Ponferrada is the capital of the region of El Bierzo, with its historic quarter sitting below a castle built by the Knights Templar, dating back to the twelfth century. For more examples of Gaudi’s architecture visit Astorga, which is also a very good place to sample local cuisine such as the Astorga lardy cakes.
The oldest neighbourhood in Leon is the Barrio Humedo, which is now also one of the liveliest areas with its tapas bars, shops and crowds.
The Casa de Botines building was designed by Gaudi, and displays his trademark unusual gothic inspired architecture.
The City Walls of Leon were built in the first century BC, and enlarged in the third and fourth centuries AD and then reinforced in the fourteenth century AD. Built using boulders, stone and mortar, they include the Ponces Tower, Castle Gate and San Isidro’s tower. They are best viewed from Cercas Street.
The Cathedral dates back to 1225 during the reign of King Alfonso the Wise, and the impressive 200 foot towers house over 125 stained glass windows, giving it a remarkably light, airy appearance. The Cathedral museum ha sa comprehensive collection of religious art and artefacts.
The religious Semana Santa festival dates back to the sixteenth century and takes place during Easter week every year. A large number of processions, parading religious images of Baroque artists through the streets, as well as poetry performances, concerts and speeches culminate in the release of doves on Easter morning, and often cause scenes of high emotion.
San Juan and San Pedro festivities held in late June and coincide with the summer solstice. Two parades take place along with a comprehensive program of music, workshops, sporting activities and magnificent fireworks, and it is hoped to include activities that will appeal to every citizen, of all ages.
The Basilica of San Isidoro is built into the old city walls of Leon, and the Treasury and Royal Pantheon, with its entrance to the left of the Basilica, contains some magnificent twefth century frescoes of historical importance, which illustrate scenes from the New Testament. Although the Hostal san Marcos functions as a hotel, it is also worth visiting even if you’re not lucky enough to stay there.
The Picos de Europas are mountains belonging to three of Spain’s autonomous communities, and the Picos de Europa National Park offers a chance for the public to experience their stunning scenery and opportunities for spotting a variety of unusual animal species. Two large visitors centres as well as a number of smaller tourist offices provide in depth information on the Park.
A visit to the chocolate Museum in Astorga is a great idea for a family outing, and Ibero Cycle is just one of the bike hire companies which can provide a fun method of transport in and around Leon, as well as information on cycle tours.
Four star Hotel Tryp, situated next to the Castilla and Contemporary Art Museum, would be particularly good for families as it is especially good on providing information about popular trips and activities, and there are good sports facilities nearby. There is a restaurant serving buffet breakfasts, and variety of snacks and a set menu throughout the day.
An outdoor market is held in the Plaza Mayor every Saturday morning, and Is a great way to stock up on delicacies and essentials while experiencing authentic Leon life.
The famous Gaudi architecture is dotted around the district of Leon, and for a bit of variety some other architecture of note include the San Marcos Hostal and Cathedral.
Barrio Humedo hosts a vibrant nightlife, with a variety of clubs and bars to suit all tastes, from casual to glamorous. Many bars give free tapas with drinks, and some stay open all night long.
Leon cuisine greatly benefits from the quality of vegetables grown in Leon, and are showcased in such local specialities as ‘cocido maragato’, a kind of stew. A restaurant cited as being particularly romantics and suitable for couples is Grants – La Cocina del Mundo, on Boulevard Mariano Escobedo. A visit to Seaki Bar is recommended, as they are known for their champagne cocktails which only cost around 1.20Euro, and for their generosity with free tapas of high quality.
The Parador San Marcos boasts magnificent elegance and ideally romantic accommodation. Once an ancient convent and a hospital, the building dates back to 1515 and the décor and furniture mean it can be considered to be a museum.