After a long night out in Salamanca (amongst a majority of students), there is no greater gift you can give the beleaguered body (which also deserves a break from time to time, "poor thing"), than a breakfast in the Plaza Mayor of Salamanca, (there are several cafes that look good).
Hot churros with chocolate, a good coffee (or whatever it is I drank) relaxing the mind in front a statue that seems alive, of Torrente Ballester (adopted son of the City) in the oldest coffee house (of 1905) in Salamanca, the Novelty Café.
While you eat breakfast, you can see around you the baroque art of the square, (also, street level art that can be enjoyed by all, which is what I like), or the coats of arms of famous celebrities from Spanish history (I was going to say illustrious, but there are some who don’t deserve it).
This square (considered one of the most beautiful and impressive in Spain), was built in the eighteenth century (between 1729 and 1755) and, since then, has been the heart in which life is born (both night and day) in the city. By day the plaza shines with the gold of its stone, by night it is a promenade with much magic.
It is a truly special place. The entire city of Salamanca is imbued with magic, precious corners and spectacular views ... But of everything one can find in the city, my favourite has to be the cathedrals. No need to be a believer in order to perceive the beauty of these historic buildings, its aroma, its art and its history.
The University of Salamanca is the second oldest university in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe. It was founded in 1218 as a comprehensive school and later converted into a University by the wise Alfonso X in 1254.
Like Oxford or Cambridge, the University of Salamanca has several Halls of Residence. They were founded as charities that allowed poor students to receive a university education. Today many of these colleges remain, with the same function as before. Others have become faculties and part of the university. Today the University of Salamanca enjoys great prestige and is considered one of the most advanced research institutions.
The University buildings we see on entering the old town function differently today than they did 3 or 4 centuries ago. The oldest buildings and classrooms (like the one with the famous facade) are no longer are used for conferences, special academic events or sightseeing.
They have created many buildings around the old town, where today a great number of university classrooms are distributed (usually the Social and Natural Sciences are out of town, leaving inside the literal courses).
This place is one of the most visited and beautiful in Salamanca, not only for its beautiful history but for the beautiful gardens wherein it rests. This is the garden of Calixto (Calisto) and Melibea, located on the old wall of Salamanca by the river Tormes.
The work is by Fernando de Rojas, who wanted to demonstrate in the garden the romantic and medieval airs that they lived in at that time.
The garden is about 2500 square meters and several elements attract the attention: the statue of Celestina (Celestina Monument) at the entrance, the fountain, the well, the bow and, of course, the distribution of plants and trees (where curiously, you are going to find many grapevines).
It is also told that the city of Salamanca was the scene that inspired Fernando de Rojas to write his novel.
This beautiful corner evokes, well, the place where the two lovers Calixto and Melibea met in La Celestina.
Love, Nature, Romanticism and history make these gardens a secluded place for silence, meditation and romance. Alongside beautiful sunsets which were once witnessed by Calixto and Melibea.
Crowned by the Peña de Francia and consisting of high peaks and surprisingly rugged valleys, the spectacular Sierra de France contains samples of rock art and several picturesque architectural villages. Among them the best preserved is La Alberca, a village of dreams, not only for its mountain buildings erected with stone sustained with timber frame, but because like few others it retains its traditions in festivities, how they dress-you can still see women today who remain in their attire vestiges of old customs, in their crafts, and their exquisite cuisine.
Walking in La Alberca is pleasantly surprising: one thinks at times that they are in an ancient Jewish quarter, or, in an intricate abandoned Arab souk. It’s because its streets seem like a mysterious labyrinth. Perhaps the effect is produced by the eaves of the upper floors of the houses almost touching, covering the streets as if they were roofed, the low and robust lintels tilted by time, chiselled with dates of foundation and worn religious inscriptions. The feeling goes away in the small and delightful Plaza Mayor, which looks great when opening to the mountain air and light. Here we note that La Alberca is very much alive.
Neighbours come together to talk, women go for water at the fountains. In one corner, facing the beautiful transept of the plaza, there is a shop with delicious cured hams and embutidos; in another the cheeses make the mouth water. Beyond that, a showcase exhibits handmade turrón, roscas (kings cake), perrunillas ... I stop in front of another, crammed with Sotoserrano wines.
And then there are the crafts. The thoroughness of the Serrano embroidery bedazzles, wood carvings and traditional jewellery. The feeling is that La Alberca although quiet and calm, is always on the verge of a party.
The Casa de las Conchas (House of shells) claims its uniqueness to the four winds that cross it. It brings a late Gothic style coupled with the renewed enthusiasm of the Renaissance but still keeps its Moorish feel. The Casa de las Conchas does not want to belong to anyone but the 300 shells that caress its facade.
It was born as Salamanca's historic centre, to form a unit, an art complex worthy of being considered a World Heritage Site. But in this wink that brings success, its shells grant it a relevance above the buildings that surround it, which makes it an object for the curious tourists and foreigners who smile in front of its facade.
