Parador in ***** Spain

SALAMANCA, Castile, Spain

Salamanca is located in the central region of Castile, near the border of northern Portugal. This beautiful city is like artwork set in stone, has all the advantages of a city, yet has retained all the charm of village life. Here the locals speak the purest form of Spanish, Castilian, which attracts people from all over the world who want to come to learn Spanish.

Salamanca has a fascinating history with ruins that date back to pre-Roman times and has a Roman bridge which crosses over the River Tormes. The prestigious Pontifical University was founded during the early 13th century and, today its traditions and student life, brings an atmosphere to the city very similar to Oxford and Cambridge.

There are many sites of interest to visit which include the picturesque Casa de las Conchas (or House of Shells) and the Unamuno House-cum-Museum, where the Spanish novelist and playwright, Miguel Unamuno, lived during the latter years of his life. The 16th century Casa de las Muertes (which literally means House of the Dead) was the home of the architect, Juan de Alava, and is a wonderful example of the Plateresque style. There are many theories as to how it got its name, but some believe it was because of the murder of a family member.

The Plaza Mayor is one of the finest in Spain and very much the heart of the city. This is where you will find all the locals and students converging throughout the day. If you get hold of an audio guide, you can take your time exploring the streets at leisure and the best place to start is the Calle San Pablo just off the Plaza Mayor. Bedroom at Parador Salamanca - Spain

The first thing you will come across is one of the city’s most beautiful 16th century Renaissance buildings, the Salina Palaca. It has a very decorative facade over the entrance and an inner patio with ornate gallery. Opposite the palace is the Clavero Tower, a 15th century octagon shaped fortress where each side is capped by a round sentry turret. On the same street is the Orellana Palace which dates back to the end of the 16th century, and has architectural features believed to have Herrarian influences.

If you make your way to Calle Jesus, you will find Las Duenas Convent. However, do not be put off by its rather austere exterior, for inside you will be pleasantly surprised as the artistry that went into its design is considered pure genius. The convent was founded in 1419, has a two storey cloister which surrounds a pentagonal courtyard, and has outstanding views of the city.

The Convento de San Esteban is rather special as well. It lies across the other side of a small bridge leading from the Plaza Concilio de Trento, and the sun in the afternoon has a marvelous affect on the facade above the entrance. The inner courtyard is a combination of both Gothic and Renaissance, with one of its rooms being particularly significant as it was in the Salon de Profundis where Columbus discussed his voyage to the West Indies with the Dominions.

Along the Calle Compania is the Monterrey Palace and San Benito Church. The city also has two other churches of special note; the Church of Santo Tomas Cantuariense and La Purisima. The Church of Santo Tomas Cantuariense was the first Romanesque church to be dedicated to Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, and inside La Purisima Church is a famous painting by Ribera.

For those who wish to explore beyond city, the Sierra de Francia National Park has many beautiful trails to hike along. Or an alternative activity is a boat ride along the Duero River. Only a few kilometres away from Salamanca is the Hacienda Zorita where you can taste the local wines. There is also a farm you can visit where they breed bulls to fight in the ring. If you travel on to Guijuelo, here you will find the factories that produce the region’s cured ham and cheese. But for really special experience, view the entire area by helicopter or in a hot air balloon.

For luxurious accommodation during your stay in Salamanca, spoil yourself at the Parador Hotel Salamanca, which is part of the Parador group. This luxury modern four star hotel is set on a hill above the Tormes River overlooking the town. Many of the bedrooms and communal areas have the benefit of beautiful panoramic views of the historical part of town. The hotel has its own swimming pool, tennis court, sauna and gym. It also has an excellent restaurant serving international cuisine, and prefers to use local methods to prepare regional dishes.

The city offers a ‘Salamanca Card’ which entitles you to free entry to a number of the historic sites, as well as major discounts in the stores. If you are interested in the Arts, there are several excellent museums such as the Art Nouveau & Art Deco Museum and the DA2 Contemporary Art Centre. In the evenings you can either find out what is playing at the Liceo Theatre or join one of the night time tours with legends and intriguing stories about the city’s monuments. The Van Dyke district is where all the best tapas bars are found. But if you want something extra special, Salamanca has its own Michelin star restaurant called the Victor Gutierrez. What a wonderful way to round off your holiday with a gourmet experience to remember!