Castilla y León: Three jewels in the Castilian plain | The traveler

Outside of the usual tourist routes, apart from the well-trodden organized excursions, it is possible to be filled with beauty in a brief getaway through Castilian lands to visit jewels such as the beautiful cloister of Santa María la Real de Nieva, in the province of Segovia; the incredible monastery of Santa Clara, in Tordesillas (Valladolid), and the unique charm of the basilica of San Juan de Baños, in Palencia. A real treat for the senses.

The proposal supposes an itinerary of 250 kilometers by road from Madrid, which is feasible to cover by car in one day. Just leave early and take advantage of the time. Of course, another option for the leisurely traveler is to dedicate a weekend to it and slowly savor not only these three artistic wonders, but also enjoy the landscape, culture and gastronomy of the Castilian-Leon countryside.

Contemplation of capitals

The first stop is in Santa María la Real de Nieva, a peaceful town half an hour from the Segovian capital. The construction of the Gothic church began in 1393 and, once completed, it was handed over to the Dominicans. Shortly after the monastery began to rise and in the following years the church would be expanded, demolishing the apses of the original head.

Although the temple is not always open, it is possible to admire its doorway, in a Gothic style, with a very elaborate storied sash based on scenes from the passion and death of Christ. In good condition, it has been declared an asset of cultural interest, as is the cloister that is just a few steps away. Square in plan and with a garden in the central area, the Gothic cloister is dazzling. The entire arcade sits on a podium filled with pairs of columns topped by capitals decorated with reliefs on all four sides. These are perfectly preserved and are of fascinating beauty. In the carved figures the Romanesque spirit is still perceived due to its references to sin and temptation (concepts very characteristic of the time), but this is far exceeded by the explosion of life that most of the images carved in sandstone reflect. One is left speechless contemplating from some peasants reaping wheat or pruning vines to a young man on horseback with a bouquet of flowers. Or hunting a bear. Or a Christian warrior preparing to spear a Muslim who begs for mercy. A marvel of chiseled that can be enjoyed calmly, without haste and, on many occasions, in solitude or with very few visitors around. And also free.

Visits: Monday to Friday, from 9:00 to 14:30; weekends, from 10am to 2.30pm. It is essential to book an appointment (+34 921 59 40 36).

Blinding beauty

About 80 kilometers from Santa María la Real, in the direction of Valladolid, awaits Tordesillas, which owes part of its fame to the treaty signed on June 7, 1494 between the representatives of the Catholic Monarchs and those of John II of Portugal, for the one that both crowns divided the territories of the New World. In addition, Juana I of Castile, nicknamed The crazy woman and mother of Emperor Charles V.

The royal convent of Santa Clara, which welcomed the body of Felipe el Hermoso from 1509 to 1525, has seen the waters of the Duero flow at its feet for more than six centuries. It was originally a Mudejar palace that King Alfonso XI ordered to be built around 1340, as evidenced by the lace decoration and Arabic inscriptions, as well as a charming courtyard with lobed and horseshoe arches reminiscent of the Alhambra in Granada. The main chapel of its church is covered with a Mudejar coffered ceiling of polychrome wood and gold leaf of blinding beauty. In the arrocabe or frieze on which it rests, some Gothic paintings stand out representing Christ, the Virgin and various saints. It is also worth noting the Romanesque grille that closes the lower choir, from where the cloistered nuns follow mass on Sundays. Forged in the mid-12th century, its structure of 10 vertical bars (no horizontal bars) is what makes it a unique example.

Visits: Tuesday to Saturday, from 10:00 to 14:00 and from 16:00 to 18:30; Sundays, from 11am to 3pm. Advance booking (6 euros). More information: +34 983 77 00 71.

Diamond in stone

70 kilometers north of Tordesillas is the third architectural landmark of this route: a stone diamond erected by the Visigoth king Recesvinto in the Palencia plain of Venta de Baños. The recoleta basilica of San Juan de Baños, one of the few buildings of this type in Spain, resembles a small chest whose dating there is no doubt: in the front a Latin inscription is preserved that cites the year 699, and which corresponds to 661 of our era.

Built with large ashlars joined together with little mortar, the temple measures 20 meters long by 13 wide. After the multiple modifications made, it has a basilica plan with three naves separated by horseshoe arches on columns and three straight apses.

The interior is beautiful, thanks mainly to the 10 graceful arches on reused marble columns, which are among the oldest of this type that are preserved in our country. In addition, it has eight Corinthian-style capitals, although only one of them is unequivocally of Roman origin, while the rest are Visigothic imitations. Stunning the delicate beauty of the exterior window, with its horseshoe arch and unparalleled stone latticework, which illuminates the apse.

Visits: Tuesday to Sunday, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and from 4:50 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Monday, closed). Cost of entry: 2 euros. Guide information telephone number: +34 628 72 08 85.

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