Tag Archives: León

Northern Spain – The City of Zamora and the Hotel Conventa Spa

Zamora Spain

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s Zamora!                    When the World seems to shine like you’ve had too much wine that’s Zamora!”  Warren &  Brooks with a revisionist contribution from the author.

The journey from León to Zamora was a hundred and twenty kilometres and took just about an hour and to be honest that was long enough because it seemed to me to be just miles and miles of bugger all. We drove through several towns and villages that all seemed to be abandoned and we began to worry about the lack of supplies.  It was so boring in fact that Kim fell asleep and didn’t wake until I poked her to wake her up because I was in need of navigation assistance as we approached our destination.

We weren’t staying in Zamora but a few kilometres outside in the town of Coreses at the Hotel Conventa Spa I.  The most urgent task now was to find a shop for some beer and wine but the town was completely closed.  Eventually we came across a little shop but the assistants were busy locking the doors and closing the shutters and when we asked about the possibility of reopening later they looked at us as though we were mad and said (I think they said) that they were going to a village fiesta and each of them raised a couple of sticks, that they all seemed to be carrying, to confirm this.

And so we carried on to the Hotel Convento Spa which seemed absurdly huge for such a tiny town and as we drove into the car park I began to question my hotel booking judgement. It was like a giant motel and in the gardens was a replica Greek temple, Doric columns and huge statues which we assumed were used for wedding parties.  There were no more than ten cars in the car park and I was minded to abandon it and move on but Kim was a lot calmer than me and persuaded me to go inside.

Well, what a shock!  Once inside the hotel reception we were transported into a fantasy world of a Royal Palace and I might have been temporarily convinced that I was at San Ildifonsa o la Granja and that King Juan Carlos might come striding through the opulent furnishings of the drawing room to greet me.  The place was a real surprise – someone had gone to a lot of trouble to create a Royal Palace in the middle of the dusty high plain of Castile and I almost in a state of shock.  What a wonderful place, a Disney World like experience where everything was of the highest quality and I felt like an honoured guest of the Spanish nobility.

There was however still the problem of no wine so once we had familiarised ourselves with the place and rejected the mini bar selection on the basis of price we decided to go straight away into the city of Zamora.

Zamora is only a small city for a provincial capital, close to the border with Portugal and situated on the river Duero (Duoro in Portugal) and most famous for having the greatest number of Romanesque churches of any city in Europe.

We parked the car in an underground car park (Spain seems to really like underground car parks) and then we walked along a main shopping street where every shop was closed (phew!) until we reached the Plaza Mayor where all of Zamora seemed to be out tonight enjoying the early evening sunshine. We selected a pavement table at a busy bar and watched as the single waitress on duty struggled to cope with the sheer number of customers until we were finally able to attract her attention and order some drinks.

“By the blue tiled walls near the market stalls                                                            There’s a hidden door she leads you to                                                                           These days, she says,                                                                                                                         I feel my life just like a river running through”                                                                    Al Stewart – ‘The Year of the Cat’

The Plaza was vibrant and busy with families enjoying the weather (it had rained the day before, the receptionist told us), young boys playing football and girls pat–a-cake and skipping.  In the centre was a church with a statue dedicated to‘Holy Week’  and it was surrounded by arcades, shopping streets leaking away into the intriguing shadows of the alleys and tall colourful buildings decorated with palms and exotic plants.  What was noticeable was how well behaved the children were, how well dressed everyone was and how this seemed like one giant drawing room where an extended family was meeting up at the end of the day and having a sociable hour or two together.

As the sun began to dip and the shadows lengthened and our table fell into shade we settled our bill and walked to the Castle and the house where El Cid  is said to have lived after his marriage to Ximena  and then to the Cathedral but we were reluctant to go inside  because there was a service taking place so we peeked through the door and having satisfied ourselves that it wasn’t particularly exceptional (much to Kim’s obvious relief) we walked back the way we had come to the car and returned to the car via the bank of the River Duero  and then to the hotel Conventa Spa – where there was some excitement!