I love it. I know I've arrived in Salamanca when I run into its shells. Its then that the streets and gardens lose their anonymity and I feel the joy and the longing to be in the Salamancan capital.
What nature does not give, Salamanca does not provide. Or maybe it does. For now I'll tell you a secret. I am told that under one of the shells is a gold coin. Can you find out which?
This lovely village is found to the south of Salamanca province, declared in 1975 a Historic Artistic Site it offers visitors a place to spend their time surrounded by an impeccable landscape, worth visiting.
To visit we can leave the car parked in the vicinity of the village, in the free public parking that is signposted.
The streets of Candelario are steep, full of fountains, cobbled streets that lead us corner after corner through narrow streets, confined by houses of no more than 3 floors, with wooden ceilings and doors. Something curious that can be observed in the homes are the half external doors, placed in front of the entrance to the house that are called batipuertas. Some say they are stop snow entering in winter, but knowing the cured meat tradition of the town, the more likely theory is that the batipuertas serve so one could work in daylight whilst stopping animals attracted to the smell from entering.
On the roman hill we find the town hall and the village church. When we arrived they were just closing and we could not visit. But a very kind 93 year old woman told us that she, along with other village women, took care of and showed the church to anyone who was interested in knowing more about it ... and not in return for any financial reward, but they feel blessed with the honour of taking care of it and relaying to others their knowledge and love of the Church.
A real shame having arrived late, but the chat we had with her left us with a beautiful and endearing memory of the visit to this beautiful mountain village.
The Roman bridge of Salmantica, which was the name for Salamanca during the period of Roman rule, is built on the River Tormes.
No one knows exactly when it was built. There was talk of it during the time of Augustus and Trajan, that last had been the developer of the Vía de la Plata (Silver road), which was mined in the region, and surely repaired the bridge for their business purposes. It is estimated that it was built more or less in the first century, without giving an exact date.
The first 15 arches of the bridge are original; the rest is a reconstruction as it was destroyed during invasions and wars. The original part is about 190 meters long, with the arches which are 6.50 meters each. It has 26 arches in total.
There is not much life around the bridge to tell the truth, and there is no traffic passing over the bridge as it is pedestrian. At night it is very nice to go around, on the banks of the river Tormes, and observe how it illuminates, with the cathedral and the rest of the old city in the background.
It is one of the most beautiful and lively places in Salamanca. Always full of walkers, outdoor activities, and people relaxing in the gardens, enjoying the great historical setting in which it is located.
On a trip to Royal Hurdes we decided to go to see the Peña de Francia (French cliff), yes, passing through the prosperous carretera de las Batuecas, not suitable for racing hearts. Once past this, we began the climb to the peak of the mountain which rises to 1,724m via continuously rising roads, going slowly shouldn’t result in any danger. Still, I do not recommend the climb to novice drivers.
It is one of the tallest mountains in the Sierra de Francia, which in turn forms a part of the Sistema Central. Once up, you can see the Virgen de la Peña Sanctuary, a hostel, a convent of Dominican friars and a telecommunications relay antenna.
From its summit you can see all of the Campo Charro plain to the north, the Sierra de Tamames to the east, and Gabriel y Galán reservoir to the south, as well as the rest of the mountain range.
Its vegetation is composed in the lower part of oaks, pines and ferns, almost all from the reforestation due to fire. The upper part has hardly any vegetation because of its rocky nature. Surrounding the mountain to the north, lay villages that during the last decade have become focal points for rural tourism such as La Alberca.
Undoubtedly, a location not to be missed.
Salamanca can boast of many things, like the fact it houses the oldest university in Spain, created by Alfonso X in 1218 and without a doubt the most traditional of university buildings.
Within its walls are students of every ilk, locked in a constant rivalry with Alcalá de Henares. Teachers and visitors of great prestige, such as Friar Luis of León, Nebrija, San Juan de la Cruz, Cervantes, Gonzalo Torrente Ballester and Miguel de Unamuno who was rector of the University.
The university library is wonderful, with 483 incunabula, 2,774 manuscripts and 62,000 pamphlets printed before the nineteenth century. Anecdotally one must say that the spheres and terrestrial globes from the library had to be counted as "round books" to get the O.K for purchase from the accountants. Alfonso X appointed the first librarian in 1254, and the modern library contains one million copies. In addition to its glorious university history, and its current strength as a favourite spot for many foreign students to learn Spanish (I certainly would not recommend "Madrid" and much less "Barcelona"), Salamanca is also a Jacobean city of great importance, as for quite some time it was ascribed to the archbishopric of Santiago and is located right on the Via de la Plata (Silver Way), for the "traveller from the road to the South, traveller of light, of reflection, united in the way of the spirit, pilgrim in the Jacobean universe " .
