The vast region of Castile & León boasts an extraordinary wealth of fascinating and picturesque towns, reflecting the historical importance of the plains to the north of Madrid. While the Ancient Kingdoms of Castile & León tour description serves as a useful introduction to the area, the places visited on this tour differ substantially. Many are small, lesser-visited towns, judiciously selected to highlight the best of the Spanish Renaissance, though not neglecting the region’s important artistic and architectural developments in the mediaeval and baroque periods.
Art historians still find it hard to believe that Spain experienced the Renaissance at all. And yet an intriguing artistic movement was to develop there in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and particularly in Castile and León where the arts flourished under the patronage of the Church.
Sculptors from across Europe executed ambitious schemes for the cathedrals, churches and convents of the region, while locally-born Alonso Berruguete left Paredes de Nava to study in Rome under Michelangelo, returning to Spain in 1517 to create a highly original style which integrated the expressive qualities of Gothic art with the beauty of the Renaissance.
Valladolid. Fly at c. 9.15am from London Heathrow to Madrid (Iberia Airlines) and drive to Valladolid (c. 3 hours, with a stop en route). Settle into the hotel before an introductory walk to include Nuestra Señora de las Angustias with Juan de Juni’s highly expressive Virgin of Sorrows. First of two nights in Valladolid.
Valladolid, Paredes de Nava, Palencia. Visit the convent of Santa Ana with three paintings by Goya. Alonso Berruguete was born in Paredes de Nava and the church of Santa Eulalia contains works by him and his family. Pedro Berruguete, Gil de Siloé and Simon of Cologne are all represented in Palencia cathedral.
Valladolid, Medina de Rioseco, León. Morning visit to the Colegio de San Gregorio, now the National Museum of Sculpture, with Gil de Siloé’s intricately carved stone portal and works by all the great Renaissance masters including Berruguete. Drive from Valladolid to Medina de Rioseco, suffused with faded glory. Here see the Benavente Chapel in Santa María del Mediavilla, decorated in 1543 with coloured carvings by the brothers Juan and Jerónimo Corral, and the church of Santiago with a Churrigueresque retable. Continue to León for the first of two nights.
León, Astorga. The morning walk includes two great mediaeval buildings: the royal pantheon of San Isidoro, with the greatest Romanesque frescoes to have survived, and the cathedral, with Spain’s finest stained glass. There is an excursion in the afternoon to Astorga whose cathedral has a magnificent 16th-cent. altarpiece by Gaspar de Becerra.
Toro, Zamora. Drive south to the small town of Toro and see the superb mediaeval sculpture in the collegiate church. The Romanesque cathedral at Zamora on the banks of the Duero contains much of interest: beautifully carved choir, ironwork and silver. Overnight in Zamora.
Drive to Madrid airport (c. 3½ hours, including a stop en route) for the mid-afternoon flight, arriving at London Heathrow at c. 4.30pm. Those combining with Sacred Music in Santiago have a free day in Zamora, before the festival begins this evening.
Dr Xavier Bray
Art historian specialising in Spanish art and sculpture and Director of the Wallace Collection, London. Formerly Chief Curator of Dulwich Picture Gallery and Assistant Curator of 17th and 18th-century European paintings at the National Gallery. His exhibitions include Murillo & Justino de Neve: The Art of Friendship and Goya: The Portraits. He completed his PhD at Trinity College, Dublin. Twitter: @XBray | Instagram: @xabibray
Price, per person
Two sharing: £1,940 or £1,820 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,130 or £2,010 without flights.
Flights (economy class) with Iberia Airlines (Airbus 320); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation; breakfasts, 1 lunch and 4 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Hotel Melia Recoletos, Valladolid: a modern 4-star hotel on the edge of the old town. Hotel Real Colegiata de San Isidoro, León: attractive 3-star hotel occupying one of the first and finest Romanesque buildings in Spain. Parador de Zamora: 4-star Parador occupying the 15th-cent. family home of the first count of Alba de Aliste. Single rooms are doubles for sole use throughout.
The tour involves a lot of walking in town centres, where coach access is restricted, and a lot of standing in museums and churches. Uneven ground and irregular paving are standard. Some days involve a lot of driving. Average distance by coach per day: 109 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.fco.gov.uk.