A Salamanca Weekend…A Savoury Visit.

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Pueblo de Palencia…Top: Plaza Mayor & Town Hall; Local Band; Church.

We had decided to opt out of a Valentine’s Day Valentine’s Day with all it requisite paraphernalia & fluff and instead, 2 weeks later, have a romantic weekend (minus our ‘child’ Billie the Jack Russell) in Salamanca.  With our time in Spain rapidly diminishing (we leave on August 1st for the U.K. to prep our New Zealand return), we have assembled a decently long list of to do’s & Salamanca was top of the list.

It is a reasonably long drive (5+ hours) so we sorted out a few pit stops along the way which was a tad difficult as there seems to be, by all appearances, nothing much of real interest on the road to Salamanca (Burgos is great but we’d already been there). We have a Spanish friend who was born & raised in Palencia, so that was where we headed for a roadway breather & something to eat…

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Bar Alaska, Palencia – Estupendo!

Though many of our guide books or articles gave Palencia a minor pass, we made the most of it & headed straight through the Old Town to highly recommended Bar Alaska. And the reviewers were spot on – our only mistake was we did not take stock of exactly how good this place was & simply stop here & enjoy. But no, Hound #2 had read about a Turkish place called El Rincon de Istanbul which by Tripadvisor ticks was the bee’s knees for Turkish food outside of Turkey itself. Not…we were both slightly suspicious when the menu was: (a) almost longer than the Bible (obviously not freshly cooked); and (b) the menu & the restaurant walls were plastered with florescent plastic photos of their food.

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Lunch @ Rincon de Istanbul, Palencia – Not Too Good…

And our gut instincts were right – the falafel came out of a frozen packet, the bread was also a packet product and my curried chicken was almost stone cold & Hound #2 summed it up precisely by stating that it looked like ‘sick’. Onward to Salamanca…

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View of Stunning Salamanca & the Roman Bridge that crosses the River Torme (trout are in there!)…

Our arrival into Salamanca was easy as due to the fact that our hotel Vincci Ciudad de Salamanca, was right on the outskirts, only a 10 minute walk into the centro, so easily avoiding all the driving & parking hassles of a central Old Town space. We quickly settled in & headed out for a Friday arvo / evening stroll to the City Centre – across a beautiful Roman bridge over the River Torme. Once again, the Weather Gods smiled upon us and we had a perfecto winter’s day of blue skies, sun, no wind & mild temps…

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Beautiful Architecture Round Every Corner….

The Old Town is, thankfully, very pedestrianised so walking or strolling is a breeze. Salamanca is a big university town & has one of, if not the oldest, university in Europe. And it is chocka with students – we heard more American/Canadian/British accents in one weekend than we have heard in our entire time in Hondarribia. We were late to find out that this weekend was El Carnaval weekend – so a wee bit fearful of possible chaos & craziness. No problema…tranquilo…sweet as.

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Top Left: Back Street View, Cathedral in the lights, Plaza Mayor – Excellent Space!

Salamanca is a bit closer in modus operandi to the South of Spain than the North, which means that many places open later (round 8PM or after). So with a small chunk of time on our hands we made a bee line for La Vendimia Vinoteca – tienda de vino supreme!

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Tienda de Vino Excelente!

It is ALWAYS a great pleasure to peruse a wine store that offers up a distinctly different range of vino bebidas….not your bog standard super mercado or local bodega selection but different juices from small producer folks that I only seem to read about in magazines. Several bottles were purchased (and 3 more the next day) and off we went into the Salamanca night…

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Bodega Cuzco – Our Salamanca Fave….

At the top of our list & just about everyone else’s was Bodega Cuzco which offered up caliente made-to-order pintxos paired with a superbly chosen wine list. The staff were top notch too – friendly & super efficient. I had the chicken curry mini burger while Hound #2 went with her usual favourite – pulpo (octopus) a la plancha (grilled).

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Bambú – Another Great Choice for Friday’s Comestibles…

Next on our visitation agenda was Bambú – again a crowd pleaser and a highly rated establishment. A really well oiled hospitality machine (not President Trump’s kind) that was cranking on all cylinders & buzzing with Friday night crowds filling the place to the max. Salamanca is technically reputed to be a city that falls into the category of a free pintxo with every drink order. What we found were 3 distinct offers: (a) order a drink & get a gratis pintxo; (b) order a drink & not get a free pintxo but notice that most of the locals were getting one so we asked…and usually, begrudgingly got one; and (c) you pay for your pintxos (like at  Bodega Cuzco) . Bambú fits into the first bucket so with our first round of cervezas, I got the universal Spanish sandwich – jamón with pimiento pepper on a wee roll. Hound #2 scored with a smoked salmon wrapped around cream cheese & dusted in bread crumbs. Round 2 was accompanied by some delicious meatballs or albondigas as they are called here.

