Salamanca. Even the name of this city makes me smile. Somewhere between salamander and Scaramanga, it sounds exotic and dangerous, a place where James Bond might surreptitiously follow some femme fatale through the echoing streets. It’s word that simply feels lovely in the mouth. So it’s with some embarrassment then that I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of the place before I looked at a map and realised it was well positioned for an en route visit.
After we left Vitoria Gasteiz in floods of rain on the morning of Rob’s fortieth birthday we worked out that if we put in a good enough drive we could make it in a day. Most of the time the boys just aren’t up for driving anything longer than a couple of hours but after a few days of storms, they were willing to deal with the tedium of a long stint on the road to try and get past the bad weather.
The landscape was barren and windswept for most of the journey but the sun shone brightly once we left the hills of ‘Green’ Spain. As has often been the case as we drive, we were easily able to spot birds of prey circling high above or swooping close to the roadside. In France they were mostly buzzards, old men in their moth-eaten overcoats. Hunched and wary, they perch on fence posts watching the traffic pass by; wintry spirits of the stark landscape. In Spain, as might be expected, the birds have generally been more flamboyant. Red kites have been particularly common roadside companions; at a shout from the initial ‘spotter’ we crane our necks to watch them, V-shaped tails acting as rudders, flicking and turning to reveal brightly contrasted undersides.
Salamanca was a breath of fresh air. The first big settlement we’d visited since Blois that felt alive. As a thriving university city it hums with the constant chatter of students and sparrows. Even as we approached we could see impressive towers piercing the skyline and when we plunged into the heart of the city I was completely seduced. Golden stone buildings with faded red script painted across their walls gather together in a seemingly random but elegant network of streets, alleys and squares. Around every corner an intricately carved facade or ornately edged rooftop awaits and it was hard not to just allow myself to be led on and on through the town, glimpsing new architectural treats. Children however have little patience for such aimless wandering and quickly decided enough was enough.
Their enjoyment of Salamanca was equal to ours. They climbed disrespectfully over civic monuments, raced down sharply shadowed streets, spotted a famous frog amongst the carvings over the university’s entrance, and of course chomped on churros. One local informed that their fondness for the chococolate dippy doughnuts is so renowned that the Salamancines’ nickname is ‘churro’. We indulged, almost to the point of sickness.
It’s a place that manages to combine laid back charm with exquisite beauty. Even without its UNESCO world heritage status it would be a pearl. I hope I return one day, perhaps without the kids – so I can wander uninterrupted and perhaps spend a little longer drinking beer and eating ‘pintxos’ in the cool and cosy bars it has in abundance.