Province of Soria
Province of Soria land of dinosaurs, history and poets...
The province of Soria is located in the autonomous region of Castilla León, a strong and ancient land not very well known but full of magnificent natural treasures and history which make it a desirable destination with endless attractions. Visitors will find footprints left by dinosaurs millions of years ago as well as remnants of people who inhabited the area in the past: Celtiberians, Romans, Visigoths, Muslims and the Knights of Templar. Soria retains ancient customs and traditions some of them expressions of ancestral rites that make this land a great open history book ready to be explored.
Adventurous visitors will enjoy discovering the natural landscapes of el Cañon del Río Lobos, la laguna Negra or Black Lake and la Sierra de Cameros; ancient cities turned into archaeological parks such as Termes, Uxama, Contrebia, Leukade and particularly the legendry Numancia. Remnants of castles like those of Berlanga de Duero, Ucero, Osma and Magaña and historic towns like Catalañazor, Agreda, Burgo de Osma, San Esteban de Gormaz, Almazan and Soria capital, where on a steep slope along the Duero stands the mysterious Chapel of San Saturio, a structure of exceptional beauty and filled with legends.
For three years, every weekend, after work I would head to the province of Soria with a tape recorder, a camera and hiking boots in tow to conduct research for my degree in anthropology. My research gave me the opportunity to re discover this land, its people and particularly las Tierras Altas or Highlands and made me fall in love with this region all over again.
The best way to get from Madrid to province of Soria is to take highway A-2 towards Barcelona and get off at exit 150 around Medinaceli, a town definitely worth visiting and spending a couple of hours discovering, strolling along the cobblestone streets, admiring its Roman arch and of course treating your palate to a succulent portion of roast lamb accompanied by wine from the region in any of the mesones or inns in town.
Located on the banks of the river Duero, amid ancient elms and poplars, we find Soria a Spanish city full of historic landmarks: the church of Santo Domingo, San Juan de Rabanera, San Juan de Duero, the palace of the counts of Gómara and the hermitages of San Polo and San Saturio are among the most interesting. Sober and elegant Soria still enjoys the leisurely lifestyle of a small city which so enamored the poet Antonio Machado. Strolling along el Espolón or el Collado the true heart of the city and visiting places like Las Heras, the Casino or la taberna de Lázaro one of the oldest taverns is definitely a treat . Located in el Espolón is the Museo Numantino with a magnificent collection of Celtiberian artifacts found in the numerous archeological sites throughout the province that will be delight of any history buff.
I have to admit one of the guilty pleasures of visiting Soria is taking a walk from el Paseo del Espolón towards el Collado passing by las mantequerías or bakeries York which emanates a scrumptious smell of freshly baked pastries that will make your head spin. Its window displays will tempt even those of you that are not so keen on sweets with its yemas, pattiseries and “besitos de angel” or angel kisses, the house specialty. Every Friday on my way to Soria I promised myself that I would not set foot in the store….but of course every Friday around seven in the afternoon I would leave the bakery loaded with boxes of aromatic pastries and cans of incredible homemade butter for friends and family.
Leaving Soria heading towards Logroño is the municipality of Garray, an obligatory stop while visiting Numancia. Strategically situated on a hillock that overlooks the vast plains of the Duero, the mythical city of the tribe of the arévacos resisted the siege of the Roman army for twenty years until defeated in 133BC by Publius Cornelius Scipio. The Numantians decided to burn the city and die free rather than live and be slaves. The city is now a well kept archaeological enclosure housing replicas of buildings from that period which will easily transport you back to those times.
In Garray, almost at the foot of Numancia, taking the regional road SO-615 towards Arnedo, we reach las Tierras Altas or Highlands of Soria, formerly known as Comunidad de Villa y Tierras de Yanguas. This area is comprised of twenty five clustered villages five of which were abandoned by their inhabitant’s decades ago. Fortunately, nowadays a number of these villages are being restored maintaining their traditional architecture, most of the buildings are being enjoyed as second homes or transformed into inns to quench the recent thirst for rural tourism.
For centuries Yanguas was the most important municipality in the region home to up to a thousand people during the 50s it apparently had a fabric store, five bars and a Casino where you were only allowed to frequent wearing a suit and tie as told by my good friend Phillip the former sheriff and now an occasional guide. He will show you proudly the greatness of his village like the small Museo de Arte Sacro, church of Santa Maria, the tower of San Miguel and the Roman bridge. During the visit if he is happy he will hum some coplillas yangüesas (Spanish songs) unintelligible even to those of us who speak Spanish.
A few kilometers from Yanguas is Diustes nestled in a valley covered with beech trees and crossed by a stream. This enchanting town in the fall takes on a magical aura with it houses made of stone and wood emerging among the reds, yellows, browns and greens of the extensive foliage that engulfs the village.
Back in Yanguas I recommend enjoying a glass of wine or some cañas at el Bar de Abraham where Angel will serve you some of the best tapas and if you feel up to it try the potatoes with meat one of Pili’s specialties that are sure to delight you.
As far as accommodations in the province of Soria, there are several excellent rural houses in Yanguas; one of them being el Rimero de Quintina where Marisol, the owner, and her daughter Violeta will treat you as one of their own. The food is out of this world be sure to try the pollo a la tía Marcelina or chicken aunt Marcelina’s style and their delicious flanes de anis or anise custard. From the rooms you are able to see la Peña de las Nueve or Rock of the nine so called because the sun rises over it every morning at nine o’clock.
Another place I highly recommend is Los Cerezos de Yanguas, Angela and Gonzalo are the owners, the rooms are great and the food is scrumptious. Here you will be able to enjoy all kinds of mushroom dishes prepared in a thousand ways a cocido (stew), some patatas a la Riojana or potatoes Riojana style to die for particularly after a long, cold, arduous hike and last but not least magnificent homemade desserts. Angela and Gonzalo can arrange all kinds of excursions around the area they are very knowledgeable and always willing to share all kinds of information about legends and traditions such as paso de fuego (fire walking) and the celebration La Móndidas in the town of San Pedro Manrique or the magical night of San Juan whose origin is lost in the mists of time and has miraculously survived to this day.
Very close to San Pedro Manrique across from la Sierra de Alba is El Pajar del Búho a rural home for rent owned by Julían, a Californian at heart who lived in the United States for many years and recently decided to move to las Tierras Altas or highlands to be close to nature with his dogs, cats, pigs and other animals. This is truly one of the most unique homes in San Pedro.
No one should leave las Tierras Altas of the province of Soria without visiting Bretún to see the footprints of dinosaurs in the village and to get to know the town’s guide, Sara, whom at her 80 years of age still has a prodigious memory for names of dinosaurs and their vicissitudes in the area which she will narrate while walking with a tiny stick that serve as support while she shows you around.
On our way back to Soria I recommend stopping in Oncala to visit the Tapestry Museum and a small Museum dedicated to transhumance. In the town there is a cheese store that makes wonderful cheeses particularly goat cheese. Closer to Soria we find Castilfrio de la Sierra a colorful village full of stone houses with coats of arms, which has been completely renovated with superb taste.
In conclusion the province of Soria retains wonderful preserved natural and historical treasures that are worth discovering. So come on your next trip, you will not regret it!
This article about the Province of Soria was written by Nazareth Rodríguez-Bermejo