Valladolid, the de facto capital of Castile and León in Spain, has long been on my list of venerable old cities to visit. It looms large in the country's history as the one-time capital, part of the reason that Madrid is today such a relatively young capital by European standards. One evening is not nearly enough, but it's what we had to work with as we ventured from the Toro to Ribera del Duero wine regions. Yes, Valladolid is particularly well situated as an operating base for wine drinkers. Here's how to get the most of your day there.
Lay of the Land
Valladolid is an easy highway drive about two hours northwest of Madrid. The train is also an option, though I cannot attest to the experience (I'm sure it's great, like most Spanish train service). It sits in the middle of Valladolid province in the heart of the autonomous community of Castile and León, the perfect place to organize your wine adventures if Toro, Ribera del Duero, and Rueda are on your list. I recommend you find lodging in the center of the old city, near the Plaza Mayor (main square), but beware how much you'll struggle driving through the narrow yet high paced streets without a passenger navigating you by GPS. Most of what I'll discuss in this piece begins in Plaza Mayor and moves eastward.
Beware how much you'll struggle driving through the narrow yet high paced streets without a passenger navigating you by GPS. The municipal population of about 310,000 (roughly the size of St. Louis, MO in the United States, though less dense) uses a bus service to move about town. We found that walking was the best choice in the old city, and really enjoyed what we were able to discover on foot.
We arrived in the city the evening of the day we spent visiting the San Román and Elias Mora wineries in Toro, to the west, to which we had driven that same morning from Madrid. It was immensely busy day, and we were exhausted by the time we drove into Valladolid. But it can be done! Though we absolutely love the wine from both, Elias Mora is set up nicely for winery visitors, so we recommend prioritizing a visit there. You'll find it in the small town of San Román de Hornija on the far west edge of Valladolid province, about 45 minutes' drive west of the city.
With Toro to the west, you'll find the Ribera del Duero wine region to the east. Consider stopping in the town of Peñafiel where there are opportunities to taste the wines of numerous Ribera bodegas about 45 minutes's drive east of Valladolid. If you're feeling particularly adventurous -- and are willing to stray a bit further into the neighboring province of Burgos -- consider the hour and fifteen minute drive to the tiny town of Gumiel de Mercado where you will find Bodegas Arrocal.
I recommend you focus on the city center local to Valladolid's Plaza Mayor when inside the city itself, with specific attention paid to:
- Dinner at Restaurante la Criolla, a lovely traditional restaurant recommended to us by Aurelio Cabestrero from Grapes of Spain, a Spanish wine importer in the United States. You'll find la Criolla just to the west of Plaza Mayor on Calle Calixto Fernández de la Torre, and inside you'll find traditionally prepared food, one of the most beautiful salads we've seen in Spain alongside an amazing dessert (both pictured).
- Explore the Valladolid Cathedral on Plaza de la Libertad. We found Catedral de Valladolid to be so special for its austerity in comparison to some of glittering cathedrals such as what you'll find in nearby Burgos or Seville in the south of Spain. Originally designed as one of Europe's largest, this 16th to 17th century cathedral was not fully completed after the capital moved to Madrid. Today it feels simply holy, rather than opulently overdone.
- Walk the grounds of Palacio de Santa Cruz, a stunning example of early-Renaissance architecture but five minutes on foot from the Cathedral, on Calle de Librería. We could have sat for hours in the lovely garden or stately cloister (both pictured).
Meandering on foot a bit further around the Plaza Mayor, and suddenly we had hit early afternoon and had to be off towards Burgos and a visit to Bodegas Arrocal.
Hitting the Pillow
We really enjoyed the Hotel Amadeus on Calle Montero Calvo, just south of Plaza Mayor. It was perfectly affordable, staffed by friendly people, and we were placed in a lovely comfortable little room. A word to the wise, though, that Amadeus is home to the worst parking garage in which I have ever parked. It is tiny, and nearly impossible to insert and extract your car from for anyone but the most skilled parking practitioners. Oh, and it's self-park. Seek an alternative parking place if you can.
Valladolid seems a great city to which I'd like to return both to explore locally and from which to base another wine expedition. It has the feel of a "real" city, in other words, a city where real work is getting done by the people who live there, rather than as a singular tourist destination. Its vibe actually reminded us a bit of Boston, but without the maritime influence. I do not suspect it will be long before we stop here again.