Autonomous Community Spotlight: Castilla y León

 Not one to make travel goals, I did make one when coming to Spain: visit all 17 autonomous communities at least once before going home. While Madrid, Barcelona and Seville are the stars of the tourist dollar show (and my hard-earned euros, let’s not kid around here), I am a champion for Spain’s little-known towns and regions. Having a global view of this country has come through living in Andalucía, working in Galicia and studying in Castilla y León, plus extensive travel throughout Spain.  

Finally, after six months, we’ve hit my first taste of Spain – a taste that is as tender as a suckling roast pig, as fiery as a robust glass of red wine and something that, honestly, feel like home to me.

In May 2005, I studied abroad in Valladolid, the de facto capital of Castilla y León and one-time capital of Spain. It’s where Cervantes, Columbus and Torquemada once called home. It may not have the monuments, the vibrant culture ubiquitous to Spain, the soaring skyscrapers – but that’s what I liked about it. 

Andalusia means so much to me, but it all started in Old Castille. 

 Name: Castilla y León

Population: 2.5 million

Provinces: Nine: Ávila, Burgos, León, Palencia, Salamanca, Segovia, Soria, Valladolid, Zamora. 

When: May 2005, 1st of 17

About Castilla y León: Castilla y León is the largest of the 17 autonomous communities (close to one-fifth of its landmass!), and one of its most illustrious. It was here that marriages (and thus kingdoms) joined and saints roamed, where scholars changed the face of modern Castillian Spanish, and where cities practically shine gold.

Can you tell I’m a fan?

So, let’s start from the beginning.

Despite having been inhabited for a millennia, the modern-day Castille and León was born out of the marriage of two monarchs. The Leonese crown had long been stronger and held more land, though at the beginning of the second millennia, their power began to wane, losing the kingdoms of Galicia and Portugal, along with their prestige. 

In 1230, the kingdoms became one when Castillian King Ferdinand III ascended to the vacant Leonés crown. These two crowns would fight independently in the Reconquest, eventually defeating Muslim taifas, though not before the Catholic kings – among the best-known Spanish monarchs of all time – send Christopher Columbus to the New World in 1492. Castilla has long been known for its scholarly and democratic traditions, which include being the region responsible for spreading castellano Spanish, as well as the first place where a curia, or public forum to address issue affecting the pueblo, was held.

In fact, Valladolid was the capital of Spain for five years in the early 17th century.

Among illustrious castellanos are El Cid Campeador, Felipe II (my favorite Spanish king with his funny hat), Santa Teresa de Ávila, Miguel Delibes, San Juan de la Cruz, Adolfo Suárez, and even former prime minister Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

Must-sees: Oh geez, where to start. I started, of course, in Valladolid, though there isn’t much to see in the capital city. There’s the national sculpture museum, a contemporary art center, a beautiful Plaza Mayor and a smattering of churches, though I spent most of my free time at the manmade beach on the Pisuerga River and at a bar called Sotobanco.

Skip Vdoid and head to the other treasures in the province, including nearby Peñafiel and its castle, which now hosts a wine museum. Castilla y León has a few protected wine regions, including Ribera del Duero and Toro – two of my personal favorites.

Castilla y León has six UNESCO World Heritage sites, more than any other region in the world, and several are a quick day trip from Madrid: the old cities of Ávila, Salamanca and Segovia (plus its aqueduct), the Gothic cathedral of Burgos, the old Roman gold mines at Las Médulas (check out Trevor’s post and pictures) and the archaeological remains of Atapuerca, near Burgos. This, plus the numerous pilgrim routes that cut through CL and eventually lead to Santiago de Compostela.

Castles are a prominent feature in Castilla y León – like in Ireland, they’re practically everywhere and there are rumored to be around 300 of them. Check out the Templar castle in Ponferrada, Segovia’s fairytale-like Alcázar and Castillo de la Mota in Medina del Campo, which was a prominent fortress in the Battle of Castille. You’ll also only find Gaudí outside of Cataluña in León and Astorga, where a beautiful palace lies along the French Way of Saint James.

Food is also a huge reason why Castilla y León shines. Apart from wine, Castilla produces a number of specialty meats, including morcilla de arroz in Burgos and roast suckling pig, pungent cheeses and milk, and is the largest producer of grains in Iberia. Cracker giant Cuétara is based in Aguilar del Campoo (not a typo), near Galicia, and with reason – there is nothing but fields around! Be sure to check out León’s Barrio Húmedo for free tapas, as well – I once at a croqueta de pizza pepperoni! You can also pick up sweets in Ávila that throwback to the town’s famous saint, Santa Teresa the Mystic.

