Castile and León (Spanish: Castilla y León) is an autonomous region of Spain, taking its name from the many medieval castles that it is home to. Castile and León is the largest subnational political division in the European Union. It is formed by the union of two ancient kingdoms: Old Castile (Provinces of Ávila, Burgos, Segovia, Soria, Palencia and Valladolid) and the Kingdom of León (Provinces of León, Zamora and Salamanca), which were separated and reunited several times in the Middle Ages. Castile and León is actually larger than some European countries, such as Portugal, Belgium or the Netherlands.
There are eight World Heritage Sites in the region, which makes it the region with most in the world. Tourists are drawn to it by the historical and cultural value of its cities, as well as the natural and scenic attractiveness of its various mountain ranges.
The World Heritage cities: Ávila, Salamanca and Segovia; the cathedrals in León and Burgos and the Way of St. James, which passes through the provinces of Burgos, Palencia and León, are the mainstays of cultural tourism in Castile and León.
It is a very flat region in its centre, but very mountainous in its borders. It is totally surrounded by several ranges that separate it from the rest of Spain, being the most remarkable mountains the Picos de Europa in the provinces of León and Palencia, Gredos in Ávila and Guadarrama in Segovia. There are two national parks (Picos de Europa and Guadarrama) and seven natural parks, in the provinces of Burgos (2 parks), Palencia, Salamanca, Segovia, Soria and Zamora (2 parks). All of them plenty of hiking routes.
There are several ski resorts, such as La Covatilla in the province of Salamanca, San Isidro in León, and La Pinilla in Segovia.
Castile and León hosts Holy Week celebrations, considered to be of International Tourist Interest, being the most renowned in Zamora, León and Valladolid, holding elaborate processions accompanied by the music of brass bands.
- 1 Ávila — Spectacularly ringed by ancient walls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- 2 Burgos — Its gothic cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- 3 León — With one of the best Gothic cathedrals in Spain, it has a vast cultural, historical and architectural heritage.
- 4 Palencia — Offers many well-preserved Romanesque monuments and a picturesque main street.
- 5 Salamanca — its Romanesque, Gothic, Moorish, Renaissance and Baroque monuments in the historic centre are a UNESCO world heritage site.
- 6 Segovia — Known for its Roman aqueduct, its cathedral, and the castle, which served as one of the templates for Walt Disney's Cinderella castle. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- 7 Soria — Known for its agri-food industry and cultural heritage.
- 8 Valladolid — A mainly industrial city with some interesting buildings in its historic centre..
- 9 Zamora — It is the town with the highest concentration of Romanesque architecture in the world.
The Way of St. James, a traditional pilgrimage and modern hiking route, runs through the region.
La Alberca is worth a visit. It is historical town with a population of about 1000. Only residents are allowed to have vehicles in the historical centre. In the off season, it can be a quiet, sleepy location. Besides being very beautiful, the town is known for the production of ham and other pork products.
Castile and Leon is an autonomous community of Spain, the country's largest — in fact, it is the largest subnational political division in the European Union. It is formed by the union of two ancient kingdoms: Old Castile (Ávila, Burgos, Segovia and Soria) and the Kingdom of León (León, Zamora, Salamanca, Palencia and Valladolid), which were separated and reunited several times in the Middle Ages.
Castile and León has long, cold winters, with average temperatures between 3 and 6 °C in January, and short, hot summers (average 19 to 22 °C), but with the three or four months of summer aridity characteristic of the Mediterranean climate. Rainfall, with an average of 450–500 mm per year, is scarce, accentuating in the lower lands.
Spanish is the main language. Everyone in Castile and Leon speaks Spanish, but in the provinces of León, Zamora and Salamanca, Leonese is also spoken by a small minority.
The most important airport for the region is Madrid-Barajas (MAD), although it is not in Castile-León, but in the neighbouring region of Madrid. From Madrid Airport, you can continue to Segovia and Valladolid by metro and train, or by bus to Salamanca and Burgos.
In Castile-León there are only smaller regional airports: in Valladolid (VLL IATA), León (LEN), Salamanca (SLM) and Burgos-Villafria Airport (RGS IATA). If you want to go to the north of the region, you can also take a flight to Oviedo (OVD) or Santander (SDR).
High-speed trains connect Madrid with Segovia (journey time approx. 30 minutes), Valladolid (1 hour), Zamora (1½ hours) and León (2:15 hours). From Barcelona there are only a few and also quite slow trains to the region, so a transfer connection via Madrid is often the faster option.
From France, the shortest route is via Hendaye and Irun. From there trains to Burgos, Palencia, Valladolid or León are in regular service.
The best way to cover the great distances within the region is by train. High-speed trains run several times a day on the Madrid-Segovia-Valladolid-León line, otherwise Media Distancias (MD; corresponds roughly to an Interregio) and Regional Express (RE) are offered.
Castilla y León has an extensive rail network, including the principal lines from Madrid to Cantabria and Galicia. The line from Paris to Lisbon crosses the region, reaching the Portuguese frontier at Fuentes de Oñoro in Salamanca. Astorga, Burgos, León, Miranda de Ebro, Palencia, Ponferrada, Medina del Campo and Valladolid are all important railway junctions.
The region is also crossed by two major ancient routes:
- The Way of St. James, a hiking trail and a motorway, from east to west.
- The Roman Via de la Plata ("Silver Way"), a main road through the west of the region.
- 1 Las Médulas. A spectacular landscape where gold was mined during the Roman Empire, today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- The gothic cathedral of Burgos.
- Segovia's old town and aqueduct.
- Old town and churches outside the city walls of Ávila.
- Salamanca's old town.
- Las Médulas, the ancient site of the most important gold mine of the Roman Empire.
- The archaeological site of Atapuerca, with extraordinary paleontological finds, fossils of Homo antecessor, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapien
- The prehistoric rock carvings in Siega Verde.