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Salamanca Scenes…

Up early on Saturday to have a full on day in Salamanca, first port of call was the Casa de las Conchas. Unfortunately, La Casa was undergoing some renovation works so the full beauty of its facade was hidden by some serious scaffolding. But still a marvel – and we had a nice chat with the librarian (yes, there is a library inside) who told us a bit about the history & construction and said it was VERY difficult to find qualified people to do the restoration so they had ONE woman doing it bit by bit as they could afford to pay her.

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Casa de las Conchas….

Next on our Saturday morning agenda was our required visit to the local mercado – the Mercado Central de Salamanca to be exact. An always fascinating adventure to walk the aisles & floors (2 levels here) and have a decent perusal of all of the local products on offer. Salamanca has a reputation as serious ‘meat country’ in all its various forms – fresh beef or pork or veal or fowl or ox; charcuterie of all shapes & sizes like chorizo or jamón sliced or full legs, salchichon (salami extraordinaire), morcilla (blood sausage), sausages & cecina (dried beef or ox).

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Mercado Central de Salamanca….

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Mercado Central de Salamanca: Top – Serious Spanish Beef; Veggies Galore; More Meat & Charcuterie…

And of course you will find a decent collection of veggie & dry goods stalls too, and as icing on the cake, a magnificent fish section stuffed to the gills with everything possible from the sea or fresh water. The Spanish love their seafood and we are quite blessed living in Hondarribia as it is a fishing port town so we see el pescado as fresh as it can be.

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Mercado Central de Salamanca – Fish Section….

Post our mercado visit, we paid a second visit to La Vendimia vino store and then set our course for Calle Van Dyck. This street is a renowned student haunt due to its cheap eats & drinks. We were hesitant to see it in all its glory, late at night on Carnaval weekend so we opted for a mid day visit to see what the fuss was about.

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La Cocina de la Yaya (affectionate term for grandma)…Top: Braised Mushrooms; A Moruno skewer – usually lamb but this was pork…

We did a couple block walking tour, sticking our noses into various joints & decided we liked the look of La Cocina de la Yaya (Spanish for grandma). And yes folks, the price was right – 2 cervezas & 2 LARGE pintxos for all of 6 euros. The students have sussed this out correctly…

We popped into one other taberna on Calle Van Dyck before aiming ourselves to return to the Old Town & we came across Restaurante Don Bustos in our wanders. Following, once again, Hound #2’s Dad’s Rule – if it has loads of local folks inside there is a high probability it is a keeper. Score for Dad’s Rule – busy as & buzzing with Spanish. Two cañas (beer) ordered straight away & 2 pintxos gratis of fried eggplant handed across the bar. Delish.

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Restaurante Don Bustos….Pintxo of Fried Eggplant. Place was hop’n!

We had built up a respectable ‘to do’ list with regards to bars & pintxo places, so we next made our way to La Casa de Las Pulgas (House of the Fleas) which was warp speed busy with only one bartender, but scored a sweet pintxo of chickpea stew with diced shrimp & mussels. Yum.

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Casa de las Pulgas (Fleas) – Chickpea Stew with Shrimps & Mussels…

And just down the street on Plaza Angel was a super popular place called Casa Vallejo which people spilling out onto the street & plaza. And here the free pintxo was a white bean stew with various bits of diced chorizo mixed through it. Perfecto…

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Casa Vallejo – Busy As…

Queued up next was La Cocina de Toño, a place known for its hot, freshly made pintxos (versus cold or microwaved off the bar). This place got the 2 thumbs (maybe 4) up as super tasty, excellent pintxo snacks at a fair price with a great vino selection and, thankfully, in a slightly less hectic atmosphere than our previous 2 bars.

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La Cocina de Toño – 2nd Fave of the Trip…Top Left: Chickpeas with Shrimps; Back Bar & Hanging Jamón; Pulpo (Octopus).

