Leon, Northwest Spain
Leon is the last major city on the pilgrimage route to the holy city of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain, and is the capital of the province of Leon. The province covers a large area , much of which is forest and mountain, with a major train link from Madrid, this cosmopolitan city is therefore a very popular weekend destination.
Leon goes back to 68AD and lies on the banks of the Rio Bernesga. The modern part of the city stretches along the river while the old part is set back partly enclosed by the medieval ramparts that date back to 913 AD. These Roman and medieval walls that divide the old quarter from the modern avenues and buildings create a wonderful contrast. The three most impressive monuments to visit in Leon are the Cathedral, the Collegiate Church of San Isidoro and the Convent of San Marcos.
The Cathedral is one of the finest in Europe, and was built on the site of 2nd century Roman baths. Just as most Cathedrals did in Spain, it took 200 years to complete beginning in the 13th century. There was no attempt to match the towers and steeples making them quite an unusual feature. With 250 stain glass windows and including a stunning rose window, there is a total of over 1800 square metres of glass. The Cathedral also has a museum, which has almost 1,500 pieces of sacred art as well as the first manuscript written in Leonese.
The Romanesque Collegiate Church of San Isidoro started as a monastery in the late 10th century, and was rebuilt after being destroyed by the Moors. It too has a museum with an impressive collection of early manuscripts and treasures that date back to that era.
Finally, the Convent of San Marcos is one of the most beautiful Renaissance buildings in Spain. Once a monastery back in the 12th century, it used to provide lodging for pilgrims on route to Santiago de Compostela. Later it became the quarters of the Order of St James, whose soldiers protected the pilgrims. With beautiful cloisters that look over the gardens, the stunning Convent is now the Parador Leon (Hotel Hostal San Marcos) offering superb accommodation.
There are many other sites to see while exploring this city. The 16th century Palacio de Guzmanes was family home to the Guzmans, one of the wealthiest families in Leon. The Casa Botines was designed by Gaudi with huge turrets at each corner. There are also festivals throughout the year to add to the atmosphere such as the San Juan y San Pedro in June and the San Frolian y Las Cantaderas in October.
Outside Leon is the Picos de Europe, a stunning nature park set in the mountains where brown bears and wolves live in the more remote areas. The park also has some of Spainís deepest caves. If caves fascinate you, then a visit to the wine region of Valdevimbra is a must. The 300 year old caves are used as wine cellars because the temperature is constant throughout the year, and some have been converted into pubs and restaurants. One of the more interesting restaurants is La Cueve del Tunal, where you can have a unique dining experience with superb cuisine and a relaxing atmosphere.
Leon has its own airport only 6 km from the centre of the city. So combined with the advantage of regular trains to and from Madrid, you can enjoy both the dramatic countryside and the big city while you are there.
About the Author: This article was written by Susan Bartle who is a seasoned traveller and freelance travel writer.
Originally from Canada she currently resides in the UK and recent research has resulted in expert knowledge of the Pousadas and Paradores. Click here to read about other destinations where these luxury hotels can be found.
Or visit her travel website covering countries in Europe and all around the globe.