascinating Spanish region of Castilla y Leon, a large landlocked area in northern central Spain that is branded as the world’s largest living museum. Why? Read on and let me explain…
Introducing Castilla y Leon
Castilla y Leon appreciates what it has. The regional tourist board recently ran a Facebook competition, inviting people from four countries to appreciate it too, and share their enthusiasm for the heritage. The prize was a showcase tour of some Castilla y Leon highlights, kicking off in Valladolid, the administrative centre of the region. It’s a region they brand the world’s largest living museum; a big claim, but then Castilla y Leon is a big place with a big history.
An abundance of UNESCO Heritage sites
Of course there are many places in Spain that can shout about their history and heritage, but Castilla y Leon can shout louder. Just look at its figures. It has eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the largest number of any region in the world. This includes three of the area’s major cities, Segovia, Avila and Salamanca; each a witness to and reminder of a Spanish golden age and listed to showcase and protect their incredible human cultural heritage. Across the region there are 351 museums, 140 historical sites, 326 castles, 11 cathedrals and some 23,000 archeological sites. Beyond the UNESCO listed cities lie more famous provincial capitals like Leon and Burgos, cities with the best Gothic and Romanesque churches and cathedrals in the world. There is simply no museum with a collection like this.
A walk back in time
If you’re interested in history and culture you’ll find a visit to this area a dream come true, whether you explore by car, bicycle or on foot with a donkey? A donkey? Yes. You see the famous Camino Frances, one of the many pilgrim trails of the Camino de Santiago (and another UNESCO World Heritage treasure), cuts right across the region, passing through countryside and cities; a a trail of crosses, towers, spires and monuments that lead all the way to the crypt of the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela where the bones of St James are said to be stored. It’s a journey we’ve done, across an incredible slice of Northern Spain, and in itself a journey back through time with a thousand year history.
Valladollid – Gastro city amongst vineyards
If history, heritage, pilgrimage and the mesmerising landscapes of the mesata don’t grab you, then maybe Castilla y Leon will win a place in your heart with its culture, food and wine. In all, Castilla y Leon has ten quality wine regions (Denominaciones de Origen or DO’s), with hundreds of wine making bodegas (cellars) scattered around the region, two wine routes and 5,000 restaurants, which sounds like a recipe for one of the biggest food tours in the world.
The city of Valladollid is the administrative capital of the region and one of the largest cities. It lies surrounded by five different wine producing areas, making it a great place to sample a variety of the region’s wines. The countryside around Valladolid is hot, dry, rocky and flat and the grape is king. One of the highlights of a city break in Valladolid is taking an organised tour and tasting some of the award winning quality and origin controlled wines, including the local Cigales, white wines from Rueda and red wines from Ribera del Duero.
Much more than just wine
Of course it’s not all about wine. Alongside the wine culture there are gastronomic specialities too. Vallodolid is well known for its meat dishes like lechazo; suckling baby lamb, roasted slowly in a wood oven and served with fresh salad. Or if you’re more a cheese and wine person then check out the famous pata de mulo (mule’s foot), a mild sheep’s milk cheese which tastes nicer than it may sound! You can eat it with great speciality breads made with local grains, the most famous being lechuguino, you’ll know it from its unusual patterning of concentric circles. Lastly, if you’re like me, you’ll love the local pastries, like empiñonados (pine nut biscuits), buñuelos de crema (creamy fritter balls), or if you are a good pilgrim perhaps you’ll be tempted by the religiously themed Santa Clara sponge cakes.
Valladolid Rivers of Light
Valladolid has its own Catholic icons in its churches and cathedral. By day the spires cut through the clouds, and by night they light the sky. A tour of the old quarter is a must; and if you save it till dusk you can follow the Rios de Luz (rivers of light) route to see the city in a different way. This innovative route takes you around the town with important buildings illuminated using different colours that indicate building use. This is taken a step further with the temples and churches which are lit using liturgical colours that reflect the church’s seasons. You can take a guided tour, or download an app from the iTunes store that will help you go self guided. You can even preview the route online. The architecture is world class and you can see the atmospherically lit Cathedral of Our Lady of the Holy Assumption, several important churches like the Iglesia de San Lorenzo and the University buildings.
Valladolid city of culture
In its 15th and 16th century heyday Valladolid was a magnet for explorers who came to meet, discuss navigation, plan expeditions and share knowledge of their discoveries. It’s the city where Christopher Columbus died and was initially buried, although his remains were later removed and continued to travel the world after his death. You can still however learn about the great man at the Christopher Columbus House Museum. The city remains a place of learning and discovery and the University plays an important part in city life. It is one of the oldest Universities in the world and it creates a permanent buzz as well as adding to the cultural mix.
For cultural learning the city has a clutch of great museums, including some of national significance like the Museum of Sculpture (Museo Nacional de Escultura). If you’re more into the arts or cultural participation there are organised cultural programme and events are throughout the year including a jazz festival and classical music and choir concerts. Valladolid also hosts an International Film Week in October, Seminci, recognised as one of the most important art house film festivals in Spain.
Beyond Valladollid: The Ribera del Duero
Of course the region’s cultural and historical gems are not just centred in Vallodolid and its surrounding countryside. Upstream from Valladolid lies the Ribera del Duero, named wine region of the year 2012 by Wine Enthusiast magazine. It is one of the most important Denominación de Origen areas in Castilla y Leon, taking its name from the River Duero which runs across the region through wonderful riverside towns like Soria and Aranda de Duero. The vineyards lie around the younger, upstream stretches of the river in four provinces; Segovia, Burgos, Valladolid and Soria. A journey following the river makes for an interesting wine, history and architecture tour.
Around the provinces of Burgos and Valladolid there are many pure examples of Romanesque architecture in the churches, like those in San Esteban de Gormaz. If you like wine cellars, those in Langa de Duero are so beautifully preserved they have been declared a Historic and Artistic site while Aranda de Duero boasts one of the largest group of underground wine cellars (bodegas) in the world, with medieval tunnels you can tour to get a personal feel for the depth of wine history here.
The province of Soria is one of the least populated in Spain, sometimes called a forgotten corner of Spain. It may not have many people but still has much to offer visitors. There are wild natural attractions like the Picos Urbion mountains, source of the Rio Duero and the canyons of the Rio Lobos, a protected natural park with canyon walls that stretch to 200m in places. And the beauty and history of the towns, city and many hamlets of Soria have long inspired poets, artists and filmmakers.
A UNESCO world of wonders
There are castles, cathedrals and UNESCO recognised sites right across the provinces of this large, hospitable region, especially in some of the stunning historic cities like Burgos, Leon and Salamanca. Aside from the 8 UNESCO listed sites, there are said to be something like 1,800 sites of cultural interest in Castilla y Leon. And while we can’t possibly list them all, in the next post we will highlight some of the outstanding cultural treasures that lie beyond Vallodolid, highlighting in particular some of the UNESCO listed wonders.
Disclosure Note: This post was brought to you thanks to support from Turismo Castilla y Leon. For more information check out the regional Castilla y Leon Tourism Site, or find out more on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook