Weekend breaks in Spain usually take place in cities like Barcelona, Malaga or Granada. Safe bets; places where you know you’ll have a great time. But Spain, in truth, is a country so richly steeped in history and culture that there are many other beautiful cities which often get overlooked by anyone looking for that ideal short break in Spain.
One such example is Salamanca, a University-important, UNESCO Heritage-declared city about 120 miles west of Madrid. It is also the place where guest writer Sarah Samuel spent her first year in Spain teaching English. In this post, she shares with us how she spent first 24 hours in Salamanca…
“First impressions are everything and they are almost always wrong”, my mother once told me at eleven years old, when Mark Pritchard laughed at me for being fat.
It was September, and I had taken a flight from Bristol airport to Madrid, a two-hour journey on the Avanza bus straight from the terminal gates, and had arrived in Salamanca in the early hours of the morning.
“It’s small”. My travelling companion, a fellow English teacher, warned me when I first arrived. “It’s small and there are lots of students”. It was early in the morning and in less than one hour we had managed to circle the entire city centre on foot and settle in the coffee shop under my apartment block. We were tired but determined to change my first impressions of this old, Spanish city that had been set by a rundown bus station on the outskirts.
“I don’t want to walk too far. I’m hot and lazy and I don’t want to sweat through my nice new shirt”, I told my friend while we were mapping our city tour.
“I want to eat too”, I said, counting the euros that I had found under my desk. “For free”.
“You can eat the entire city in an hour”, she told me.
What to do in Salamanca: Morning
We crossed the Plaza Mayor, a picturesque square decorated with the faces of famous historical figures. It was such a warm and welcoming site that it was impossible to imagine that the square was once used for something so violent as bullfighting. However, even in such a seemingly peaceful place, controversy can still be found in the form of Franco’s stone likeness, which hangs above one of the archways and is a magnet for vandalism.
We started at the old University, on the small Plaza Patio de Escuelas Menores, at La Puerta de Salamanca, a fantastic stone façade around five hundred years old. It’s a small area where tourists go to stand and squint, and if you squint hard enough, you may be able to find the frog. If you find the frog amidst the intricate carvings, you will supposedly have good luck. We stood there for over twenty minutes until I heard a Spanish tour guide leak its secret location. I translated for a group of American tourists. “Of course, it took me a mere five minutes to locate”, I lied.
We turned the corner onto the Plaza Anaya, and were instantly met with La Catedral Vieja, a beautiful and imposing structure in the centre of the city. It was surrounded by small squares of grass and a trim of flowers at the base of a large, spiked fence. The walls were etched with similar carvings to the University, and feature a later addition of an astronaut and a lion, eating an ice cream, which was created during a restoration project in the early nineties.
“Maybe the bishop watched a lot of MTV”, my friend remarked on the stone steps, dangling a frog on a keychain that she had bought from a vender in the doorway.
Inside, we walked around the grounds, saw old coffins, paintings and small golden statues, and there was an eerie silence broken only by a battery powered tour guide that hung around our necks.
Despite a desperate fear of heights, we climbed the ancient steps to the top of the tower and were rewarded with a breath-taking view of Salamanca’s wet ceramic rooftops and bustling cobbled streets.
The Old Cathedral is open from 10-7.30 April – September, and 10 -5.30, October – March. Ticket prices are €4,75 and include access to the tower.
Things to do in Salamanca: Afternoon
There is no shortage of tapas options in Salamanca and the majority of bars and cafés offer two tapas and a coffee for around 2€. We stopped several times to eat and drink beers in the sun, and were always just a few feet from our next destination.
We headed to Casa de Lis, a stained glass house built on the old city wall, which at the time was an architectural breakthrough. Even now, there is nothing quite as modern as this house, which could just as easily be overlooked and overshadowed by the great sand coloured buildings that surround it. Inside, the house serves as a monument to 1920’s and the shelves are filled with shiny trinkets and tiny silver cats playing billiards. It is a must for anyone who wants to glimpse this fashionable past for a small entrance fee.
Casa de Lis is located on Calle Gibraltar. Tickets are €4 adults, half price concessionary tickets are available to students, groups and children. Opening times: Mon – Fri, 11-2, 4-8pm. Weekends, 11-8pm. Alternative hours during the Christmas period.
What to do in Salamanca: At Night
After spending too long in the fantastic vegetarian-friendly Café Atelier on Calle Serranos, we set out to explore Salamanca at night.
Turning a corner towards La Catedral Nueva, we found ourselves wandering down a narrow side street, Calle Arcediano, where we stumbled upon a perfect viewpoint and a well-hidden, medieval garden, Huerto de Calixto y Melibea . From the top of the old city wall we watched the sun set from behind the cathedral. The sky glowed orange and the street lights illuminated the beautiful rose bushes, as I felt my first impressions begin to fade into memory. We made our way through the garden, past a well covered in padlocks, and a small fountain where couples were holding hands.
Huerto de Calixto y Melibea is free to enter, and is open from 10am until sunset every day.
Salamanca stays alive throughout the night, with many bars staying open until the early hours. Despite how exhausted we were, we were powerless to resist the city’s electric allure, and bar-hop to our hearts’ content.
If you’re considering a holiday to Spain, rest assured that, although small and obscure when compared with the likes of Granada and Barcelona, Salamanca is the perfect weekend city. Its beauty is immediate. Its attractions are plentiful. Salamanca offers something for everyone, and 24 hours is almost irrelevant in a city whose relaxed pace eliminates all concern for time.
Easyjet provide flights to Madrid from the majority of major British airports. Returns from Bristol airport start at close to £50. A return journey to Salamanca, can be booked from just €17 from the Avanza bus company website. The bus station is located fifteen minutes from the city centre and everything else is within walking distance.
Salamanca doesn’t have a metro system because it doesn’t need one. There are local bus services that run across the city from €1,50, within 10-15 minutes of each other. Alternatively a bus pass can be obtained for €5 from the bus station, and taxi services are also very reasonably priced.
by Sarah Sameuel. Sarah is a twenty-five year old English language teacher from sunny South Wales. I studied all things Spanish and have been lucky enough to live in both Madrid and Salamanca. Now I’d like to share the ups and downs of life abroad!