After a wee siesta back at the hotel, we geared up for a Saturday night in Salamanca with Carnaval supposedly in full swing. We were again quite relieved to find out that carnaval in Salamanca, despite all the youngsters, was a quiet affair.

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A Return Visit to Bodega Cuzco – Great Again…Top: Goats Cheese with Caramelised Onion Topping; 2 Copas de Toro; Duck Confit Fajita.

We made our plan to be @ Bodega Cuzco spot on the 8PM opening to avoid the inevitable throngs. We got two cozy seats at the bar & placed our order for two vino tintos de Toro and 2 pintxos – Hound #2 had warmed Goat’s Cheese with a topping of Caramelised Onions while I satisfied my duck craving with a Duck Confit Fajita.

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2 Blogger Favorites….

We popped into to several other places on our list like La Viga and Bar Montero but ended up just having a wine. La Viga was packed with locals but the food on offer was not our cuppa tea – fried pork crackling & other fried things. Bar Montero seemed a bit more formal with very little being offered on the bar and only a full menu to order from.

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Live Music @ Local Salamanca Dive Bar….

We decided to call it a night & zig zagged our way through the narrow back streets & stumbled across a teeny tiny bar & decided on a nightcap. Happy to find that they served Alhambra Reserva 1925 but even more surprised to see a group setting up to play. We hung around for some tunes which, again, were not our cuppa tea but a fun way to end the evening…

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Goodbye Beautiful Salamanca…

We felt we had seen what we wanted to see in Salamanca, so we set off early to take advantage of another spectacular winter’s day & drop in on Valledolid as we had never been & had no plans to visit.

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Stretch Your Legs Pit Stop @ Valledolid….

We spent an hour or so wandering around the Old Town, stopping off @ Plaza Mayor for some coffee in the winter sun and finding 2 serious wine stores right next to each other but closed (it was Sunday) – damn!. We concluded it was a city mos def worth a night & day’s stay…

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Lunch in Burgos @ La Pez…Simple As – Tuna Fillets Topped with Pimiento Peppers & Then Turned Over – Yum!

With Burgos up ahead on our road trip home, we made the executive decision to make it our lunch destination. We had had a stupendous time in Burgos on another trip and had fond memories of its Old Town section & excellent food. We laid out a direct walking line to Plaza Mayor & its various side streets and popped in at an old fave – Meson Los Herreros. Two pintxos & two cervazas down the gullet we navigated to La Pez de la Senda which is a very different pintxo bar from your bog standard. La Pez had just recently opened on our first visit to Burgos and we found the staff super friendly and they seemed to be always giving us free pintxos or samples of vino or vermouth. La Pez is also a mini deli with various products available for sale to take home. Our pintxo of the day was a beautiful jar of the local tuna  topped with cooked pimiento peppers, then turned upside down – what a presentation! Tasted great too…

So if you have never visited or heard of Salamanca, it is a city to put on your Spanish to do list. You will be rewarded with awesome architecture, old world charm, food & drink to please any palate – go!!!!!

An Intercambio Lunch…

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Pintxo Bar Sardara…

We make an effort every Wednesday (a bit lax lately due to travels) to meet our Spanish mate Maria for lunch to have a mini, 1 on 1 (or 2) intercambio. An intercambio is when folks who speak different languages but are learning another (Spanish & English in this case) get together to practice. Our time together is usually split fairly evenly so that half the time we speak English, the other half we chat away in Español. We have been opting for places that offer the bargain deal of the menu del día but Maria suggested we go the pintxo & racíon route at Bar Sadara on Calle San Pedro. So off we toddled…

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Tuna, Tomate, Guindillas & Sprout Salad

The Hounds had sampled Bar Sadara’s pintxo offerings before on one of our regular weekend pintxiteos (pintxo crawl) and we knew they were top notch, so we had no hesitations here. First to arrive on our table was a fresh as tomato & tuna (the tuna is exceptionally good round these parts) salad sprinkled with the local delicacy – guindillas. Guindillas are pickled chillies that have a smidgeon of heat but really add a nice tartness or piquancy to the dish.

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Grilled Artichokes and Jamón

And as we are in or near the end of artichoke season, a racíon of grilled alcachofas & jamón was next to make an appearance. Hard to beat this combo folks – a crowd pleaser with a perfect mix of veg & meat, cooked to perfection with the artichokes crisp but tender & the jamón spicing it up with a bit of saltiness.

