Leon Mini Guide
Leon in Spain is an ancient city about 290 km (180 miles) north west of Madrid
, founded by the Romans and capital of the Spanish Kingdom of Asturias
- later named Leon. Leon's most impressive feature is probably the city's towering Gothic cathedral with its stained glass windows, but this monument is only one of many. One of the largest conurbations in north west Spain, Leon has around 200,000 people living there and attracts tourists who go to see its cultural attractions which include art galleries and holy festivals. Leon was originally formed by the Roman 7th legion in 68 AD and the city still has Roman walls around it.
Being part of the pilgrim route on the road to Santiago de Compostela
, Leon has long been a place that people have passed through but it is worth taking a bit of time to see this fine city. It is part of the autonomous province of Castille and Leon and home to a mausoleum where the King of Leon's royal family were buried. The Basilica of San Isidro de Leon, a church and monastery, was also used by Spanish royalty while its Royal Pantheon, the funeral chapel of the Kings of Castille and Leon is a great example of Romanesque art that has survived until this day. Not quite royalty, but one of Leon's most wealthy and well to do families - the Guzman family - used to live in the Palacio de Guzmanes, an imposing building with four towers which is also well worth looking at.
One of the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi's most famous buildings, the neo gothic Casa de Botines, is of further interest as is the Castille and Leon Museum of Contemporary Art. Among the best reasons to visit Leon is its unique and mouth watering Spanish cuisine. Try the blood sausage - (morcilla) smoked cured beef (cecina), garlic soup and the mantecadas dessert. Most of the bars in Leon offer free tapas which makes them an even more enjoyable place in which to drink and socialise. Tapas are served between 9pm until 12am, but if you want to have something a bit more filling but not a complete meal, try a racion which is a selection of traditional dishes which can be shared by up to three people. Restaurants offer all the traditional Leon dishes such as cocido maragato, a stew which has regional delicacies in it such as goat's black pudding, pig snouts and chickpeas.
If you're looking to wet the whistle don't miss the Barrio Humedo which has many bars packed into a small space where Spaniards consume copious amounts of alcohol. Head to the Plaza de San Martin to start your bar crawl but don't expect to complete it as there are more than 100 bars there.
For most visitors to Leon, Spanish holy week is the real draw. People come from all over Spain to see the processions which take place on the esplanade in front of the cathedral and act out the relationship between Jesus Christ, the Holy Virgin and Saint John. The Leonese also mark the beginning of summer with fireworks, street stalls and several days worth of festivities at the start of June. The countryside surrounding Leon is very beautiful so be sure to hire a car, especially if you want to go and fish for trout in the rivers and lakes. A journey through the province will let you see high snow capped mountains as well as valleys, rivers and plains.
One of the classiest places to stay in Leon is the Hotel Parador Hostel de San Marcos which is a sight in itself with its huge rooms, a restaurant and even a library. Leon is linked by train to Madrid, which is about 150 kilometres south east, and is accessible by car from several different routes. To get more information about Leon visit the tourist information office at 3, Plaza de la Regla, where maps and package trips are available.
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