In the car park was a swanky coach which displayed livery that said that this was the team bus of Spanish La Liga football team Deportivo de La Coruña who were probably enjoying the spa facilities ahead of a team briefing.  I couldn’t help imagining that this might be like the film ‘Mike Bassett, England Manager’ and that the coach was inside somewhere explaining that tomorrow they would be playing “Quatro, Quarto, Jodienda Dos!”

We liked the Conventa Spa and were pleased that we would be staying there for two nights as we made our journey of discovery  through Castilla y León and we were even more pleased after we had an unexpectedly excellent meal (a chuleton of beef) in the restaurant for evening meal and then a wonderful breakfast in the morning before setting off for the city of Salamanca.

Zamora Spain


Northern Spain – The City of León

Leon cathedral Spain

The high plain of Castile levelled out at about eight hundred metres above sea level and then we entered a rather tedious section of road that took us to León via a rather circuitous ring road that looped around the south of the city before taking us back towards the centre.  We found an underground car park at the Plaza Mayor and then took the steps from the subterranean basement into the penetrating sunshine.

The pastel coloured, honey colonnaded Plaza was curiously quiet with an absence of shops, bars or restaurants but too be fair, despite the sunshine, it was probably a little too cool to set out the pavement tables so with nothing to stop for we made our way towards the historical centre and the Gothic French style cathedral.

We had been travelling now for quite a while and it was way past lunch time so before we looked for the Cathedral we stopped in a busy square lined with pavement restaurants and selected one with uneven tables rocking on the cobbles in the sunshine and waited for service.

There was quite a nice menu but no tortilla even though we had seen one inside on the bar.  When the waiter came to take our order we selected some items from the menu and told him that we would also like some omelette.  He explained that tortilla was only available inside and that we should select from the menu.  Kim tried to negotiate with him and to take him inside to show him what we wanted but he was very insistent, to the point of being down-right rude actually, that we couldn’t have the tortilla.

At this point I was minded to go inside and order a beer and a slice and then bring it outside to the table but after careful consideration it didn’t seem worth making a fuss.  To be fair it wasn’t just about us and he was very even-handed about the issue when he was equally forceful about refusing it to a young local Spanish couple.

Leon Spain

After our tortilla starved lunch we paid up without leaving a tip and moved off down a grubby side street with gaily coloured buildings with glass and elaborate timbered enclosed balconies until we arrived at another wide plaza with grand buildings.  In one corner was a magnificent grey turreted building, the Casa Botines, that resembled a castle with a statue of St George slaying the dragon over the front door and this turned out to be a creation of the Catalan architectAntoni Gaudi and one of only a handful outside of his home city of Barcelona.

Actually, there were an awful lot of very grand buildings in this plaza and they all turned out to be the headquarters of the principal Spanish banks.  Typical – the banks create the economic crisis across the Eurozone whilst at the same time ensuring that they own and occupy the best buildings in the city.  I imagined that staff behind the windows were looking down and laughing themselves silly while they counted their bonuses!

And so we returned to the shabby narrow streets with run down shops and decrepit mansions as we made our way to the cathedral.  My overall impression was that if Oviedo was neat and well maintained then León was untidy and in need of some tender loving care and a manicure.  On every street corner there was disfiguring graffiti and the place felt run down, uncared for and generally less affluent and then we reached the Cathedral, a great Gothic sandstone structure in the French style and we walked to the main doors.

They were closed!  This being Monday, León Cathedral seems to have caught the first day of the week closing habit which afflicts museums across Europe and so it seemed that we wouldn’t be able to see the interior of this fine place.  I’d like to tell you about the famous stained glass windows, the cloisters and the high soaring roofs but sadly I cannot and because we didn’t really have time to hang around we left the Cathedral square and made our way back to the car.

We have made this mistake before – stopping off somewhere on route to a final destination and not having enough time in the place to do it justice so I am going to refrain from making a judgement about León except to say that even if I was to return I doubt very much that it would become one of my favourites or make it into my top ten of Spanish cities – it isn’t even a UNESCO World Heritage Site (now, there is an idea for a blog post).

