” Castile has no coast, so tourists in search of a beach leave it alone…. Castile is almost overlooked. If Spain is hard, extreme, hot, cold, empty, then Castile is more so.” Christopher House – ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’
A few weeks after returning from Castilla-la Mancha to the south of Madrid we were going back to Spain and this time to Castilla y Leon to the north of the capital. We had been here in March this year to Ávila and Segovia but this time we were going further north and west, flying in to Valladolid and staying in the small city of Ciudad Rodrigo.
We had been looking forward to this because Castilla y Leon is as far away from the coastal strip as it is possible to get and is home to half of Spain’s cultural heritage sites including seven UNESCO World Heritage treasures, over two hundred castles and eleven magnificent cathedrals. It is the birthplace of the Spanish language, which after Chinese and Hindi is the third most common language in the World just ahead of English.
We had a late morning flight and the plane took off into a crisp blue sky with scattered clouds over fresh green fields and autumn gold deciduous woods that looked as though they were lying under a generous sprinkling of demerara sugar. As we flew south the clouds increased and there was nothing to see until we began to descend toward Valladolid where they began to break into various patchy fragments and below us we could see large colourful fields, russet, grey, cream and yellow broken now and again by bottle green forests, shimmering blue lakes and occasional villages with ochre tiled roofs.
Valladolid airport is only small with limited facilities but there was a sign apologising for this and promising imminent improvements. We collected a steel grey Seat Ibiza from the Avis rental car office and set off immediately on the two hundred-kilometre drive to Ciudad Rodrigo.
There were plenty of things to stop and see along the way but it was mid afternoon and we were in a hurry to get to our destination so we took the Autovia de Castilla and with virtually no traffic to share the road with had an easy journey all of the way.
As it was Sunday and we worried about shops being open we stopped as soon as we could at a motorway service station and bought beer, wine and snacks and then carried on. We were crossing the Meseta, the great central plain of interior Spain, which at two hundred and ten thousand square kilometres makes up forty percent of the country and has an average altitude of six hundred and fifty metres. It is split in two by the Sistema Central, the Guadarrama and Gredos mountain ranges, creating Old Castile to the north (Castilla y Leon) and New Castile to the south (Castilla La Mancha). The northern ‘submeseta’ is the higher of the two at over eight hundred metres and coming from below sea level in Lincolnshire I worried that we might require oxygen cylinders.
After about half way we passed by Salamanca and we could see its golden coloured cathedrals standing proud and high above the city and after that the landscape began to change. We left behind the pretty coloured fields and entered a different environment of green fields and woodlands and more and more livestock.
After a couple of hours of really enjoyable motoring we came to Ciudad Rodrigo, which is the last city in Spain before reaching Portugal, a fortress city built to protect the western border of the country and as we approached we could see the walled city and its fortifications standing proud on a rocky outcrop in a commanding defensive position.
I knew roughly where the hotel Molina de Águeda was and as we kept an eye open for directions Kim had another navigational fluke and spotted a half hidden sign that signposted our destination. As we pulled into the car park there were a few spots of rain but it came to nothing and there were blue skies above us as we unloaded the car and went inside to reception. It was a very nice hotel indeed located in an old water mill on the river Agueda, elegantly refurbished and surrounded by woods and we had a good room on the front with a nice view of the river and the old city about a kilometre away.
We rested for an hour, drank the beer and wine and nibbled on the snacks and then prepared to go out for evening meal. We debated whether to walk or drive and decided that driving was the preferred option so drove into the town and being unfamiliar with the street layout made a couple of attempts at parking before finally stopping and walking through one of the city gates into the old town.
It was a pleasant evening, not cold, but the sort of temperature when local people feel it appropriate to put on a coat, hat and scarf but is still shirt sleeve weather for those of us from northern Europe with thicker blood. We needn’t have worried about finding somewhere to eat because there was plenty of choice and the place was really busy with families out for a Sunday night on the town.
We found a lively tapas bar where everyone was watching the ‘You’ve been framed’ bullfighting show that we had seen last month in Chinchón and the place was really hectic. We were the only overseas visitors in the place but we didn’t feel uncomfortable and we found a table and ordered food. Unfortunately they were so busy that they made a mistake with the order and we only got half of it but it didn’t matter, we weren’t especially hungry anyway and at least it made it a cheaper night out.