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Castilla y León is the ideal place to practise active-tourism activities, complementing the interior wealth of the region, due to its rich mountain geography, natural spaces, rivers, valleys, scarped mountains, caves, gorges, extensive plains, in short: the diversity of its overwhelming landscape.
In Castilla y León, the active tourist offer is completed with the accommodation available in the rural surroundings. Horse-riding, potholing, climbing, water-skiing, paragliding, ballooning and canoeing add to the innumerable list of sports of a land, equestrian, snow, water and air-type offered by the companies in Castilla y León.
Activities all of which combine leisure and nature in an impressive landscape drawn by scarped mountains, serene valleys, mountain passes and forests with an incredible wealth of fauna and flora.
Today Castilla y León's active tourism companies allow the Escalada deportiva en Valdehuesa (León) traveller to combine their stay in rural accommodation, set in places of unique beauty, with the practise of such activities aimed at persons of all ages.
Regardless of the traveller's physical condition, they shall find in Castilla y León all kinds of activity that no doubt fit their tastes and possibilities, thanks to the impressive list of activities forming the offer, combining: leisure, nature, heritage and emotion in a region which, because it is the largest in Europe, has an overwhelming list of possibilities and superbly attractive spots.
To whet your appetite, the names are enough: El Real Sitio de La Granja situated on the north slope of the Guadarrama sierra, and the Real Palacio de Rofrío, both in Segovia. The Real Monasterio de Santa Clara, in Tordesillas, a Mudejar palace of immeasurable worth with the best-preserved Arab baths in Spain. And lastly, the Real Monasterio de las Huelgas, in Burgos, that was founded in 1187 by Alfonso VIII and his wife Doña Leonor.
National Heritage also administers convents and monasteries founded by kings that still function and continue under the patronage of the King of Spain. Thanks to this institution these are some of the best-preserved buildings, not only for their beauty but also for their artistic quality and their cultural value. One can but marvel.
The cathedrals are the skyscrapers of the Middle Ages, mountains of stone hiding the secrets of their dwellers. Visiting them is a pleasure to the senses and to the spirit. Built more than 800 years ago, it remains a mystery why so many centuries ago people embarked on these monumental enterprises. But a cathedral is much more than mere geometry. Throughout history they have been a didactic instrument showing the history of the preceding civilizations.
They are solid but light, spacious and diaphanous, and continue to be places of Christian worship, although over the past years they have been adapted to house museums, exhibitions, and concerts, and some have become the offices of different associations and groups. There are eleven cathedrals in Castilla y León. Built in different styles, they are all equally beautiful. They are all imposing and majestic, true monumental and historic references. All the capitals of Castilla y León (except Soria, whose cathedral is in Burgo de Osma), plus Astorga and Ciudad Rodrigo, have one.
The power of the large abbeys continues to be latent in Castilla y León. Their religious and economic predominance in the Middle Ages is regenerated today, since they have become one of the most important and attractive tourist landmarks of the region, due to their monumentality and superb location next to other historical enclaves, beautiful natural environments or hidden valleys.
Many monasteries continue to be next to the old pilgrimage routes, such as the Camino de Santiago or the Ruta de la Plata. These monasteries are open to the public. Most of them are well preserved and inhabited by various religious orders. Despite their disappearance or decline, many of these structures still stand today.
Pigeon lofts, underground bodegas, chozos de pastor (shepherd's huts), windmills, crosses, bridges, walls and whole settlements with their own symmetry and aesthetics are to be found scattered all over the region.
They all fall within the category of "vernacular architecture", and represent one of the most genuine manifestations of the architecture in Castilla y León. They are usually linked to dwellings, or guilds, or farming activities, and are made of the simpler materials, such as adobe, masonry, stone, slate, straw or brick. These structures form a web all over the region, and their simple and functional shapes, mostly in a good state of conservation, contribute to the natural beauty of the region's landscape. These simple vernacular structures stand proud next to other, more sophisticated structures built in the Romanesque, Mudejar or Gothic styles.