The cities themselves are lovely, from the golden hue of Salamanca, a city famous for its university and Lazarillo de Tormes, to León’s juxtaposition of Gaudí palaces and humble stone homes. Burgos’s old town shines and Ávila’s fortified stone walls are still intact.

My take: If you’re a history or language buff, you have to get to Castilla y León sí o sí. If you love wine and meat and cheese, head out there. If you love churches, castles, rivers, limestone villages… you get it. 

To me, Castilla y León is more Spain than Andalucía. Call me crazy, but it’s the Spain I fell in love with nearly a decade ago, and the Spain that beckoned me back. Andalucía is flamboyant where Castilla is demure, yet a bit coy. And the wine… 

Want more Spain? Andalucía | Aragón | Asturias | Islas Baleares | Islas Canarias | Cantabria

Have you been to Castilla y León? What were your impressions of it? Cue Kaley and Cassandra chiming in now...

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English language academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. I absolutely agree with your article. Last year, I lived in Ponferrada and I loved it and everything about the town and the region of Castilla y Leon. It’s great and it is more Spanish than any other city in Spain. Great food and great people.

  2. Can you believe I didn’t even like wine when I studied abroad in Leon?! What a missed opportunity! I’ve seen the error of my ways and have been lucky to go back. There are still several pueblos in the region I still want to make it to, as well!
    Cassandra recently posted..Travel Wish List in ReverseMy Profile

  3. Segovia and Burgos are two of my favorite cities in Spain! I’m really hoping to further explore Castilla y León this year, especially living so close by in La Rioja. Your enthusiasm and love of the region truly shines through in your writing Cat. I’m really eager to check out all the castles after reading this. Well, maybe not ALL 300, but you get my point.
    Mike of Mapless Mike recently posted..San Mateo Festival in LogroñoMy Profile

    • Thanks, Mike! Castilla has a lot of lovely places to see. San Esteban de Gormáz in Soria is worth a day, as well. It’s beautiful, sort of like Haro, and has cheap wine and food.

  4. you are right that Castilla is more Spain than Andalucia…..well more than any other place….such a lovely region with villages that are the heart of Spain with their beautiful castles on the hills, etc

    by the way, have you ever listened or spoken to someone from Salamanca? it is such a pleasure to hear a clear, broad and so brilliant accent that my ears always fall in love with it….sometimes when i am on my own and reading a book i try to speak that brilliant and clear accent, but it is really hard as i tend to drop a lot of syllables, S’s and D’s….of course i can do it, but i sound fake and silly.

    you know Lechazo? i have eaten the leg of a lamb baby many a time, but they say that lechazo in Castilla is supreme and the best….i guess that i shall try it before i go to glory, haha

    great that you are showing all the regions Cat!

    • Thanks, Pedro! I feel that there is so much to Spain, and my blog can give some love to places outside of Andalucía!

  5. Part of the reason I wanted to move from Andalucía up to Galicia 2 years ago was so that I would have a “home base” of sorts to better explore Castilla y León from—which was quite far-flung for the not-on-the-AVE-network Jaén province. CyL is conveniently “on the way” from Madrid up to Santiago so these two school years I’ve stopped off in Segovia and Zamora/Toro en route to Galicia. León, Astorga, and Ponferrada really impressed me last March, what with their amazing Gothic and Gaudí architecture and free tapas/pinchos. Salamanca and Ávila are on my to-see list on my way back up to Galicia from Madrid this Christmas, and I’d love to hit up Burgos when I go to Logroño this fall.

    I hate referring to a certain region of the country as “typical Spain,” but if ever there was such a region…Castilla y León would be it. Meseta central <3

    And hey thanks for the shoutout to my Las Médulas blog post! It was such a surreal place…
    Trevor Huxham recently posted..Photo Post: Impressions of Lisbon, PortugalMy Profile

    • I have yet to get to Ponferrada, but have a friend from there. I’d also love to see Bierzo, Zamora and FINALLY get to Ávila. I have a trip to Valladolid pendiente, and hope to get somewhere during the day! Getting a car serves for quickie trips, thankfully!

  6. I suck at blog commenting nowadays, but yes! I love CyL. I need to get out to Burgos (shame shame).
    Kaley recently posted..The Shame In SpainMy Profile

  7. I just came back from spending 5 days in CYL, and I can agree with a lot of your points here! Loved the food! The wine! The castles! We only went to 5 provinces though, so I’m hoping I get to go back and visit the remaining 4.
    Aleah | SolitaryWanderer recently posted..The Land of Castles, Wine, and Tapas: 5 Days in Castilla y LeonMy Profile

    • It’s such a huge area that it takes time to get to know well. It’s still a very important place for me, and I’ve enjoyed reading your posts on it!


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