24 hours in Salamanca
Make the most of a whirlwind trip to Spain’s Golden City.
WORDS AND PHOTOS INKA PIEGSA
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Salamanca, the seat of the world’s third oldest university and a UNESCO World Heritage site, is famed for its ancient ornate sandstone architecture, but it also has a burgeoning food scene. Forget about calories for a day as this city begs to be explored on foot. For the perfect location to explore the region, stay at the boutique hotel Sercotel Las Torres Salamanca, the only hotel in the Plaza Mayor which is within walking distance of everything.
Salamanca's Plaza Mayor, one of the most beautiful city squares in Spain.
A Novelty Morning
Start your day at Salamanca’s oldest and most iconic café, Café Novelty, under one of the 88 arches of Plaza Mayor. Founded in 1905, it was a meeting place for writers, artists and politicians. The art deco interior never fails to dazzle. A statue of acclaimed author and professor Gonzalo Torrente Ballester sits at his preferred corner table. Choose one of Salamanca’s specialty foods, like its famous style of Jamon Iberico (which refers to the succulent cured ham from local, black pigs fed with acorns that give it its special flavor.)
The ancient, honey-colored sandstone buildings of Salamanca that are the reason it is dubbed the 'Golden City'.
Hit the Sidewalk
Walk south along Rua Mayor, towards the 16th century Casa de Las Conchas, one of the city’s most endearing buildings. Its façade is decorated with 300 sculpted shells. They are a reference to the original owner’s status as a Knight of the Order of Santiago, the shell being the emblem of the pilgrims walking the way of St. James in Galicia. Legend has it that a treasure is hidden under one of these shells and the building is now a public library. It is also a well held student tradition, that if you want to breeze through your exams, you must first be able to find a frog on the University's facade.
Shells adorn the facade of Casa de Las Conchas, which reflect the original owner's status as a Knight.
This is why you’ll spot plenty of frogs in souvenir shops around Salamanca. As you walk, take a close look at the walls of the University buildings you pass, you will see the letters VITOR followed by a name, written in red. Once written in bull’s blood because it fuses so well with the golden sandstone of the buildings, these markings have been placed there by students over the years, once they receive their doctorate.
The stunning architecture of Salamanca is a drawcard for tourists.
Only a few cities around the world boast two cathedrals and Salamanca is one of them. Standing side-by-side and interconnected, the cathedrals are from different centuries. The Old Cathedral was built in the Romanesque-Gothic style in the 14th century, while the New Cathedral was added between the 16th and 18th centuries in the Gothic Baroque style. Pay special attention to the doors and carvings outside, where stonemasons who surely had a sense of humor, at least during renovations in the 1990s, added gargoyles, rabbits, and even an astronaut eating an ice cream cone.
Only a few cities around the world boast two cathedrals and Salamanca is one of them.
Stop for a Snack
One of the delicacies of Salamanca is almond cookies, made for centuries by the nuns of the Las Dueñas Convent. They used to sell them hidden behind screens, but modern-day nuns run a shop and serve as sales assistants at the convent where you can purchase this delicacy.
At the Las Dueñas Convent you can marvel at the stunning architecture, and buy a local delicacy made by the nuns.
Take a Siesta
Lunch is an important meal of the day in Spain and it’s eaten late, usually after 2pm. This coincides with the sacred siesta, the hours between 2pm and 5pm when most shops (and museums) close and people have lunch and a nap. When you’re in Spain, why not do the same? It’s a great way to break the day too, so you can stay out later. Our suggestion? Try the family-run Valencia restaurant close to Plaza Mayor. Or you might opt for a selection of the ever-present tapas.
The banks of the Tormes River are the perfect vantage point for sunset.
The Perfect Sunset Spot
Salamanca sits on the banks of the Tormes River and the Roman Bridge of Salamanca that crosses it is the perfect spot to watch the sunset when the majestic sandstone buildings of the city take on a golden glow. Another Salamanca curiosity is connected to the river and bridge: the festival of Monday of the Waters. During the reign of King Philip II, prostitutes were banned from the city during the religious period of Lent and sent across the water. On Easter Monday they were allowed back to the delight of the many students who collected them in adorned boats. To this day, even sans prostitutes, it’s the occasion for a great festival.
The Plaza Mayor takes on a whole new look at night.
End your day back at Plaza Mayor to see the magical illumination of the buildings and listen to the music of the tunas, groups of students in black coats, white breeches and the colors of their faculties playing guitars and singing. And of course, wine and dine and simply watch the world go by. After all, food and music are all part of the experience regardless of where you go in Spain.