Before we went to Spain, I had spent hours researching the best itinerary, the towns and cities and villages and drives we shouldn’t miss, what to eat and drink and where to eat and drink it. Some destinations were a given – Granada, Barcelona, Madrid. Others were on our only-if-we-have-time list, due to their geography. One we deliberately decided to avoid – Valencia – because it would be overrun by America’s Cup contestants and fans, and because we were there to see Spain, not NZ fans wearing red socks. But some destinations were on our list simply because they were on the way to somewhere else. And Salamanca was one of those. It got three stars – worth the journey – in the Michelin Guide. But reading about it left me uninspired. It sounded like a university town, without much else to commend it other than some nice architecture. But the Michelin Guide has never really failed me, so I duly included Salamanca on our itinerary.
The day we drove in was bright and sunny and hot, the way Spain should be. We found an underground car park just outside the walls of the Old Town, and set off on foot to find accommodation. We discovered that there was a medical conference, or some such thing, and the majority of hotels were booked. After traipsing across the compact city, we managed to find one hotel for the first night, and another outside the city walls for the following night. This is when the spot in my heart labelled Salamanca started to soften. I managed to book the first hotel entirely in Spanish, even self-correcting my Spanish grammar to the amusement of the receptionist who no doubt spoke fluent English. An even greater feat followed. I managed to book the room in another hotel for the following night entirely in my self-taught Spanish … on the telephone. (You have to understand my dislike of telephones to truly appreciate what a feat this was!)
So, settled in our modern hotel built around ancient Roman ruins, we set out to explore Salamanca. The stone of the city glowed a soft gold in the Spanish sun. The buildings were grand, but the decorations delicate, and they were beautiful day and night. We dutifully photographed the astronaut on the cathedral, amused at the suggestion that the builders in the 16th century were prescient. We drank in the beauty of the cathedral’s interior, and climbed to the top to look across the city from its viewing platforms. We enjoyed a long, lazy lunch with plenty of delicious Rioja on a narrow street just up from the university, noting the distinctive Spanish body shape as the students walked by. We ended our days sitting in the Plaza Mayor, watching families and friends meeting at the end of the day, taking their paseos before the sun went down. Protesting students kept the atmosphere lively. And a conveniently located internet cafe enabled us to book our onward hotel in our next destination.
We walked, snapped photos, walked, snapped more photos, and walked. And by the end of our second day we agreed that, of all the cities we visited in Spain, Salamanca was probably our favourite.
Click on the thumbnails to get a better view of the delights of this lovely city.