A Royal Weekend in León: Part 2

We returned to León from Astorga on Friday afternoon and headed back to our hotel to freshen up a bit. On the way, Phil grabbed us an empanada with something amazing inside (a mix of sausage, cabrales cheese, and a sweet tomato sauce) and a slice of layered cake with custard and toasted meringue. Not too shabby for a quick travel lunch. Since we weren’t able to tour the Palacio de Gaudi and I wanted a Gaudi fix, we made our way to Casa Botines, another Gaudi designed building.

I really like Gaudi’s style. When we were in Barcelona in 2008, we visited Park Güell and saw the outside of the famed Sagrada Familia. His style is often referred to as Catalan modernism with neo-gothic and art nouveau influences. I refer to it as fairy-tale trippy. Either way, it’s super cool.

Casa Botines was designed and built for a fabrics company with the owner’s residence and company offices on the first floor and rental property (tenements and medical and business offices) on the upper floors. Ironically, the coolest thing about our visit to Casa Botines wasn’t the architecture, it was a Salvador Dalí exhibit tucked away in a relatively small room on the third floor. In the late 1950’s, the Italian government commissioned Dalí to illustrate Dante’s Divine Comedy in celebration of the Italian author’s 700th birthday. The commission eventually came to nothing due to international uproar at the fact that a Spanish, not an Italian, artist was chosen for the job. Dalí wanted to finish the project anyway, and between 1959 and 1963, completed one hundred and one water colors illustrating particular scenes from the Divine Comedy. Approximately thirty of these, signed prints are a part Casa Botines’ permanent collection, and, as you can see below, are extraordinary.

After Casa Botines it was time to eat. We hit up a few tapas bars and munched on a couple of raciones. The biggest score of the night was a small plate of croquettes that tasted like jalapeno poppers and a dish called morcilla de León. Morcilla de León that looks a bit like and has the consistency of Texas chili con carne (without beans). The flavor is a bit smokier with just a hint of sweetness. It was hearty and warming and delightful. We happily spooned it into our mouths with the chunks of bread provided.

I enjoyed it so much, I googled it to see what was in it as I was confounded as to what exactly I was tasting. Mocilla de León (sometimes referred to as Spanish black pudding) is blood sausage that traditionally contains only pig’s blood and onions (what!?!), though often breadcrumbs, rice, fat, and/or other spices are added for texture and flavor. It is cooked in a bit of water for a period of about ten minutes and served in a clay pot as raciones or tapas. So my favorite Leonese delight is onions and pig’s blood with a little water? Well, it’s delicious so yes, I guess it is. I guess it is.

The next day we slept in, left our bags at the front desk of the hotel, since our train home to Gijón didn’t depart until late in the evening. Our first stop after leaving the hotel was the Santa María de Regla de León Cathedral, or Cathedral de León for short. We had been advised it was a must see even though they do charge an entrance fee, something we are usually not inclined to do at churches. We both really like stained glass and the Cathedral promised some of the most beautiful in Europe, so we paid the fee. It was well worth it.

The cathedral is one of the greatest works of Gothic architecture in the world with vaults and arches as far as the eye could see. The stained glass was everything we’d been promised and the midday sun illuminated the colors brilliantly.

After visiting the cathedral, we decided to have a tapas lunch. It was Saturday so old town was really bustling. The first place we stopped at gave us slices of pizza, not exactly a Leonese delicacy (I mean, pig’s blood and onions is pretty tough to beat) but it was pizza so by definition, pretty good. After this we wandered a bit to try to find a quieter place slightly off the main drag. We were successful and enjoyed some cured meats and cheeses. Still not satiated, we were off again to find something more substantial. We found ourselves on the street directly behind the Cathedral. It was nice and quiet. We didn’t pass anyone else and enjoyed a peaceful walk beside an old, stone Roman wall. On our walk, we happened upon a restaurant selling specialty hot dogs. Phil and I aren’t people who eat a lot of hot dogs typically but given the right situation, say, a baseball game or outside of a concert off a makeshift grill at 2am, we are all about hot dogs. Phil asked me which one we should get (we shared one and it was a good thing we did because it was HUGE). I responded, “the one with macaroni & cheese and bacon, duh.” And so, we had a giant hot-dog with macaroni & cheese and bacon and a plate of fries for lunch. “Que muy Americano” I told the young fellow working the counter. He explained to us that though he had never been to the US, he imagines when he does, the food will be much like what they serve. He’s not wrong.

After lunch, we walked over to check out the Convento de San Macos. A former convent and jail that is now a five-star hotel, with the exception of the attached church and small museum. The church and gratis museum did not take long to tour and we decided to go into the hotel and look around. We first stopped in the hotel bar for a coffee before moving on to the upper floors and lovely indoor courtyard. Phil wrote in more detail about it here.

Overlooking the hotel courtyard

After San Marcos, we walked to the MUSAC (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Castilla y León). They had a wonderful exhibition by the Polish artist Goshka Macuga. Phil also writes about our trip to the MUSAC so I won’t go into detail other than to say it was a very enjoyable visit and I highly recommend a trip should you find yourself in León.

After the MUSAC, we slowly made our way back to the hotel to pick up our bags but not before having one more tapas snack for the road. We were given a small plate of bollo embarazada (pregnant bun) filled with chorizo and we ordered a raciones plate of Morcilla de León…when in León.

As we boarded our train, I settled in for a comfy ride home to Gijón, feeling warm and happy, beyond pleased with our fall weekend trip to León.

Published by yogibarrington

American expat living in Gijon, Asturias, Spain

3 thoughts on “A Royal Weekend in León: Part 2

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