León – City & Province

We think we’ve cracked how to do our 24 hour winter weekend windows.  Leaving after work on a Saturday once it’s dark, driving through the night for a couple of hours, arriving at an AC area somewhere, where we know we can sleep for sure, and then waking up in the place and having the next day to make the most of all the daylight, then driving home once it gets dark again.

This weekend was a tricky one weather wise.  Snow has been around us all week, and the forecast for Saturday was dire, but we were confident we could find somewhere for Sunday with sun.  We decided on León, it was a little risky as it was snowing as we left home on Saturday evening, but we were lucky, the motorways were more or less clear and we arrived uneventfully at the AC area in León.  This area, we read, has just been renovated, now with 23 spaces and renewed water facilities (we didn’t use them).  It’s on one side of a car park, next to the river, and opposite a shopping centre and Mercadona supermarket, behind which are many bars and restaurants, and a couple of pizza places – so we made the most of it and had a sneaky takeaway pizza in the van that night!

We slept well, although there was of course some traffic noise, waking up to clear blue skies and freezing temperatures (-5 degrees at 8am), before heading into the old city centre.  The AC area is a 2km/25 minute walk into the centre, so we decided to try parking in the centre to visit it instead.  And successfully – there is a car park right behind the cathedral which was free and empty on a Sunday morning.

From the car park were great views of the snowy cathedral‘s spires, enticing us to head straight to it.  And wow!  From the outside it’s impressive, but inside it’s spectacular.  It has the most incredible stained glass, three layers of it, and the whole way round the cathedral, with three huge rose windows.  We then visited the adjoining cloister which was very picturesque in the snow.

After that we had a wander around León, a coffee and tapas in a bar (this is one of those great cities where you get a free tapa with every drink), before visiting one more building – the Casa Botines – Gaudi’s contribution to León.  We felt the building itself is not one of Gaudi’s most eye catching (we’re spoilt with El Capricho here in Cantabria), but we went inside to see the temporary Dalí – Dante exhibition, which was worth the visit.

We then had to decide where to head for lunch and a walk.  We were of course heading back in a homeward direction, and our initial idea was to head to Sahagún to see its church and picnic by the river, but as we drove down the motorway we quickly drove into thick fog.  Having come from beautiful blue skies in León, we were not happy with fog!  So we changed course and headed north towards Cistierna – and it was a wise move, after about 20 minutes we drove out of the fog back to clearish skies again.

We stopped for lunch at a spot indicated on the Park4Night app, at the village of Alejico, on the road before which are lots of picnic tables right next to the river and places to park up, but there was too much snow (and mud, we suspected) to park up there, so we headed to the village instead. Nice spot, snowy mountain and river views, and evidently on a good PR walking route from the yellow and white signs and the dozens of walkers going past.

After lunch, we could have gone on to Riaño, a modern town we know well, located on its reservoir and with stunning mountain views, but it was quite a detour and we decided instead to head directly across to Guardo and on a little further to a walk we’d seen online.

Stopping in the village of Santibañez de la Peña, we put on our walking boots, as there was a reasonable amount of snow on the ground here.  We then headed along a track leading north up a valley to visit the ruins of the Monasterio de San Román de Entrepeñas.  This monastery was one of the most rural in the area, and all that remains now is one tower, set prettily in the woods on the confluence of two streams.  A very picturesque snowy walk there, and the snow turned out to be useful, as we followed the footprints in it firstly behind the tower and through the undergrowth to a lovely waterfall and stream coming out of a cave, and then back at the tower, over a little bridge and along a water channel through the woods back to the village, making a lovely snowy circuit.

Back at the village we headed homeward, back into the fog and with a quick stop off at the AC area in Aguilar de Campoo to change waters on the way.