Visit this medieval town to get a flavour of Spanish history
Spain’s medieval Puebla de Sanabria is a town with a serene lake and a tragic story.
Gazing through your aircraft’s window as it descends in to Madrid’s airport, red and ochre patches will dominate your view. Like the canvas of a passionate painter, the land of Spain is a surrealist work of art. A land of art, beauty, contradictions and surprises, the Iberian peninsula is not only about sea and sun, fiestas and crazy summer nights, it is also about dramatic landscapes, forged by the brutal power of nature. And, up there, in the north, deep in the rocky heart of the mountains, there exists a place of serene and eerie beauty, with a tragic secret hidden deep in the cold embrace of a beautiful lake.
In the mountainous region of Castilla y Leon, sits a small town of a unique character, called Puebla de Sanabria. The A6 highways from Madrid will lead you to the mythical land of the river Duero, the birthplace of one of the most renowned Spanish grape varieties.
Row upon row of vineyards will welcome you, rising through the fog in perfect order by the river banks and after a three-hour trip you will finally get a view of the Puebla de Sanabria, among the mountains.
Puebla de Sanabria The river flows by the walls of Sanabria like a silver necklace upon the neck of a medieval lady. She proudly stands watching, from up there, from the Castle and the Old Town, the mountains and the vast horizon before her, and up there is where you are headed. The walled Old Town of Sanabria, one of the oldest in the region, is home to the best preserved castle of Spain. Moreover it is a place impregnated with local myths under the shade of a mysterious tragedy, of which the source is the nearby calm and beautiful lake. However, before you visit the lake, you should explore this medieval fairytale unfolding before your eyes: manor houses made of stone and wood, narrow alleys, the smell of the humid timber and the cold from the mountains caressing your face, and the castle with its imposing presence. For your exploring base, there’s nothing better than an 18th century mansion restored to its former glory and serving as a guest house. La Posada Real La Carteria offers high quality services for reasonable prices. Don’t forget to visit its ‘subterranean’ restaurant and enjoy the local cuisine. The next day, and on your way to the famous lake, you can enjoy a stroll on the walls of the castle enjoying the views or visit the small gothic church. You could even enter one of the traditional, cosy cafés of the Old Town, and of course, buy some local products, like goat’s cheese, mountain honey or dried meat.
On your way to the lake, stop at the small village you will encounter on the way, La Puente. Here you can enjoy a regional delicacy or two, including a cafe ‘cortado’ (espresso with some milk) accompanied by tasty tapas in the local café. Making your way among the mountains towards the lake, don’t miss out a visit to the village of San Martin de Castanieda. Situated up on a slope, it will reward you with your first impressive sight of the lake: the golden-red colours of the trees around seem to embrace with tenderness the blue, crystal clear waters, radiating a tranquility and a splendid harmony.
On your way down to the lake, you will find the medieval monastery of San Martin de Castanieda. It has a long history that can be traced back to the Visigoths and the Al Andalus period, when Spain was under Moorish influence. Visit the small exhibition on the upper floor about the the flora and fauna of the lake’s ecosystem.
The Lake of Sanabria The lake of Sanabria, is a place from which many local mysteries and myths seem to emanate and the starting point for all these appears to be a tragic incident, a historical tragedy. A dam that was inaugurated in 1956 by General Franco, built with off-hand calculations, cheap materials and the vanity of a dictator, keen to glorify his name, proved to be a devastating curse for the residents of the village of Ribadelago, situated a few kilometres lower, on the bank of the lake. On a frozen night, on January 9, 1959 as the unsuspecting residents of the small village were trying to warm up in their humble houses, a deafening roar erupted from the bowels of the Earth, as the unstoppable river, released from its bonds, took a terrible revenge. The next day would dawn with heartbreaking laments, as 90 percent of the village was destroyed, buried in the lake. The outcome was dreadful: 144 people, mainly small children, were forever lost in the wet grave of the lake. Nowadays, a statue of a mother embracing the lifeless body of her child stands as a witness to the terrible disaster and to remind us that greed often results in nature’s fury, in front of which humans are truly insignificant.
And the mother’s soundless lament seems to echo in the eerie silence of this beautiful lake, only interrupted by the haunting sounds of a bell tolling and children laughing, which today many say they hear coming from the frozen depths of the lake.
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