As a result, each period of history has left its mark on the people. Folklore, traditions and handicrafts have left their legacy, a fact reflected in the customs of each village. Every valley, every town and every city has the ability to surprise us with its charm, its tales and adventures of knights and maidens, dragons and princesses, saints and martyrs whose feats have been handed down, mouth to mouth. They have helped to mould the character of the people and create a book full of history and legend.
With every step, in each town and county, the visitor sees the cultural diversity of the region. Each step takes him on a journey of legends, popular sayings, historical events, handicrafts, etc. All this is one of the pillars of what we know today as Castilla y León. These displays of popular culture show us a people imbued with rites, beliefs, history and their own language, a language that has found its way into popular imagination and helped them to create their own myths and legends over the centuries.
A boat trip through the land of the almond tree - Between the Salamanca's town of Vilvestre and the Portguese town of Freixo de Espada à Cinta one can go on a thrilling boat trip through the canyons of the river Duero. A river course where almond trees with their flower and fruit offer those sailing down boundless natural countryside full of colour.
Along Las Arribes several companies, most of them Spanish-Portuguese, offer boat or catamaran trips down the river Duero. In this case the trip goes from Vilvestre, in Salamanca, to La Congida in Portugal. The trip is in international waters, near the Saucelle reservoir, along the stretch called largo Duero.
The town of Vilvestre borders Portugal on the west by means of the natural frontier created around the Saucelle reservoir. It is here that the flowering of the almond trees in spring draws many visitors attracted by their outstanding beauty. The jetty is on the river bank in extremely beautiful surroundings that stand out among the Arribes countryside, a riverside area that covers about 19 kilometres.
Two proposals - Two trips through the Saucelle reservoir are offered from the jetty, a short trip to the dam and a longer, more interesting one to Salto de Aldeadávila. The trip takes place on board a small boat, normally a catamaran. One can embark on the trip from either the Pantalán de Vilvestre (Spain) or the jetty in Freixo de Espada a Çinta (Portugal). As the boat is not covered, it is worth taking suitable clothing. Rather than being an inconvenience, this provides greater closeness to the surrounding nature. During the trip, guides give suitable commentary about the flora and fauna, pointing out beautiful examples of folk architecture and go with you on visits to the most interesting sites.
Presa de Miranda - Valle del Águila | A dream trip on a 120-seater glazed boat
Deep terraces are cut into this gorge along the Duero, which from a boat increases the wonder felt by travellers who gaze in awe at the steep canyons and ravines. It is wonderful to sail on calm waters squeezed between cliffs over 200 metres tall, watched over by local fauna in a protected nature reserve.
To sail down the river Duero as it flows through the Espacio Natural de los Arribes is to enjoy some of the most beautiful countryside in the region along the Zamora stretch. This boat trip along the winding, sinuous canyons of the Duero starts at the jetty of Miranda Do Douro on the Portuguese bank. The boat is boarded on the right bank of the Duero, just a few metres from the area's dam. Before we mention the crossing through international waters, it is worth knowing about the features of this boat.
It is large, with room for 120 people, is glazed and is air-conditioned and heated for the summer and winter months. The boat's engine room has been fitted out in line with the environmental needs of the route with an anti-breakdown system with independent double propulsion, is soundproofed, has environmentally-friendly motors and the latest regulatory life-saving and navigation equipment.
The modern Navío-Aula also has two outdoor seating areas, one at the prow and the other on the upper stern, two bathrooms, self-inflating life-rafts for all passengers and collapsible tables for the on-board restaurant.
Of all the trips on offer, this one is the most aimed at providing environmental information, hence the boat's name Navío Aula Ecológico (Environmental Seminar Boat). The instructor provides varied comments about the fauna that can be spotted along the route. Birds such as griffon vultures can be seen and, if you are very lucky, golden eagles, Bonelli's eagles or Egyptian vultures and even black storks, which the crew are always hoping to see. These birds live alongside waterfowl and cormorants. All in scenery in which holm oaks, junipers, large clumps of ash trees, alders and strawberry trees predominate.
