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Castile & León Travel Guide

Salamanca Cathedral, Castile & León (© Cobabunga - Fotolia.com)
Salamanca Cathedral, Castile & León.

Introduction

Castile and León (Castilla y León in Spanish) is the largest region of Spain, covering an area of 94,223 km² (36,380 sq mi), slightly more than Portugal or Hungary, and about the same as the U.S. state of Indiana. It is also the largest region in all the European Union. The autonomous community was created in 1983 through the union of Castilla la Vieja ("Old Castile") with León.

Most of the region is covered by the Meseta Central, a vast plateau with elevations ranging from 610 to 760 m. It is drained by the Douro, the third longest river in the Iberian Peninsula. Due to its elevated and dry terrain Castile and León is, along with Castilla-La Mancha, the most sparsely populated region in Western Europe outside Iceland. Additionally, 40% of its population of 2.5 million live in one of the provincial capitals, leaving very few people in the countryside.

The vast natural expanses of Castile and León hold a great diversity of animals and is a privileged habitat for rare mammals such as the Western Spanish Ibex, the Iberian Lynx, the Iberian Wolf, and the European Brown Bear. Large birds of prey are numerous and include the Griffon Vulture, the Cinereous Vulture, the Egyptian Vulture, the Golden Eagle, and the endangered Spanish Imperial Eagle.

Historical Castile was originally confined to the region of Burgos in the 9th and 10th centuries, then extended to the modern provinces of Avila, Palencia, Segovia, Soria, and Valladolid with the beginning of the Reconquista in the 11th century. It is the cradle of the Castilian language, now usually simply known as 'Spanish', the world's second-most-spoken language by number of native speakers after Mandarin.

Castle of La Mota, Medina del Campo

The former Kingdom of León, which corresponds to the provinces of Leon, Zamora and Salamanca, evolved from the early medieval Kingdom of Asturias, from which it split in 910. It was united with the Kingdom of Castille in 1230. Leonese and Asturian are a group of mutually intelligible dialects that make up the Astur-Leonese languages. Since the 17th century Castilian Spanish has progressively advanced and replaced Leonese. Nowadays, there are less than 50,000 native speakers of Leonese, who live mostly along the border with Asturia and Galicia.

The kingdoms of Castille and León were at the forefront of the Reconquista during the 12th and 13rd centuries, the golden age of medieval castles. For this reason, and owing to the conserving dry environment and the absence of subsequent wars in the region, there is a remarkable number of exceptionally well preserved stone castles in the southern provinces of Castile and León, particularly Ávila and Valladolid.

Famous people from Castile & León include (chronologically): Queen Isabella I of Castile, King Philip II of Spain, the former Prime Minister Adolfo Suárez, the actress Lola Herrera, and the former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

Cuisine

Castilian-Leonese cuisine is known for its grilled or roasted meats (asados), its stews (guisos), its sausages (embutidos), cheeses, and wines. The local cuisine makes abundant use of veal, pork, morcilla (black pudding), cabbage, and legumes (green beans, chickpeas, lentils, haricot beans).

Noteworthy dishes include cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig), cordero/lechazo asado (roast lamb), hornazo (meat pie with pork loin, spicy chorizo sausage and hard-boiled eggs; specialty of Salamanca and Ávila), olla podrida (pork and beans stew; specialty of Burgos), and sopa de ajo (Castillian garlic soup).

There are nine appellations (Denominaciones de Origin or D.O.) of wine in Castile and León: Arlanza, Arribes, El Bierzo, Cigales, Ribera del Duero, Rueda, Tierra de Leon, Tierra del Vino de Zamora, and Toro. All of them except Bierzo are located in the Duero basin.

Attractions

West

Salamanca ※
Town Hall on the Plaza Mayor, Salamanca (© Matt Trommer)
must-see Salamanca
Astorga
Episcopal Palace of Astorga by Gaudi (© Jose Ignacio Soto - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding Astorga
Ciudad Rodrigo
Capilla de Cerralbo, Ciudad Rodrigo (photo by Miguel A. Monjas - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
outstanding Ciudad Rodrigo
Las Médulas Roman Gold Mines ※
Las Médulas Roman Gold Mines (photo by Adriano Morán, edited by Maciamo for Eupedia.com - Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)
outstanding Las Medulas Roman Gold Mines
Ponferrada
Gate of the Templar, Ponferrada Castle (© Jose Ignacio Soto - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Ponferrada

Medieval Castles

very good Puebla de Sanabria Castle
good Cornatel Castle
good Monleón Castle

Other attractions

very good León
very good Zamora

Centre

Ávila ※
City walls of Avila (© Iñigo Quintanilla Gomez - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding Avila
La Granja de San Ildefonso
Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso (© Kushnirov Avraham - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso
Valladolid
Academia de Caballeria, Valladolid (photo by Lugarzen - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)
outstanding Valladolid
Castle of La Mota
Castle of La Mota, Medina del Campo (© mrks_v - Fotolia.com)
very good La Mota Castle
Ampudia Castle
Castle of La Mota, Medina del Campo (© PHB.cz - Fotolia.com)
very good Ampudia Castle

Medieval Castles

very good Arenas de San Pedro Castle
very good Arévalo Castle
very good El Barco de Ávila Castle
very good Bonilla de la Sierra Castle
very good Fuensaldaña Castle
very good Montealegre de Campos Castle
very good Mironcillo Castle
very good Peñafiel Castle
very good Portillo Castle
very good Simancas Castle
very good Torrelobatón Castle
very good Villaviciosa Castle
good Aguilar de Campoo Castle
good La Adrada Castle
good Íscar Castle
good Puente del Congosto Castle
good Fuentes de Valdepero Castle

East

Burgos
Burgos Cathedral
outstanding Burgos
Frías
Panoramic view of the village of Frías and its castle (© B.F. - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Frias
Segovia ※
Roman Aqueduct, Segovia (© esp2k - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Segovia
Coca Castle
Coca Castle (© PHB.cz - Fotolia.com)
very good Coca Castle
Cuéllar Castle
Cuéllar Castle (© PHB.cz - Fotolia.com)
very good Cuéllar Castle

Medieval Castles

very good Almenar de Soria Castle
very good Gormaz Castle
very good Turégano Castle
good Castle of Castilnovo

Other attractions

very good Lerma
very good Medina de Pomar
very good Oña Monastery

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Eupedia's Rating System

Cities, towns, villages & historic buildings

  • : Moderately interesting - nice for a quick stop
  • : Recommended - to visit if you have time
  • : Outstanding place - really deserves to be seen
  • : Best of the country - shouldn't be missed
  • : Best of Europe

Natural attractions

  • : Moderately interesting
  • : Recommended
  • : Highly recommended
  • : World-class natural attraction
  • ※ : UNESCO World Heritage site


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