We left León and continued south towards the Province and city of Zamora across the ironing-board landscape of the overwhelmingly flat high plain, through arable fields with snow capped mountains in the far distance and along roads with verges decorated with blood-red black-eyed poppies that swayed in the breeze.

I have flown many times over Castilla y León and looked down at the ribbons of roads, red roofed towns and villages, lakes and reservoirs sparkling in the sunshine but I have to say that down here at ground level it was not nearly so exciting as it appears from ten kilometres high in the sky!

Leon Statue Spain Castila y Leon


El Cid and King Alfonso VI

Alfonso VI, known as the Brave or the Valiant, was King of León from 1065, king of King of Castile and de facto King of Galicia from 1072, and the self-proclaimed ‘Emperor of all Spain’.  This was a bit of an exaggeration because he only effectively had power over about a third of the peninsular which meant that he had a lot of work to do to turn this aspiration into reality and under the leadership of Alfonso an earnest program of crusading reconquest began.

During his reign, Alfonso adopted a policy of an alliance with the great French Benedictine monastery of Cluny and by cooperating with the church and instituting Cluniac reform, Alfonso played a pre-eminent role in the Christianisation of the reconquest.  His determination to create a unified Christian kingdom of Spain in the eleventh century created the need for religious and national figures under which Christians could unite to defeat the infidel.

The King’s objective was to unite all of Spain under one crown and one religion because tolerance and coexistence with the Muslims were no longer options if Alfonso sought to create a truly unified Spanish Christian State.  The determined King of León called upon people of the northern Kingdoms to fight against the Muslims and establish the supremacy of the Catholic Church.

To assist him in this ambitious quest Alfonso recruited two important allies; he fostered the legend of St James to provide spiritual support and justification and in the practical area of secular supremacy and military muscle El Cid represented the lay element of the Christian reconquista.  As Alfonso’s military chief El Cid united the Spaniards in their struggle to oust the Muslims and reclaim the peninsula for the Spanish Christian monarch.

In 1072, El Cid became the vassal of Alfonso VI and to further secure his loyalty the King arranged for El Cid to marry his niece Ximena Díaz. These were calculated moves by the King to secure El Cid’s support for the national-religious warfare against the Moors.  El Cid was a mercenary and not entirely reliable as an ally and this was a well thought out strategy to achieve a significant measure of control over the military commander that restricted his opportunity to take military action without the king’s knowledge.  Alfonso had a well defined political-religious agenda, in which El Cid played an integral role.

In support of Alfonso’s expansionist plans El Cid participated in the unification of the religious and political spheres during the latter part of the eleventh century. One of the most important roles he played as a Christian war hero and patriot of the reconquest was the victory of his siege in Valencia and the Muslims defeat in 1094.

“Great is the rejoicing in that place                                                                                    when My Cid took Valencia . . .                                                                                                My Cid rejoiced, and all who were with him,                                                              when his flag flew from the top of the Moorish palace.” 

In his role as a loyal Christian ruler in 1098 El Cid converted Valencia’s Great Mosque into a Christian church, St. Mary’s Cathedral.  Furthermore, he proclaimed the Cluniac cleric Jerome of Périgord the bishop of Valencia and these acts indicated his solidarity with Alfonso and Cluniac reform, and his participation in the crusading mentality of the century.

After El Cid’s premature death in 1099 and without his inspirational leadership Valencia fell again to Muslim forces in 1102.  Alfonso died in 1109 leaving behind his legacy to the Reconquista of the two principle nationalist heroes of modern Spain, the Patron Saint James and the Warrior Knight El Cid.


More posts about El Cid:

El Cid and the Spanish Reconquista

El Cid and his Horse, Babieca

El Cid and his Wife, Ximena

El Cid and his sword. La Tizona

El Cid and Saint James

El Cid and Alfonso VI

El Cid and the Castle of Belmonte

El Cid – The Film Fact and Fiction