León has been on our list of places to visit since we arrived in Spain. Phil and I have heard great things plus it’s only an hour and a half drive (3 hours by train) from Gijón. León is not in Asturias but located in the autonomous community of Castilla y León (a bit like Asturias’s much larger neighboring state to the south). A day trip from Gijón to León is totally doable but we are not fans of rushing. Hurrying through a church, museum, or other location simply to check it off “the list” and speed off to the next, must see, nearby attraction is not enjoyable to us. We would rather take our time experiencing one cultural attraction fully than rushing to pack in three. I know this isn’t everyone’s style and that’s ok but because it is our style, we opted to spend a couple of days and nights in León, seeing the sights and of course, eating the eats!
Before we left Gijón, our friend, David, who is from León gave us a run down on must see spots and other cool attractions as well as the neighborhoods to eat in. We had a general idea of what we wanted to do and see but it was great to be able to tweak our itinerary based on the recommendations of a native Leonese.
We arrived in León via train around 10pm on Thursday night and walked from the train station to our hotel, crossing the Bernesga River, with the moon large and bright in the distance. As we walked the air was cool and crisp; refreshing with its fall bite. There is something about the air in autumn that is so exhilarating, almost electric, like something thrilling is about to happen but I have no idea what. I love that feeling.
We found our hotel, dropped off our bags, and headed to the old part of town called Barrio Húmedo for something to eat. León is known for serving generous tapas plates with wine or beer. A bit like the gratis pinchos you find in Gijón but more substantial. David informed us that the tradition is called “ir de vinos” (to go with wine). One can even order what is called a corto de cerveza which is a very small (about a double shot) glass of beer which is quite inexpensive and still enjoy a nice plate of gratis tapas. Generally one can find the ir de vinos from 1-3pm in the afternoon and 8-10pm.
By the time we made it to old town that evening, we needed something a bit more substantial so opted for a couple of plates of raciones. Raciones are to be shared and are a bit like appetizer platters in the U.S. We were still served a gratis plate of fried potatoes with cabrales (Asturian blue cheese) sauce which was delicious and much appreciated. We ordered a plate of cured Leonese meats and a plate of potatoes, bacon, and eggs. We decided to to share a desert of cheesecake as well (with sprinkles!). Por qué no? All was delicious and along with our cerveza toastadas (toasted or brown beer) helped to keep us warm in our seats on the patio as the temperature dipped to 6°C (42°F).
The next morning, we caught the 10:15 bus to Astorga, a 45 minute bus ride south east of León. The day was sunny and bright and the glorious autumn air was in full effect. We have had a lovely fall in Gijón thus far, particularly after having spent our past five autumn’s in southern California where there isn’t a real seasonal weather change to speak of. León’s otoño (autumn) was poppin. Not only was there the sunny, crisp weather I love so much but also many more colorful leaves than I have seen in Gijón. The bus ride to Astorga was beautiful with rolling hills of autumnal colors. One particular stretch reminded much of where I grew up in Missouri. I even leaned over to Phil and whispered, “It looks like we’re driving from Gravois (where my folks live) to Versailles (neighboring town).”
Astorga has a very quaint, welcoming, small town (pop of 11k) feel. There were a few sites we wanted to see but first we needed to eat. We happened into a cozy cafe and ordered. I had a cafe Americano and a nutella croissant and Phil an espresso and tortilla. Everything was quite tasty and as we ate I kept eyeing the donuts on the bar; small, plain donuts with a dusting of powdered sugar. Not sure when we would be eating lunch and knowing we’d be doing a lot of walking, I ordered another cafe Americano and a donut, you know, to keep my wits sharp and my muscles strong. They brought us two donuts and I was nice enough to share my treats and coffee with Phil before moving onto the Museo Romano.
As with many towns in Spain, Astorga has uncovered Roman ruins through archaeological excavations of the city. They had several well preserved tombstones of soldiers, slaves, and freemen along with tools, coins, and jewelry. I am certain Phil will post much more info on the museum given his love of Roman history.
After we left the museum, we headed over to check out the La Catedral de Santa María de Astorga and the Palacio de Gaudi. Unfortunately, both closed from 2-4pm for lunch and even though it was 1:30, they would not let us purchase tickets as we wouldn’t have enough time to view either before they closed. The tough choice was, wait around until 4pm and get back to León near dinner time or take the 2:30 bus back and check out some of the sites before the end of the day. The Palacio de Gaudi looked so cool, like a fairy-tale castle from the outside. Part of me really wanted to stay but since I was still full from breakfast, making eating lunch from 2-4 a less than ideal option, we opted to take the bus back and make the most of the rest of our afternoon in León. On our leisurely walk to the train station, we spotted several cool murals on buildings throughout the city.
Part two coming soon!