Tag Archives: Ciudad Rodrigo

Arribes del Douro y Águeda National Park

In the morning there was a huge improvement in the weather and as we sat by ourselves in the breakfast room sunlight flooded in through the large windows so we finished quickly so that we could start our drive north towards the glacial lakes of the Zamora Province.

To begin with we took a long straight road from Ciudad Rodrigo towards the town of Lumbrales and we scanned the sky nervously as it changed frequently from clear blue to patchy cloud to overcast and back again.  Once through the unremarkable little town we entered the Arribes del Douro y Águeda National Park and although the road was straight we were climbing steadily all of the time and eventually we found ourselves in an elevated position above the clouds and that is the first time I can remember doing that since I went to the top of Mount Teide in 1989 on the island of Tenerife.

Eventually we arrived in the border town of La Fregenada and then the road descended quickly and steeply through a succession of hairpin bends down towards the Douro and the border with Portugal.  The scenery was dramatic as we clung to the side of the mountain and dropped into the bottom of the narrow river valley and once at the bottom crossed the Águeda into Portugal at the same place as it flowed into the Douro.

After driving through the Portuguese town of Barca de Alva and turned north to follow the river on the edge of the National Park.  The sun was shining now and the river looked splendid as it reflected the golden yellow of the last of the leaves clinging to the trees and we followed a twisting road for a few kilometres stopping every so often to admire the views.  For one hundred and twelve kilometres the river forms part of the national border between Spain and Portugal and is a region of steeply sloping mountains and narrow canyons making it an historical barrier for invasions and a linguistic dividing line between two nations.

This was a scenic and dramatic part of the journey, across the river in Spain the river valley was heavily wooded, green and verdant but on the Portuguese side it was carefully managed with fields of olive trees and vines for growing grapes for port wine.

The Douro is one of the most important rivers of the peninsula and has been regularly dammed to provide hydro electricity for both Spain and Portugal.  After about fifteen kilometres we arrived at one of these the Barragem de Saucelle and crossed over it back into Spain stopping at a tourist information centre that was glad to see someone and asking for directions along the way.  The dam forms part of the hydroelectric system known as the Duoro Drops, along with the Castro, Ricobayo, Suacelle and Villalcampo dams of Spain, and the Bemposta, Miranda and Picote dams of neighbouring Portugal.

From the river there was a long climb to the top of the ravine using long raking hairpin bends with magnificent views at every twist and then once at the top the road levelled out and we took a direct route through the National Park towards the town of Saucelle.  This was different again, with lush green fields, wild animals and dry stonewalls that made it reminiscent of the Peak District or Bodmin Moor.  After Saucelle we continued to Barruecopardo where we thankfully came across a tiny garage and bought some fuel and then struck north again through the park heading for the river and the lakes.

We drove a long time without finding either through a succession of dusty little towns that weren’t expecting visitors at this time of the year and the men on street corners watched with interest as we threaded our way along the route towards our objective.

Ciudad Rodrigo and The Hotel Molina de Águeda

A few weeks after returning from Castilla-la Mancha to the south of Madrid we were returning to Spain and this time to Castilla y Leon to the north of the capital.  We had been here in March this year to Ávila and Segovia but this time we were going further north and west, flying in to Valladolid and staying in the small city of Ciudad Rodrigo.

We had been looking forward to this because Castilla y Leon is as far away from the coastal strip as it is possible to get and is home to half of Spain’s cultural heritage sites including seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, over two hundred castles and eleven magnificent cathedrals.  It is the birthplace of the Spanish language, which after Chinese and Hindi is the third most common language in the World just ahead of English.

We had a late morning flight and the plane took off into a crisp blue sky with scattered clouds over fresh green fields and autumn gold deciduous woods that looked as though they were lying under a generous sprinkling of brown sugar.  As we flew south the clouds increased and there was nothing to see until we began to descend toward Valladolid where they began to break into various patchy fragments and below us we could see large colourful fields, flaming russet, steel grey, butter cream and saffron yellow broken now and again by bottle green forests, shimmering blue lakes and occasional villages with ochre tiled roofs.

