Although I have only recently made my first visit to Salamanca, it has instantly become one of my favourite Spanish cities. An historical heavyweight, it also exudes a youthful vibrancy in its magical array of authentic golden-coloured stone buildings, twisting streets, ornate squares and buzzing plazas.
Fun, exciting and jaw-droppingly beautiful, the city’s heart beats as strongly in the heat of the day as it does during the balmy night.
The moment you clap eyes on the grandeur of the UNESCO World Heritage Old City, with its magnificent cathedral towering over ramparts and the hillside beyond, you will be drawn in, just as so many other travellers have been over the centuries.
From the early Celtic era, through to the conquering Carthaginians, Romans and Moors, Salamanca developed into a formidable city, with the country’s oldest university founded in the 11th century. During the golden 15th and 16th centuries, the allure of this intellectual and cultural bastion has attracted people from afar, century after century.
Rising up from the banks of the Tormes River, 200km from Madrid and only 80km from the Portuguese border, Salamanca continues today to be one of Spain’s most vibrant cities. The capital of Salamanca Province, plonked in the heart of the traditional Castile and Leon region, it is quite frankly one of Spain’s ‘must see’ destinations.
Its history is not the city’s only appeal, however. Despite an overall population of only 230,000, it also boasts the effervescent energy of the 30,000 strong student body, a healthy tourism industry and the calmness of marching pilgrims as they walk along the Via de la Plata path, on the Amino de Santiago.
People from all corners of the world continue to be drawn to visit, study and revel in all it has to offer. Whether visiting as a student, pilgrim, tourist or trader, you are in for an exciting and hugely rewarding time, with busy bars, cafes and restaurants matching this most eclectic of Spanish ambiances. Exploring the maze of endearing Old City streets, you soon get your bearings, as the most interesting sites are all within easy strolling distance from each other.
Although it is probably best to avoid the peak-heat summer months, Salamanca is a year-round destination that I urge you to incorporate into whatever Spanish itinerary you are planning. Allow as much wandering time as possible, ideally approaching from the river across the Old Roman Bridge. Start with the Baroque Capilla de la Vera Cruz church and grandstanding Old and New Cathedrals, before moving on to the traditional university buildings, cloisters and plazas.
Ice cream, fresh juice, cold beer and cool crisp vino stops are essential – but the master plan is to head for the glorious Plaza Mayor whenever energy levels dip. Whatever the temperature, day or night, this enthralling Baroque meeting place will invigorate you.
You must have one, if not all, your meals there, as you watch the world go by from one of the many sunny or shady vantage points.