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Castile and Leon
You've been to Andalusia, you've been to Barcelona and you've been to Madrid. So you have explored Spain? Maybe not.
Castilla and Leon is Spain's largest region yet it has only has little more than 2 million inhabitants. Located north of Madrid and south of the Europa Mountains, it is a plateau rising to 1200 meters at its highest point which slopes west to the Portuguese border and south to Madrid.
This is the real Spain and where the Spanish language was born. Temperatures can vary wildly, from around 35oC in the summer to well below 0oC in the winter. If you are looking for the genuine Spanish experience, visit medieval villages and go where there are few tourists and no one speaks anything other than Spanish then this could be the place for you.
Castile and Leon were originally the two medieval kingdoms which took part in the reconquest of Spain. However, the story really begins with the Roman invasion. Spain was populated by Celtic tribes which one by one were conquered by the Romans. This was except for one tribe, the Numantines. This tribe was situated in modern day Soria in the east of Castile and Leon. The tribe fought to the death and refused to capitulate. To this day Sorians are proud of their Numantine heritage and Numantines are held up as an example of Sorian resiliance.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Visigoths entered Spain forming a number of kingdoms until the Arabs swept up from North Africa and conquered the whole of Spain. After the victory of Pelayo in the mountains of Austurias the reconquest of Spain began.
The Arabs were slowly push back to the River Duero and the kingdoms of Castile and Leon were formed. The area around the River Duero became a no mans land. Castile invaded and conquered Leon creating the one unified kingdom of Castile which later also conquered Navarra. After Alfonso VI captured Toledo Castile and Leon were free of Arab rule.
After the marriage of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon Spain who conquered the last Arab stronghold of Granada, the kingdom of Spain was formed.
Where To Go
Most of the popular areas of Castile and Leon are easily reachable from Madrid.
The most popular town for tourists en Castile and Leon is Segovia. This city is famous for its Roman aqueduct which rises above the city and astonishingly has no mortar. The city centre is full of medieval builds which lead from the aqueduct to the impressive main square where you can find the cathedral walking further on you will get to the Castle. The castle is large with good exhibits and excellent views of the Castilian plains. For lunch try the specialty of Segovia which is suckling pig known locally as cuchinillo which if cooked properly can be cut by a plate.
Avila has impressive city walls, cathedral and churches. The city became wealthy in the 15th and 16th centuries and it was during this time Saint Theresa (the patron of Avila) lived. By the 18th century much of Avila's wealth had disappeared.
Salamanca is a medieval city famed for its university which was formed in 1218 and impressive main square. The city is also has a number of churches and museums.
Leon is the most northerly city of Castile and Leon. This was the capital of the old Kingdom of Leon. To see in the city is the Basilica of Saint Isidro and the impressive main square.
Burgos is most famous for its cathedral. It was here in the film El Cid where El Cid challenges the king over his brother's, Sancho, death. Burgos is situated on a plain and the cathedral is so large that you can easily see it on the motorway some distance from Burgos. Burgos is also famed for its black pudding.
Around Peñafiel is the largest red wine region of Castile and Leon. The town of Peñafiel is surrounded by vineyards and has a magnificent castle where you take a wine tasting course which lasts about 2 hours. The wines of the region are deep strong reds which go well with regions strong meat based cuisine. Most of the vineyards perform tours by appointment.
The region of Soria is in the east of Castile and Leon and is the least populated area of Spain. The city of Soria is a pretty medieval city with a number of ruins and religious buildings. The region of Soria is a place to visit its villages and explore. The main villages to visit are Almazán, Burgo de Osma with its cathedral and Berlanga with its castle.
Other places to visit are the capital Valladolid, Palencia, Zamora and the Rueda Valley for its white wine.
Castile and Leon is a place to avoid if you are a vegetarian. Most of the dishes in Castile and Leon contain red meat.
The three main dishes in Castile and Leon are cuchinillo (suckling pig), lechazo (suckling lamb), morcilla de burgos (black pudding with rice) and Yemas (a sweet confectionary made from egg yolk).
Other dishes include migas (fried bread crumbs mixed with chorizo), torreznillo (it is like paceta and fried), beans, castellana soup and anything from a pig that can been eaten including the ears, tongue and trotters.
All this will be washed down by a red wine either with a mark the Ribera de Duero or Burgos. White wine will be from the Rueda Valley.
Famous people from Castile and Leon
Famous people from Castile and Leon include:
Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar - El Cid
Eleanor of Castile, the wife of Edward I of England
Saint Theresa of Avila
Isbella I of Spain and Castile one of the Catholic Monarchs
Juana the Mad
Soon to be ex-prime minister of Spain José Luis Rodriguez Zapatatero
Fermin Cacho who won 1500m gold in the 1992 Olympic Games