Valladolid airport is only small with limited facilities but there was a sign apologising for this and promising imminent improvements.  We collected a battleship grey Seat Ibiza from the Avis rental car office and set off immediately on the two hundred-kilometre drive to Ciudad Rodrigo.

There were plenty of things to stop and see along the way but it was mid afternoon and we were in a hurry to get to our destination so we took the Autovia de Castilla and with virtually no traffic to share the road with had an easy journey all of the way. We were crossing the Meseta, the great central plain of interior Spain, which at two hundred and ten thousand square kilometres makes up forty percent of the country and has an average altitude of six hundred and fifty metres. It is split in two by the Sistema Central, the Guadarrama and Gredos mountain ranges, creating Old Castile to the north (Castilla y Leon) and New Castile to the south (Castilla La Mancha). The northern ‘submeseta’ is the higher of the two at over eight hundred metres and coming from below sea level in Lincolnshire I worried that we might require oxygen cylinders.

After about half way we passed by Salamanca and we could see its golden coloured cathedrals catching the sun and standing proud and high above the city and after that the landscape began to change. We left behind the pretty coloured fields and entered a different environment of green fields and woodlands and more and more livestock.  After a couple of hours of really enjoyable motoring we came to Ciudad Rodrigo, which is the last city in Spain before reaching Portugal, a fortress city built to protect the western border of the country and as we approached we could see the walled city and its fortifications standing on a rocky outcrop in a commanding defensive position.

I knew roughly where the hotel Molina de Águeda was and as we kept an eye open for directions Kim had a brilliant navigational fluke and spotted a half hidden sign that pointed to our destination.  As we pulled into the car park there were a few spots of rain but it came to nothing and there were blue skies above us as we unloaded the car and went inside to reception.  It was a very nice hotel indeed located in an old water mill on the river Agueda, elegantly refurbished and surrounded by woods and we had a good room on the front with a nice view of the river and the old city about a kilometre away.

http://www.hotelmolinodelagueda.com/

It was a pleasant evening, not cold, but the sort of temperature when local people feel the need to put on a coat, hat and scarf but shirt sleeve weather for those of us from northern Europe with thicker blood.  We needn’t have worried about finding somewhere to eat because there was plenty of choice and the place was really busy with families out for a Sunday night on the town.  We found a lively tapas bar where everyone was watching the ‘You’ve been framed’ bullfighting show that we had seen last month in Chinchón and the place was really hectic.

We were the only overseas visitors in the place but we didn’t feel uncomfortable and we found a table and ordered food.  Unfortunately they were so busy that they made a mistake with the order and we only got half of it but it didn’t matter, we weren’t especially hungry anyway and at least it made it a cheaper night out.

European History and The Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo

As a consequence of a severe Atlantic storm we woke to a hissing wind and dark scowling clouds that the mountains of Portugal had failed to detain storming in from the west.  It was mean and moody but there was no rain so that was a bonus.  From the hotel balcony it was possible to appreciate just what a land of contrasts Spain really is.  This was about as far away from the traditional view of Spain of the holiday brochures as it is possible to get and it was different to from our visit the previous month to Castilla-la Mancha.  Here we were getting close towards green Spain in the north with more small farms, livestock, deciduous woods, fast flowing rivers and Portugal just twenty-five kilometres away.

 Breakfast was a simple affair and as we were the only people in the breakfast room it soon became clear that we were the only two guests in the hotel.  Afterwards we dressed appropriately and took the walk alongside the river and into Ciudad Rodrigo.  The sky was blue but filling up with dark purple clouds with occasional shafts of sunlight darting through.  There was a spiteful wind that stung our ears and although it was a nice walk it was along a very muddy path and we were glad that we hadn’t attempted it last night in the dark.

