My friend Isabel, the one who comes with me on most of my trips, has Spanish origins. Her mom is from Salamanca and she’s been telling me how beautiful the town was for many years. But somehow, shame one me, I never really listened and so she eventually did what she had to do to make me hear her, she invited me to spend a week in this wonderful town in the Castilla y Leon area. It was during the Easter holidays 2013, I was going through a difficult moment, and leaving home for a while was just what I needed. We left Switzerland as soon as my school schedule permitted and got to Spain in the morning of Good Friday. Isa’s parents picked us up at the Madrid airport, drove us around a few sightseeing spots outside the Spanish capital and eventually took us to their not-so-little holiday house in the outskirts of Salamanca. We had a quick dinner and then drove to the centre of the town to see my first Holy Week procession (more on that later). We parked outside the historic city centre and, along with a few hundred people, walked towards Plaza Mayor. At first sight the town looked like many others I had seen before, but then, all of a sudden, we walked through an arcade and found ourselves on the most amazing square ever! This one’s better than Piazza San Marco in Venice, better than Brussel’s Grand Place, it’s better than any other square I have ever seen! It’s simply breathtaking! And that’s when I knew: I should have listened to Isa when she was raving about Salamanca.
Of course, with her parents being in town, I had the best guides ever. They showed me all the beautiful places, told me many interesting stories, and took me to the best restaurants to eat. I spent a few amazing days in town before moving to Madrid for three more days.
I think that the best thing about Salamanca is the city itself, or at least the old part of town, a Unesco World Heritage site. And as soon as you walk around a bit you can see why it made it on the Unesco list. It is very beautiful indeed with all the historic buildings lining the narrow streets, and then there’s the churches, monasteries, palaces and squares. And almost everything is built with the same kind of yellowish stones that make the whole town look golden in the hours just before sunset. And it’s even more amazing, well, practically magic at night, when light spots illuminate everything. There’s this strange vibe in town, on the one hand you feel like stepping back in time with all that history and religious atmosphere surrounding you, but on the other hand the city is full of young people, as there are several universities and many language schools . There are a lot of things to do for a city of medium size like Salamanca is, but here is my top 10, the things you just shouldn’t miss.
1. Soak in the magic of Plaza Mayor. This was my favourite place in the town, I think I could have spent the whole day looking at the magnificent Baroque buildings and imagining what was going on in them around 1780, shortly after they finished building it. I wish I had the chance to go inside one of them, I bet the rooms are amazing too. And of course there is a whole lot going on on the square too, day and night! Make sure to come to the square during different times of the day, a visit when it’s dark is an absolute must.
Visit the cathedrals, yes, there are two. The old and the new one, but you can visit both in one go. I’m not one to visit a lot of churches and cathedrals, but in Spain you just have to because they are simply wonderful. There is gold everywhere, and beautiful sculptures and paintings. Oh, and the flowers on every altar, churches in Spain seem much more alive than in most other European countries. For the old cathedral you will have to climb quite a few steps, but the view from the top is totally worth it. Also, when exiting the new cathedral check out the carving of the astronaut around the door, yes, an astronaut! Can you find him?
Imagine how students lived in the 13th century in the old university. Salamanca has on of the oldest universities in Europe, and you can still see part of it. You can visit different buildings and you totally should as it is quite interesting. Isn’t that library just wonderful? Also check out the frog on the university’s main gate, if you find it you will be pass your next exam.
Climb the wonderful staircase of the Convento de San Esteban. The church that belongs to the monastery is wonderful too, some more gold to marvel at.
Enjoy the view on the old town from the tower of the Clerecia. There are quite a few steps to climb, but once more it is totally worth it. And when you exit the church, have a look at the Casa de las Conchas, a house with more than 300 shells on its facade.
Go shopping in Calle Toro, and have a look inside Zara for a very special location for a clothing store.
See some art deco and art nouveau at Casa Lis, but the main reason why you should go there is not the exhibition but the house itself, or have you seen such wonderful windows anywhere else?
Stroll around the quaint cloister of the Convento de las Duenas. This one’s smaller than the Convento de San Esteban, but the cloister is more beautiful and really interesting. I could have looked at the carvings in the pillars for hours!
Sleep in an old castle just outside of town. I didn’t need a hotel in Salamanca as I had the chance to sleep at my friend’s house, but should I ever go back and need one, I would go to stay at the Castillo de Buen Amor. The name itself makes me want to sleep there, but I was invited to have dinner in their restaurant and walked around the ground a bit, and fell in love with the place. Also, sleeping in a real castle, just wow!
Attend the processions during the Holy Week. If possible visit Salamanca during this meaningful time. Watch penitents carry the heavy floats through the streets, some barefoot and with heavy chains on their ankles, while marching bands play solemn music. I’m not a religious person, but even I felt the spiritual atmosphere. During the day you can have a closer look at some of the floats in the many churches of the city.
So, instead of going to Madrid or Barcelona, just try Salamanca next time you are in Spain, I promise, you won’t regret it!