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Morros de Cerdo – Pig’s Nose…With Sprouts

On to the pintxo round – Maria and I opted for the Morros de Credo, which I only found out later (post eating) that I had had pig’s snout. Tasted great…ignorance is bliss.

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Puff Pastry de Marisco

Hound #2 went the seafood route with a puff pastry stuffed with a marisco assortment…vanished from the plate.

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Desserts – Apple Tart & a Delish Warm, Chocolate Ozzing Cakelet

One of the nice things about of eating this way (probably a health benefit too) is that your stomach has sufficient time to catch up with your eyes & mouth. The amount of food you actually have consumed almost never seems to be too much. Thus, there always seems to be room for dessert (pleases Hound #2 to no end), so Alex & Maria tucked in while I got to finish the wine (my kind of dessert)….

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Dessert Gurls…

Road Trip – And Finally, Burgos…

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Beautiful Burgos Cathedrals

Burgos was the last stop on our road trip but not in any way our least favourite. Burgos was named Spain’s gastronomic capital in 2013 and that was a primary reason to stop in & verify that title! We were once again more than adequately informed with hot spot details from Restless Fork blog…so off we went.

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Los Herrero’s…

We arrived a wee bit late into Burgos as our old Land Rover Gertie fails to attain the highway’s top speed of 120kmph…she’s a wee bit more like 90. And it proved to be a seriously long haul from Porto to Burgos. So as we set off into our first night, we were a tad tired, dazed & confused, so we sort of wandered aimlessly, searching for one of Restless Fork’s choices – El Morito. We found it, but unfortunately for all involved (us & our Jack Russell Billie) they do not allow dogs. We put it on the schedule for the following night when we would be sans Billie…But the bartender @ El Morito was more than helpful & scribbled out a list of places we may have some success with our wee canine. That took us to Calle San Lorenzo & Mesón Los Herrero’s. And what a winner…bustling with local folks, bar stuffed to the max with tasty tapas, excellent wines by the glass (the David Sebastian Crianza was a serious find) and Billie was welcome! We closed out our first night here…to bed, to bed.

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Juarreño’s Pastelería – Plaza Mayor, Burgos

Up very bright & early for Burgos town we made a bee line to a very highly recommended establishment – Juarreño’s. The description we had in our notes said a bun fight has been known to break out as the folks get impatient for their sweet tooth indulgence. But we were warmly greeted, quickly served & tucking into some excellent pastries (Hound #2 said it was the best custard she’d tasted in years) and hand warming coffee.

We had a good Burgos wander taking in the castle atop the hill offering us excellent views of the city, the gorgeous gothic architecture and Burgos’s love affair with statues & sculptures. Burgos has a beautiful wee river flowing right through the city centre with a nice bit of grassy land to either side (excellent for Hound #1) and reed beds & wonderful plantings. Spotted about 3 or 4 trout too – excellent.

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Burgos Views

As lunch time rolled around & we had strolled most of Burgos’s Old Town streets, we went in search of another recommended eatery – La Favorita. And once again our gastro advice was spot on and after several dead ends, we arrived to a smashing tapas bar with wines to match. We met a very nice local fella who was a photographer & had lived in New York City for 10 years he graciously guided us through the various tapas on offer & also changed our wine order to a better value drop & then proceeded to shout us a couple of glasses. Burgos – your folks are great.

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La Favorita – Burgos

Post our La Favorita nibbles, we made one last shopping pit stop before our afternoon rest – El Lagar wine shop. One of my minor passions since moving to Spain is to track down & explore the Mencia grape from the Bierzos region just outside of León. And this shop had an excellent selection of Mencia as well as many other wines from Spain – and the owner once again ticked the ‘nice folks in Burgos’ button.

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El Lagar Wine Shop – My 2 Menica Bottles on the Counter

With the final destination for our final Burgos night already decided (El Morito), we decided to make a few warm up stops. First on the list was Pecaditos which was given a two thumbs up by the friendly chap we’d met at La Favorita – he told us it was the bargain drinking & eatery in town. And he was spot on – they were running a tapas & a BIG caña of beer special for €2! Nuff said – we ordered & ate.

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Pecaditos – Tuna with Pimiento & Fresh Made to Order Roasted Pork Kebab

Then we took a very short wander & came across El Pez situated right next to El Morito – easy peezy. And it continued in the theme of ‘Burgos has very nice folks’.