The path took us along the Rio Águeda, which is a two hundred and fifty kilometre long river which begins to the south in the Sierra de la Mesas, near the Portuguese border and flows through Ciudad Rodrigo and after serving as the border with Portugal for its final few kilometres joins the Douro at Barca d’Alva to the north.

As we climbed the outside of the city walls the wind strengthened and thankfully scattered the black clouds somewhere towards Salamanca to the east and they were replaced with friendlier white cotton wool ball clouds that raced in to take their place.  We entered the city through the western gate cut into the fortifications and entered a charming place overflowing with history and character.

 

This place reminded me of the Richard Sharpe stories of the Peninsular War.  In January 1812 Ciudad Rodrigo was besieged by the British Army under Wellington and held out for two weeks before the French forces surrendered.  Ciudad Rodrigo was strategically important because it guarded the northern route into Spain for an invading army but it was only a second class fortress with a ten metre high main wall built of inferior masonry, without flanks, and with weak parapets and narrow ramparts.  After the fall of the city the Allied troops disgraced themselves by the wanton sacking of Ciudad Rodrigo when many homes were broken into, property vandalised or stolen, Spanish civilians of all ages and backgrounds killed or raped, and many officers were shot by the men they were trying to bring to order.

It was interesting for me to be here because at University I had studied  history and specialised in Napoleonic Europe and now I was standing in a place that I had only known previously through text books and lectures but to be here like this added the flesh to what I realised was only bare bones.

It was quiet enough today however and once inside the walls we walked to the castle, which predictably is now a Parador hotel, had a look inside and then walked around a part of the walls.  A few spots of rain forced us down into the city, past the cathedral and into a tourist information office with the heating set to an unnecessary maximum and then on to the Plaza Mayor in the centre with its warm sandstone coloured buildings, metal balconies and traditional Spanish shops and bars around all four sides.

A Life in a Year – 6th November, Arribes del Douro y Águeda National Park

Douro National Park spain

In the morning there was a huge improvement in the weather and as we sat by ourselves in the breakfast room sunlight flooded in through the large windows so we finished quickly so that we could start our drive north towards the glacial lakes of the Zamora Province.

To begin with we took a long straight road from Ciudad Rodrigo towards the town of Lumbrales and we scanned the sky nervously as it changed frequently from clear blue to patchy cloud to overcast and back again.  Once through the unremarkable little town we entered the Arribes del Douro y Águeda National Park and although the road was straight we were climbing steadily all of the time and eventually we found ourselves in an elevated position above the clouds and that is the first time I can remember doing that since I went to the top of Mount Teide in 1989 on the island of Tenerife.

Eventually we arrived in the border town of La Fregenada and then the road descended quickly and steeply through a succession of hairpin bends down towards the Douro and the border with Portugal.  The scenery was dramatic as we clung to the side of the mountain and dropped into the bottom of the narrow river valley and once at the bottom crossed the Águeda into Portugal at the same place as it flowed into the Douro.

We drove into the Portuguese town of Barca de Alva and turned north to follow the river on the edge of the National Park.  The sun was shining now and the river looked splendid as it reflected the golden yellow of the last of the leaves clinging to the trees and we followed a twisting road for a few kilometres stopping every so often to admire the views.

For one hundred and twelve kilometres the river forms part of the national border between Spain and Portugal and is a region of steeply sloping mountains and narrow canyons making it an historical barrier for invasions and a linguistic dividing line between two nations.  This was a scenic and dramatic part of the journey, across the river in Spain the river valley was heavily wooded, green and verdant but on the Portuguese side it was carefully managed with fields of olive trees and vines for growing grapes for port wine.

