Salamanca is perhaps a strange – and if not strange, an unusual choice for a holiday destination you might think. Well, a couple of years ago we had arranged a long motorbike trip to from the UK to Gibraltar, with a planned stop over in Salamanca for a couple of days to rest our aching joints and take in the sights. The trip was abandoned however, in favour of a vsit to Singapore and Thailand instead! So, back to Salamanca. Taking an EasyJet flight from Bristol to Madrid seemed the quickest option. There are relatively cheap flights available during the month of June – I paid just £75 per person return, which seemed like a bargain. Public transport to Salamanca is quite good from Madrid; a choice between train or bus, which runs from Madrid to Salamanca regularly, daily. We decided to hire a car, which in retrospect was not really necessary; except for the 2 hour journey on extremely good and very empty roads, which was fun, and wished we had ridden our motorbikes!
Arriving late at night we were stunned at the view upon driving over the bridge towards the city. The illuminated Cathedral glistened in the midnight darkness – simply spectacular. We arrived in Salamanca at our chosen hotel – Hotel Rector with ease and fortunately the hotel has an underground car park so there were no problems with parking. The night porter greeted us and we retired to bed (having enjoyed a very good complimentary bottle of Spanish red wine, cheese and walnuts). Thank you Hotel Rector. At this point I must point out that the staff are extremely helpful and knowledgeable about the area, its history, where to dine, etc. The hotel is well situated and quiet and I add here that the breakfast was sumptuous! The city of Salamanca has a population of nearly 200,000 and has a student population of 30,000. The architecture is stunning, and has many historical buildings all of which can be accessed easily on foot. The Catedral Nueva and Catedral Vjea (the building we had seen the night before) is Salamanca’s two cathedrals in one.
It was beautiful, and its environs are equally delightful. The newer (and larger building) was built beside the older one – normally it would have been built on top, but this makes for a very interesting visit inside, as both can be walked through. I particularly enjoyed the choir stalls and the two complete, majestic organs. For the more energetic a steep climb up the Puerta de La Tore, will reward you with amazing views across Salamanca.
The Old Cathedral, which dates from the 12th century, has the most extraordinary altarpiece, with its representation of the Final Judgement. Look carefully at the photo and you will get my drift!
Opposite the cathedral is the University of Salamanca Halls of Residence. The University, established astonishingly in 1250, is one of the best and oldest in Europe. The city consequently has an upbeat, lively and vibrant feel about it.
Annual festivals, such as the Festival Internacional de las Artes de Castilla Y Leon 2014 #FACYL was held during our stay. A very large stage was erected in the Plaza Mayor later in the week.
This, together with a plethora of magnificent historic buildings, many restaurants, street entertainment, walking tours and a general sense of excitement means there is plenty to see, and do. I was fascinated to walk across the Roman Bridge, which spans the Rio Tormes, complete with the Roman statue of a wild boar on its plinth.
A large amount of wildlife surrounds the park and river. Long legged storks frequented the water here finding fish to feed on.
Nearly every historic building has a stork or two perched precariously on its nest, providing shelter and shade for its young in the midday sun.
As previously mentioned the most sumptuous Baroque square in Spain The Plaza Mayor, built between 1729 and 1755, has to be the highlight of any visit. When the sun sets, the golden sandstone glows. And, if this is not enough, at 10.15pm each night, it (together with many of historic buildings in Salamanca) are illuminated with magical effect.
Another beautiful Gothic building built in the 16th and 17th centuries is The Convento de San Estaban, with its extra ordinary alter-like façade showing the stoning of St Stephen. Again its setting enhances the building.
Inside take time to visit the museum dedicated to the Domincans. The Palacio de Monterrey a 16th century holiday home to the Duques de Alba, is just off the Plaza Mayor in the Plaza de Monterrey. It is not open to the public but it is certainly worth taking a walk along Calle del Prior to view the Spanish Renaissance architecture, and its fine façade. I particularly enjoyed the Public Library – Casa de las Conchas with its some 300 scallop shells clinging to the façade.
The original owner, Dr. Rodrigo Maldonado de Talavera was a member of the Order of Santiago – whose symbol is the shell. There was a surprise for me in this building; having climbed to the balcony – I was utterly stunned at a view which even I could not have expected!!! Here is the view!
The beautiful Patio del Palacio de la Salina in Cale San Pablo (built in 1538 and used to store salt) is now government offices. However, on display, inside the building was a very small, yet very powerful bronze sculpture entitled The Last Supper by Vanancio Blanco. The sculpture shows the Last Supper with Christ and His disciples at the table. But then the voyeur glances across to the left to realise that Judas Iscariot has departed, disgraced from the table, with head bowed. It is simple yet beautifully depicted. Click here to view short clip of the Sagrada Cena in more detail.
Taking time to enjoy this city is certainly a must. Narrow alleys scattered with elegantly laid tables and chairs offering tasty tapas and sangria enticing one to read the menu and dine for the evening, wide cobbled squares with guests perfectly dressed, waiting for that moment when the Bride and Groom exit the church and are sped away in a carefully chosen honeymoon car, a quiet corner hiding a bridesmaid collecting confetti and hoping some day her prince will come, street entertainers – The Blues Brothers arrived on a ‘Mission from God’ (!), street artists blowing gigantic bubbles, a sculptor hanging inside a sculpture, the lively chatter of drinkers and shoppers, or simply sit and wait for the sun to set at the Plaza Mayor. The city of Salamanca has a plenty to offer and certainly lives up to its name .The Golden City of Spain.