In this article, we are going to discuss the many beauties of a lovely shire in the North-West of Spain: El Bierzo. There are many reasons to consider El Bierzo a very nice place to visit; its rooted history or its natural sites, for instance, but maybe the main one is that the good people from El Bierzo enjoy Las Médulas, an ancient Roman mine and the medieval Templar Castle of Ponferrada (capital of the shire). Besides the mix of cultures and different ancient kingdoms previously mentioned, it also has a very special gastronomy. Let’s go into that:
Two monuments from El Bierzo you’ve got to know
As we discussed in previous articles, el Bierzo has a large history which involves a high respect for nature and a clash of different Hispanic cultures. Consequently, El Bierzo as a shire enjoys a clean and pure air and the combination between human construction and natural gifts.
Castle of Ponferrada
Firstly, it’s inevitable to speak about the Templar Castle of Ponferrada. Ponferrada is the capital of el Bierzo, there is proof that it was populated in the Neolithic, but the first documents tell that, long after, Astorga’s bishop wanted to build a bridge to cross the River Sil. The other side of the river, right on the way to Santiago de Compostela, emerged Ponferrada. During the 12th Century, the Templars built the castle, which was rebuilt several times in the upcoming centuries. Nowadays, it keeps a romanic look, however, if you go inside you’ll see the differences between the older and the newer parts.
Secondly, Las Médulas is maybe the best known symbol of El Bierzo. It is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO in 1997, an award this ancient site really deserves. Lás Médulas used to be the largest open-pit mine in the whole Roman Empire. The attractive which Rome saw in the region was gold, precious metal needed at that time (and before… And, well, also ever since). Nowadays, you can visit the tunnel and take delight in the views. Finally, we just have one requirement: the site has suffered the stupidity of many people through the years, therefore, if you’re planning to go to such an ancient place without any kind of respect for what you’re seeing and its history: stay at home.
Gastronomy: what’s good in El Bierzo
In the next paragraphs we will explain the multiple goods you can taste in El Bierzo. The shire, as we’ve explained in previous articles, is a lovely clash of different Hispanic cultures. As you know, Spain is such a rich country when it comes to culture and almost every region has its own one. El Bierzo is between Asturias, Galicia and the Province of León, that’s why, historically, has received large influences from many different places.
In 1989, Designation of Origin “El Bierzo” was recognized. Since this date, El Bierzo has grown as a brand and the wines produced in the shire have been improving. The main grape in the Designation is called “mencía”, which provides a quite personal taste to the wine. The combination of the grape, the not-quite-typical-Spanish weather and, the low elevation of the ground where the harvest grows, makes El Bierzo one of the most attractive Designations of Origin in our country.
Bonus tip: Go to a local festival and taste the local wine made by farmers. The wine is good, and the atmosphere is even better. You’ll see one of the most beautiful characteristics of Spanish parties: We just love to sing. And, guess what: the people from El Bierzo sing pretty well!
Vegetables and meat
The typical food comes directly from the orchard. There are fine greens all year round, but you’ll want to look for cherries in summer, and swiss chard and collard greens in the cold months. Soups are so tasty! If vegetables are not your cup of tea/your favourite thing/if you’re not fond of vegetables on your plate, you’ll love the meat. Botillo is made with the pig’s ribs accompanied by cabbage, having a quite strong taste in the mouth. Nevertheless, the favorite of the author is the wild boar meat you’ll find it almost everywhere.
How to get there from Madrid:
We discussed about trains in our article about Salamanca, nonetheless, this could be better to done by train. We recommend Alsa, especially if you take the “plus” service. Is a comfortable way to get to Ponferrada. Once there, the best option is to rent a car.
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