I’ve been wanting to go back to León ever since that one night I spent in the capital on my way to Asturias in 2011. (How is that four years ago?) My time there, like so many of the smaller provinces, was too short, but it left an impression on me.
On the Puente de Noviembre (long weekend/bank holiday for All Saints’ Day (Todos Los Santos) of 2011, I took off after work, excited that I was about to complete my goal of visiting every comunidad autónoma by arriving to Asturias the next day. I had already decided my next goal would be to visit every province (still working on that one), so I spent the night in León.
My bus arrived about 10, if I remember correctly, and I checked in at the pensión/hostal (I forget which). The woman was one of the friendliest owners I have encountered in Spain. I went out to the Barrio Húmedo and had either tapas or a kebab, I forget which. It was cold, but being from Ohio, I relished the cold. I walked around a bit and got a good night’s sleep. I awoke Saturday morning to explore the city. I fell in love with the Cathedral, as I’m one of those who believe if you’ve seen one Spanish Cathedral, you’ve pretty much seen them are. However, the Catedral de León, one of the most famous of Spain, is special with its beautiful stained-glass windows. I also saw the Casa de Botines, designed by the famous Gaudí. I had a delicious café con leche y tostada con tomate near the Casa de Botines in a café, whose name escapes me, that left an impression on me (I still remember that breakfast.) I also enjoyed all the graffiti stating that León is NOT Castilla. I didn’t hear any of the dialect “leonés”, but I did see some of the graffiti. After strolling along the river a bit, I headed off to Asturias, anxious to set foot in the last of the 17 autónomas.
Since then, I’ve been dying to go back to León. I almost took off for there a few times this year, especially because I wanted to be able to write the entry dedicated to León better. Alas, time and money never go together.
I also remember being excited at seeing the arrows for the Camino de Santiago (Francés).
The facts on León capital? It was founded as a Roman military encampment around 29 BC. Today it is a city of nearly 132,000 people and nearly 500,000 in the metropolitan area. León was once one of the most important kingdoms but was consolidated with Castilla in 1301.
The Catedral of León, also known as La Casa de la Luz (House of Light) or Pulchra Leonina, was built on the site of Roman Baths. During the Reconquista, the baths were converted to a Palace. King Ordoño II converted the Royal Palace into a cathedral to show his devotion to God after defeating the Moors in 917. Alfonso VI consecrated a second cathedral in 1073. The third cathedral began construction in the 13th century but wasn’t completed until the latter part of the 15th century. Today it’s an important milestone on the Camino Frances, and I was glad I was able to see the inside of it for free (it was open on that Saturday morning), as the stained-glass windows are truly impressive.
Barrio Humédo y Casa de los Botines
La Casa de los Botines is a house designed by Antoni Gaudí in the centre of León. It is four stories/storeys and has a basement and an attic. Gaudí used typical architecture from León, incorporating medieval and neo-Gothic influences. It was bought by the Caja España bank in 1929, and in 2010 merged with similar institutions due to the crisis (2008-???). It’s located near the Barrio Humédo, so named for the number of alcoholic drinks sold in this neighbourhood. The barrio has over 100 bars, centered around Plaza de San Martín and surrounding streets. For the non drinkers, the neighbourhood is also renowned for its tapas.
Astorga (to be discovered)
Astorga has been on my radar for years, perhaps due to all the reading of the Camino de Santiago I did, dreaming of one day doing it myself. Ey, estoy en ello. Located on the River Tuerto 32,4 kilometres (27 miles) southwest of León capital, the city of 12,242 people (2009 records) predate the Paleolithic era. Today it is home of a Cathedral, the Gaudí designed Palacio Espiscopal, Roman remains, remains of the old city walls, and a chocolate museum.
Ponferrada (to be discovered)
With nearly 70,000 habitants, Ponferrada is the last major city before reaching Santiago on the Camino Francés de Santiago. The city was an important mining town for the Romans. It’s home to the Castillo de los Templarios, a Templar Castle dating back to the 12th century. There is also a basilica, a Museum of Radio, el Museo de El Bierzo offering the history of the region, soon an Energy Museum (currently being constructed), and a few churches and érmitas (hermitages). It also offers a ton of opportunities for hiking/trekking and nature.
Parque Natural de las Médulas (to be discovered)
Speaking of nature, located close to Ponferrada is the Natural Park of Las Médulas, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997. They were the most important gold mine in the Roman Empire once upon a time. Today it offers some amazing hiking routes and scenery.
San Miguel de la Escalada (to be discovered)
Ten kilometres away from the Camino de Santiago, the San Miguel de la Escalada is a monastery with Mozarabic art and architecture. It was consecrated in 951 around the time of the founding of the Kingdom of León. It was abandoned in 1836.
Castrillo de los Polvazares (to be discovered)
Located five kilometres from Astorga, Castrillo de los Polvazares is a small pedestrian-only hamlet of 81 habitants. The entire village is made of stone. Houses, roads, everything is stone. It was important for the reconquista of Astorga during the Spanish Independence War. They do mention the city is overrun with tourists in the summer, so I’m making note to revisit León in the autumn or spring.