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Gastrotienda El Pez

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El Pez – One of our Faves…Sweet Folks.

I ordered a glass of tinto wine but Hound #2 was itching to try the local vermut as a low alcohol alternative to the sometimes too sweet mosto. Viola! El Pez brews there own so a glass was quickly ordered…and followed up with 2 wee packets of chorizo & sausage – gratis! As well as a small bowl of bread stick crackers to go with our tapas & beverages.

Then it was on to El Morito…..

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Cervecería El Morito – Excellent.

Morcilla (blood sausage) is one of the region’s specialties – so we figured the best place to give this beast a try was El Morito. Not bad at all – both of us thought it tasty as and not at all hard to swallow unlike a few our of experiences with a full cooked English breakfast.

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Popular? You bet – plates that would feed an army.

Then it was on to the mains – and to say they were big plates would be an understatement. Hound #2 went with the roasted veg & gulas (supposed to be baby seals but just pressed fish) platter while I leaned towards the seafood side with some perfectly cooked calmari. We finished the plates & stumbled & rolled our way home…

So if you have never been to Burgos then you must put it on your ‘to do’ list – the folks are just so nice…you will not be disappointed.

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Burgos – The End….

Road Trip – León’s First Up…

As part of Hound #2’s birthday celebration, we sorted out a week long road trip to León, Porto and Burgos (in that order). León was our first stop, and what a great first stop it was. We were very blessed with some spot on info from the Restless Fork blog (and excellent weather), so armed with their secrets of León, we hit the streets…

 

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BPS – Billie Positioning System…

We undertook this journey in my 1975 Series III Land Rover (Gertie to us) which was a bit of a stretch for all involved, including Gertie. But she’s a trooper & got us there in the end…and we arrived to the most beautiful sunset which showcased one of León’s jewels, the cathedral.

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The Essence of Beauty…

And our great impressions continued with a warm, warm welcome at Le Petit León Hotel – located at the epicentre of the the old town action – just minutes away from the cathedral, tapas bars & restaurants and much of the old town sites…and a hop’n in house bar!

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Hotel Le Petit León…Perfecto.

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Le Petit León’s In House Bar….

We quickly got a bit lost in the crooked & narrow León laneways and somehow managed to stumble into La Despensa de Lorenzo as our first stop – and what a great first stop!

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La Despensa de Lorenzo – Fenomenal!

The place was chocka with León’s finest small goods (including a decent selection of local Bierzo Mencia vino), especially the cecina (the Spanish version of bresaola) which is what a good mate had ordered us to try. The shopkeeper was more than obliging, hoisting up 2 serious slices of cecina on some delicious bread. As we savoured those savoury bites, she continued to ‘force’ upon us various samples of their chorizo, salchichón and local cheeses – almost a meal all on its own. And not to be left out of the festivities, she insisted that Billie partake in the fun – lucky dog…

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La Despensa de Lorenzo – Gratis Nibbles…and Billie Too!

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Queso With A Sense of Humour…

Semi-satisfied, we pulled ourselves together and headed off in search of our long list of tapas bars par excellence. León is one of the cities in Spain where if you buy a beverage, your tapas is FREE! The tapas range all over the board from a bowl of potato chips or cocktail mix nuts to generous portions of sliced bread & charcuterie to tapas that clearly took some effort – like a gazpacho tomato soup with crispy shallots on top (El Colibrín Bar) or a steamy plate of paella (Camarote Madrid) or the calamare bocadillos (Monalisa).

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The Hummingbird Bar

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Selfie @ El Colibrín Bar – León

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Camarote Madrid – León

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Paella @ Camarote Madrid…

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Bar Correo – León…Super Wee Wine Bar & Friendliest Staff

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El Rincón del Gaucho – León…Packed with Locals & Excellent Tapas…

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Jamón, Jamón – León…Specialist in Tasty Charcuterie & Right Next Door To Our Hotel – Too Easy!

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El Tizón – León – Old School Tapas Bar…

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No Dogs Allowed Sign on Door – 10 Minutes Later Owner Waved Him In!

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Monalisa – León – Best Bocadillos Tapas of Calamare and Chorizo…

So if you have never been to León or had no idea you needed to go to León, go. You will drink good vino on the cheap and eat for pretty much free…and have a marvellous time strolling the old town neighbourhoods.

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León’s Stunning Architecture…