Indeed, the archbishop Fonseca of Santiago, and once also of Salamanca, left in both cities splendid Renaissance buildings headquarters for Fonseca College. Intellectual, patron, a man ahead of his time, humanistic rather than clerical who became archbishop of Toledo the highest ecclesiastical authority in Spain, despite being the fruit of forbidden relations between Alonso de Fonseca, Archbishop of Santiago, and Galician noblewoman Maria de Ulloa.
The Jacobean character of the city is also reflected in the Roman bridge that crosses the Tormes to get to the church of Santiago, and especially in the House of Shells, mandated by the knight and Chancellor of the Santiago Order, which has its stone façade completely covered by the pilgrim symbol and exquisite Gothic grilles. As said in a poetic phrase, "in the skin of the city, its buildings, is everything: memory, the present and the future. The footprints they are, the echoes they’ve been and will be. "
Salamanca is a hospitable city and open to everyone, for 800 years it has continuously been university headquarters and one feels comfortable in this multicultural environment, as I found in a cyber café located in the Plaza Mayor, one of the most beautiful in Spain, where the attendant struggled speaking up to five languages with the foreigners (especially the foreign girls), which they all were except me.
Salamanca deserves leisurely walks through its historic streets, visits to libraries "of old" coffees with flavours (and smells) of the past, lively terraces in the main square (weather permitting), where one watches life pass, and certainly a visit to the River Tormes and the Roman bridge, where its joined by the Via de la Plata, as evidenced by the shells on the floor.
The cathedral deserves special praise for its gothic grandeur, the last of its kind built in Spain, in which through a secluded door gives way to the Romanesque cathedral of the twelfth century, much more discreet in its forms, but markedly more welcoming and spiritual, with works of great value like the Romanesque door of beautiful capitals, the room where aspiring doctors defended their thesis under the stern gaze of the judges in their tribune, and the contained banter of their peers.
Ciudad Rodrigo has six antique gates: the washing gate, which carries storm water to the river, that of the sun, that goes directly down from Plaza Mayor, the Santiago, the Conde, the Amayuelas and the Santa Cruz. Some exquisite, others more humble, all give access along thick mile long walls rebuilt in the eighteenth century to the village.
Walking through its cobbled streets, dark and silent, where the sun only enters at midday; others wide, inundated with light and sounds one cannot help but think that Ciudad Rodrigo is a wonderful architectural gem. Brilliantly carved honey-coloured stone, facades and escutcheons, towers and domes, become visible on building fronts of beautiful palaces' like that of Castro, the Águila or the Vazquez.
Undoubtedly the most famous building is the Cathedral, a Romanesque temple with hints of a transition to Gothic with a stunning facade and an interior that is worth visiting. The fifteenth century choir, the two organs and the beautiful cloister, built between the XIV and XVI century are considered consummate art.
Any slow stroll through the town ends in the vibrant and beautiful Plaza Mayor. Presided over by the City Council of the sixteenth century, overseeing a beautiful gallery of arches with columns, it proves irresistible to stop at one of its restaurants to enjoy a good meal or tapas and local delicacies. Farinato a sausage typical of Ciudad Rodrigo with fried eggs; potato 'meneás' (stewed/puree with peppers and garlic) with fried bacon bits; hornazo, a pie with loin, chorizo and ham; the popular chanfaina based on rice and pig meat ... How can one escape?
The facade dates from 1529, and is considered a masterpiece of the Plateresque style. It is built, like most of the buildings of this era in Salamanca, from Villamayor stone. The front facade has three altarpieces, and at the top is a richly decorated crest. You can see the large medallion of Spain's Reyes Catolicos, with the inscription "The University of the Kings and the Kings of the University". There are also shields which are said to either represent Carlos I and his wife, or Hercules and Hebe. And of course, there is the famous frog on the facade, with various stories to explain its purpose.
A few months ago, the towers of San Marcos were opened to the public. Climbing them allows you to see Salamanca in a very special light: there aren't many cities with such spectacular views to offer. I recommend the towers to visitors, not just for the views, but also for the panels that explain the local history. Once at the top, it's easy to pick out the different landmarks thanks to the information panels. It's not expensive, and really is a must-see in the city. Hours: January, February and March from 10:00 to 18:00 (last entry is at 17:15). From April to December 10:00 to 20:00 (last entry is at 19:15). Rates: Individual ticket: €3.75. Group: €3.25. Individual Joint admission: 6.00€. Joint group ticket: €5.00.
This boat ride on the Douro River under continuous granite cliffs that have been carved by the water constantly circuling for thousands of years was beautiful. Today, many sections of the river have been dammed. The tour is about an hour and a half long and is a round trip in one of the most important reservoirs of this Natural Hispano-Portuguese Park of the Arribes del Duero, and specifically, part of a pier at the foot of the beautiful medieval city of Miranda do Douro in neighbouring Portugal. We visited in early summer of 2010 on a cool day and it was very nice for the time of year. It would be even more enjoyable on a bright day full of colourful light to view such a beautiful spectacle of Iberian nature.