Leon information

Introduction to the Province of Leon
The province of Leon, in the north west of Spain, is one of the most geographically diverse in the whole country. It has snow-covered mountains in the Picos de Europa and flat agricultural plains with valleys, lakes and gorges in between. The ancient city of Leon (and the rest of the province beyond) is rich in history and fine monuments.

Leon City
The historic city of Leon was founded by the Romans in 1BC, partly due to its proximity to the reserves of precious metals they mined nearby. Leon is a stop on the famous pilgrims’ route of the Camino de Santiago and is a most attractive and atmospheric city to explore.

Leon’s 12th Century Gothic Cathedral is also known as The House of Light because it has the most incredible stained glass windows (nearly 1800 sq m of them) of any ecclesiastical building anywhere in the world.

The stunning Renaissance building that is the Hostal de San Marcos (now a Parador) was the traditional place of rest en route for pilgrims following the Camino de Santiago. It has housed many different types of inmates since those days, having served as a monastery, a prison and an army barracks. Other buildings of note in the city include the 16th Century Palacio de los Guzmanes and the fairytale castle-like Casa de los Botines, which was designed by Gaudi. The Royal Pantheon of the Basilica de San Isidoro was the final resting place for no less than 23 of Leon’s monarchs.

The part of Leon known as the Barrio Humedo (damp quarter) is allegedly so named because it suffered from rising damp so badly that the market stall holders had to wear a type of platform clog to keep them clear of the water. Many of the city’s tapas bars, music venues and nightclubs are to be found in this area.

The city’s cube-like modern art museum, the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Castilla y Leon, has a breathtaking multicoloured façade that was inspired by the Cathedral’s stained glass windows.

Around Leon City and Beyond
The town of Astorga, 48km from Leon, came to importance during the Middle Ages because it sat on both the Camino de Santiago and the Roman Via de la Plata. Here you will find another of Gaudi’s masterpieces, the Palacio Episcopal, which now houses an excellent museum, the Museo de los Caminos, with artefacts and collections relating to the Camino de Santiago and its pilgrims. Also of note in Astorga are the architecturally confused Santa Maria Cathedral and the equally confused Church of San Bartolome.

24km from the town of Ponferrada (which has a fine 12th Century Castle of the Knights Templars) is to be found Las Medulas. This is the site of the Roman gold mines that made the area so rich. It was the most important gold mine in the Roman Empire and 900,000 tonnes were removed from the area. It has left a fascinating landscape behind which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Picos de Europa Regional Park in the northwest of the province has at its centre the town of Riaño, a good place to base yourself for an exploration of the park. The park has some 30 marked walking routes, taking you through its diverse ecosystems and landscapes, from glacial valleys to oak forests and alpine meadows. Skiing is possible here in the winter at San Isidro and there are facilities for watersports on its large lakes. There are plenty of visitor centres around the park.

The cuisine of Leon centres heavily on meat and particularly cured meat products. The most famous dish to come out of Leon is Cocido Maragato, a stew of seven different kinds of meat, chickpeas and vegetables. The traditional way of eating this is to eat the meat first, then the vegetable and finally to drink the soup that’s left. The cured meats (Embutidos) that you will likely come across include Cecina de Leon (smoked and air-dried beef) and Botillo del Bierzo (a spiced cured pork product). Queso de Valdeon is a famous blue cheese from Leon that is aged in sycamore leaves.

Some high quality red wines come out of Leon’s wine producing region of Bierzo, which is also famous for its apples and pears.

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