Travelogue Iberia 8: Salamanca

SALAMANCA
19 September 2013

After a 314km uninterrupted drive from Coimbra, we were pleased to arrive in Salamanca – and the first impressions on driving into the town further warmed our welcome. 

As usual, Google Maps had successfully guided us the bulk of the journey, but we once again found ourselves left hanging as we approached the town and found the directions for roundabouts and exits not matching up.  At least Salamanca is a less complicated layout though, with 4 bridges crossing the Rio Tormes on approach and most roads in the town directed toward the central square, Plaza Mayor (right upon which was the pension I’d booked us into). Rather than messing about, we parked the car in the first parkjng garage we saw (€14.40 a night!) and attacked the finer directions on foot.

It was really easy to find our accommodation (Pension Los Angeles) since it was literally on the Plaza Mayor, a little door wedged among the bars and restaurants leading to the apartments upstairs. The perfect location! Our en-suite room had a balcony overlooking the square. The perfect view! Plaza Mayor, with it’s harmonious and controlled Baroque design, impressive size and symmetry, built-in matching City Hall and arcaded square, is noted as being the most beautiful in Spain – and this is fact, not opinion!  The Plaza is much bigger than others we’ve seen (roughly 80 x 80m) and the combination of its “squareness” with uniform rows of balconied rooms mirroring each other and the monochromy of the use of golden-hued Villamayor stone (same colour and texture as sandstone) from floor to ceiling, would send poor old Gaudi into apoplexy! But the result is breathtaking and literally awesome. 

Having garnered a tourist map from our landlord, we realised it wasn’t worth plotting a formal walking tour route around Salamanca as almost all the sites (all bar the Roman Bridge) are contained within the old city and there’s something to see on almost every corner – although with 11 churches, 4 convents and 10 historically relevant mansions it can get a bit samey-samey.

Salamanca is home to the oldest University in Spain, founded in the 13th century, and most of the old buildings house university faculties museums. It’s understandable why young people would relish spending time here – and their presence is definitely felt in the price and value offering of the glut of restaurants and bars and the overwhelming amount of entertainment options, more or less 24/7.

We did visit the one university building, the Universidad Civil, to do some “frog-spotting”. It is said that if you can spot the frog on the elaborately carved facade, then you’ll enjoy great luck. We both managed to see the frog… but with a little direction from the info boards!

Hard work aside, we were able to settle into an evening of tapas hopping…

Meson La Dehesa – baguette with jamon (cured ham) and Iberian cheese
O’Hara Irish Pub – kettlefried crisps, chourizo on baguette 
Bambu – lasagne, bolognaise tortilla, sourdough with prawns on garlic cream, Iberian ham and sweet tomato pizza
La Perla Negra – no tapas, but a free boys Guinness t-shirt
Casa de Vinos Doctrinos – sourdough with lomo cabecero (combination of lomo and jamon) and Iberian lomo (marbled) 
Catalina’s – bacon and cheese croissant and ham, cheese, cream cheese  and onion crepe
Cervesaria Gambrinus – (poor) sausage and quail’s egg on baguette; pork dumpling in phyllo
Disfruta de Todo  – jamon croquette 
Irish Rover – crisps and a free girls Guinness t-shirt
Gastro Taberna El Reloj – calamari strips and tuna lasagne ; meat lasagne

All of the above served free with our orders of caña or fine local Rioja, never over €2!