The Douro is one of the most important rivers of the peninsula and has been regularly dammed to provide hydro electricity for both Spain and Portugal.  After about fifteen kilometres we arrived at one of these the Barragem de Saucelle and crossed over it back into Spain stopping at a tourist information centre that was glad to see someone and asking for directions along the way.  The dam forms part of the hydroelectric system known as the Duero Drops, along with the Castro, Ricobayo, Suacelle and Villalcampo dams of Spain, and the Bemposta, Miranda and Picote dams of neighbouring Portugal.

From the river there was a long climb to the top of the ravine using long raking hairpin bends with magnificent views at every twist and then once at the top the road levelled out and we took a direct route through the National Park towards the town of Saucelle.  This was different again, with lush green fields, wild animals and dry stonewalls that made it reminiscent of the Peak District or Bodmin Moor.  After Saucelle we continued to Barruecopardo where we thankfully came across a tiny garage and bought some fuel and then struck north again through the park heading for the river and the lakes.

We drove a long time without finding either through a succession of dusty little towns that weren’t expecting visitors at this time of the year and the men on street corners watched with interest as we threaded our way along the route towards our objective.  We drove through the towns of Trabanca and Almendra and caught glimpses of water through the trees but it was clear that the water level was very low and there were lots of fields that should be submerged but instead were green and lush and strewn with boulder debris and interesting rock formations.

A Life in a Year – 5th November, Ciudad Rodrigo and The Hotel Molina de Águeda

A few weeks after returning from Castilla-la Mancha to the south of Madrid we were returning to Spain and this time to Castilla y Leon to the north of the capital.  We had been here in March this year to Ávila and Segovia but this time we were going further north and west, flying in to Valladolid and staying in the small city of Ciudad Rodrigo.  We had been looking forward to this because Castilla y Leon is as far away from the coastal strip as it is possible to get and is home to half of Spain’s cultural heritage sites including seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, over two hundred castles and eleven magnificent cathedrals.  It is the birthplace of the Spanish language, which after Chinese and Hindi is the third most common language in the World just ahead of English.

We had a late morning flight and the plane took off into a crisp blue sky with scattered clouds over fresh green fields and autumn gold deciduous woods that looked as though they were lying under a generous sprinkling of brown sugar.  As we flew south the clouds increased and there was nothing to see until we began to descend toward Valladolid where they began to break into various patchy fragments and below us we could see large colourful fields, russet, grey, cream and yellow broken now and again by bottle green forests, shimmering blue lakes and occasional villages with ochre tiled roofs.

Valladolid airport is only small with limited facilities but there was a sign apologising for this and promising imminent improvements.  We collected a steel grey Seat Ibiza from the Avis rental car office and set off immediately on the two hundred-kilometre drive to Ciudad Rodrigo.

There were plenty of things to stop and see along the way but it was mid afternoon and we were in a hurry to get to our destination so we took the Autovia de Castilla and with virtually no traffic to share the road with had an easy journey all of the way. We were crossing the Meseta, the great central plain of interior Spain, which at two hundred and ten thousand square kilometres makes up forty percent of the country and has an average altitude of six hundred and fifty metres. It is split in two by the Sistema Central, the Guadarrama and Gredos mountain ranges, creating Old Castile to the north (Castilla y Leon) and New Castile to the south (Castilla La Mancha). The northern ‘submeseta’ is the higher of the two at over eight hundred metres and coming from below sea level in Lincolnshire I worried that we might require oxygen cylinders.

After about half way we passed by Salamanca and we could see its golden coloured cathedrals standing proud and high above the city and after that the landscape began to change. We left behind the pretty coloured fields and entered a different environment of green fields and woodlands and more and more livestock.  After a couple of hours of really enjoyable motoring we came to Ciudad Rodrigo, which is the last city in Spain before reaching Portugal, a fortress city built to protect the western border of the country and as we approached we could see the walled city and its fortifications standing on a rocky outcrop in a commanding defensive position.

