Segovia, A tale of two mints
Disney and history buffs alike won’t fail to be impressed by Segovia and it’s famous Alcazar Castle. Not only is it said to be the inspiration for the Walt Disney castle, but it is also where Queen Isabel promised Christopher Columbus the financial backing for his trip to the New World.
The high concentration of Romanesque churches, along with the 16th-century cathedral, the castle and the world-renowned Roman Aqueduct all contribute to an impressive skyline, set against a dramatic backdrop of the mountains.
Segovia is also home to the world’s oldest industrial factory, the old Mint. The Friends of Segovia Mint Organisation organizes guided tours around the Mint, which overlooks some of the most spectacular views in the city.
Cars are not allowed into the city center, which makes sitting in the dozens of sidewalk cafes all the more peaceful and enjoyable. Like the majority of Spanish towns in this area, the Plaza Mayor is a veritable hub of social activity on summer evenings.
Ciudad Rodrigo (Ribera del Duero, the capital of wine)
Situated about 50 miles outside Salamanca, this small, historic town will transport you back to the medieval times. City walls, dating back to the middle ages, surround a cluster of charming gothic houses, a Romanesque cathedral and a castle overlooking the Agueda River Valley.
The castle, which was built for Henry II in 1372, has been renovated into a luxurious hotel, and invites you to spend the night like the King and Queen of Castilla y Leon! Visitors should look out for the numerous stone-sculpted coats of arms, and children may find it fun to see if they can spot them all!
For those who like to wander around markets, Ciudad Rodrigo is the ideal location. The Mercado de la Plaza del Buen Alcalde sets up every Tuesday, and the smaller “mercadillo” (market) sets up all along the city walls every Saturday. El Carnaval del Toro is one of the city’s oldest traditions and unites the themes of bullfighting and masks.
For those people who like to wander a little of the beaten track, the town of Zamora has yet to be discovered by the masses and provides a calm and quiet setting for a stroll and a leisurely lunch. The Zamora province is renowned for its cuisine, based on the use of fresh produce and succulent meats. However, beautiful as the town may be with its cathedral and castle, it must be noted that there is little to do there, and it may be worth waiting for a particular occasion, such as Semana Santa, to go and visit it. Then again, there are so many stunningly beautiful places to visit in the country.
Bejar is yet another of these gorgeous towns dotted around the Salamanca province. A short coach journey transports you to this historic town, which features all the usual favorites among sight-seers; the Iglesia de Santa Maria, the Palacio Ducal, the Convento de San Francisco, the Plaza de Toros, as well as a rather special grand park, El Bosque. El Bosque is a huge historical garden, which has everything from a residential area, to a grand terrace, to beautifully kept gardens. It was created in the 16th century, during the Renaissance period, for the Dukes of Bejar, and is a truly impressive work.
Although it’s not overly populated by night owls and party animals, Bejar does have a couple of bars and clubs to its name. The Disco-Bar Castle, in particular, invites you to party in castle-themed surroundings, great for fancy dress parties!
La Peña de Francia
The southernmost region of the Salamanca province is covered by what can only be described as a natural paradise. Rivers meander through the greenest of valleys and mountains peak at breathtaking altitudes, giving a superb view of the Sierra de Francia in its entirety.
La Peña de Francia is one of the highest peaks and is topped with a beautiful old monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Once at the summit, there are many different footpaths leading down into the valley, which makes for beautiful walks through lush greenery and alongside tinkling brooks and streams. One walk-in particular will take you down to one of many former gold mines, El Cabaco, although the only treasures you’ll find there these days belong to Mother Nature!
The historical towns of Mogarraz, San Martin de Castanar, Sequero, Miranda del Castanar, and La Alberca make excellent watering holes. If you’re looking for authenticity from your stay in Salamanca, then you couldn’t get more traditional than these gorgeous little towns, where ancestral customs, festivals and ancient architecture have all been beautifully preserved. You won’t be able to resist the tantalizing stews and roasts, rich in traditional ingredients and mouthwateringly good!
Another place worth seeing is the town of La Alberca. The impressive and highly geometrical architecture makes for a series of narrow streets and corners, with an interesting balance between light and shade.
The main plaza, with two rows of balconies running around the facades, is a must-see and by far the most sociable spot in the whole town. The traditional “hornazo” is one of La Alberca’s most popular dishes, packed full of flavorsome meat and ham, typical of the Salamantine province. Read also this post about the Alhambra in Granada, Gaudi and Barcelona, and the Camino de Santiago.