The trip meets every expectation. One can comfortably enjoy the views along the route and the unbeatable opportunity to see the cliffs, which are sometimes almost vertical for more than 200 metres.
The trip leads to Valle del Águila and ends with explanations and viewing of various theme areas that can easily be accessed by means of the small purpose-built jetties. They are areas that recreate the architecture and ethnography of the area such as goat pens and bancales, -traditional agricultural terraces on the mountain sides - the smuggler's way named after those that arrived from Portugal, the Calzada Mirandesa or the old boat route.
This boat donates part of its profits to research projects and conservation of the nature reserve's resources. The boat itself is a laboratory used to check the environmental quality of the water and has various systems for monitoring the wild fauna.
The diversity of natural spaces to be found in Castilla y León single it out as one of the most complete regions of nature in the whole of Western Europe. Castilla y León forms part of a policy of protection that started worldwide in 1872, when the United States declared the first ever National Park in Yellowstone. Spain joined this initiative and established the first protection measures for national parks in 1918.
In 1991, the Junta de Castilla y León set up the legal framework needed for the protection and regulation of these spaces of outstanding natural importance. Today, Castilla y León contains 40 Natural Parks managed within the programme "Parques Naturales de Castilla y León", under the umbrella of the "Red de Espacios Naturales" ("Natural Spaces Network"). In this extraordinary mosaic of environmental diversity and quality, the mountains, plains and river valleys provide home to a wide range of ecosystems of fauna and flora and, above all, an environment where human population centres can continue to coexist within the Natural Spaces.
In this way, Nature itself has become an outstanding tourist attraction, contributing to the continuous regeneration of a varied natural museum, full of ecosystems, leafy valleys, indigenous flora and fauna and amazingly beautiful landscapes and sites. The rigorous environmental protection of these natural parks enables visitors and locals to coexist with the natural environment.
In Castilla y León, some of the most popular mountain areas amongst nature lovers, hikers and environmentalists include the Picos de Europa, Sierra de Gredos, Monte Santiago, the mountains of the Sierra de La Demanda, the mountains of Urbión or the Sierra de Ancares, among others. Other spots of uncommon beauty can be found in the picturesque lakes, leafy mountain ranges and the ravines and canyons, such as Los Arribes del Duero, Las Hoces del Duratón, El Cañón de Río Lobos, and La Yecla, formed where river waters have become trapped by riverbed erosion. For this reason, the region of Castilla y León is an obligatory destination for any visitor to Western Europe who wishes to enjoy a living natural landscape.
Turismo de la salud As a region, Castilla y León has made excellent use of its natural spring waters to attract visitors to those towns renowned for their water, denominated as "spas". The spring and saline waters of the countryside of Valladolid, the baths of Salamanca, known since Roman times, the baths of Ávila, and the baths of the provinces of León and Burgos, all allow the tourist to rest and recuperate in first-class scenic and cultural establishments, which are very well communicated with cities.
The offer is completed by excellent facilities and medicinal treatment, as well as luxury hotel resorts.The region's range of health tourism also extends to other resorts where the practice of rural tourism is combined with health tourism. Spas or thermal resorts aimed just at older people. More and more young people choose health tourism with the objective of escaping from the stress and rush of modern life to find peace. Executives, families and groups of friends enjoy this type of tourism that unites: leisure, rest and health.
A trip to one of the region's mountain springs, fountains, or brooks allows the visitor to enjoy the wonderful sound of water flowing in these glorious sites of great ecological value.
Castilla y León has innumerable spots with wells and springs, channelled fountains of curative and mineral/medicinal waters that will satisfy the thirst of the traveller on his or her route. These spots often offer impressive panoramic views, some being located in recreational areas and open spaces that allow the traveller to break their journey without leaving the marvellous natural attraction constituted by the landscape and vegetation of Castilla y León.
Various private companies have found a source of money in these springs, and today they bottle the water from many of the region's springs, for instance, in the provinces of Salamanca, Segovia, Burgos and Soria.