I knew roughly where the hotel Molina de Águeda was and as we kept an eye open for directions Kim had another navigational fluke and spotted a half hidden sign that signposted our destination.  As we pulled into the car park there were a few spots of rain but it came to nothing and there were blue skies above us as we unloaded the car and went inside to reception.  It was a very nice hotel indeed located in an old water mill on the river Agueda, elegantly refurbished and surrounded by woods and we had a good room on the front with a nice view of the river and the old city about a kilometre away.

http://www.hotelmolinodelagueda.com/

It was a pleasant evening, not cold, but the sort of temperature when local people need to put on a coat, hat and scarf but shirt sleeve weather for those of us from northern Europe with thicker blood.  We needn’t have worried about finding somewhere to eat because there was plenty of choice and the place was really busy with families out for a Sunday night on the town.  We found a lively tapas bar where everyone was watching the ‘You’ve been framed’ bullfighting show that we had seen last month in Chinchón and the place was really hectic.  We were the only overseas visitors in the place but we didn’t feel uncomfortable and we found a table and ordered food.  Unfortunately they were so busy that they made a mistake with the order and we only got half of it but it didn’t matter, we weren’t especially hungry anyway and at least it made it a cheaper night out.

A Life in a Year – 19th January, Richard Sharpe and The Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo

As a consequence of a severe Atlantic storm we woke to a hissing wind and dark scowling clouds that the mountains of Portugal had failed to detain storming in from the west.  It was mean and moody but there was no rain so that was a bonus.  From the hotel balcony it was possible to appreciate just what a land of contrasts Spain really is.  This was about as far away from the traditional view of Spain of the holiday brochures as it is possible to get and it was different to from our visit the previous month to Castilla-la Mancha.  Here we were getting close towards green Spain in the north with more small farms, livestock, deciduous woods, fast flowing rivers and Portugal just twenty-five kilometres away.

 Breakfast was a simple affair and as we were the only people in the breakfast room it soon became clear that we were the only two guests in the hotel.  Afterwards we dressed appropriately and took the walk alongside the river and into Ciudad Rodrigo.  The sky was blue but filling up with dark purple clouds with occasional shafts of sunlight darting through.  There was a spiteful wind that stung our ears and although it was a nice walk it was along a very muddy path and we were glad that we hadn’t attempted it last night in the dark.

The path took us along the Rio Águeda, which is a two hundred and fifty kilometre long river which begins to the south in the Sierra de la Mesas, near the Portuguese border and flows through Ciudad Rodrigo and after serving as the border with Portugal for its final few kilometres joins the Douro at Barca d’Alva to the north.

As we climbed the outside of the city walls the wind strengthened and thankfully scattered the black clouds somewhere towards Salamanca to the east and they were replaced with friendlier white cotton wool ball clouds that raced in to take their place.  We entered the city through the western gate cut into the fortifications and entered a charming place overflowing with history and character.

Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo

This place reminded me of the Richard Sharpe stories of the Peninsular War.  In January 1812 Ciudad Rodrigo was besieged by the British Army under Wellington and held out for two weeks before the French forces surrendered.  Ciudad Rodrigo was strategically important because it guarded the northern route into Spain for an invading army but it was only a second class fortress with a ten metre high main wall built of inferior masonry, without flanks, and with weak parapets and narrow ramparts.  After the fall of the city the Allied troops disgraced themselves by the wanton sacking of Ciudad Rodrigo when many homes were broken into, property vandalised or stolen, Spanish civilians of all ages and backgrounds killed or raped, and many officers were shot by the men they were trying to bring to order.

It was quiet enough today however and once inside the walls we walked to the castle, which predictably is now a Parador hotel, had a look inside and then walked around a part of the walls.  A few spots of rain forced us down into the city, past the cathedral and into a tourist information office with the heating set to an unnecessary maximum and then on to the Plaza Mayor in the centre with its warm sandstone coloured buildings, metal balconies and traditional Spanish shops and bars around all four sides.