This small medieval Spanish town has 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 colourful 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, fiesta 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, after passing the famed towns of Salamanca and Zamora, one can find a medieval small town of a unique character, called Puebla de Sanabria. In order to embark on this magical trip, you must leave Madrid by taking the A6 highway towards Zamora and enter the region of Castilla y Leon. The road will lead you to the mythical land of the river Duero, the birthplace of one of the most splendid Spanish grape varieties. Row upon row of farms 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 calmly flows by the walls of Sanabria, like a silver necklace upon the neck of a beautiful 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 Old Town of Sanabria, a medieval walled town with a long history, 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 and mysteries, 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 fairy tale 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 distinguished 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 with its strong mountainous character. 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 small traditional and cozy cafés of the Old Town, and of course, buy some local products, like goat cheese, mountain honey or dried meat.
On your way to the lake, it is advisable to make a brief stop at the small village you will encounter on the way, La Puente. Here you can enjoy a glass of the region’s famous refreshments, or a cafe ‘cortado’ (espresso with some milk) accompanied by a tasty ‘tapa’ or two in the local café, with its traditional architecture and small folklore showcase. 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 tranquillity and a splendid harmony. In the local tavern Recreo, you can savour meat delicacies of the region and of the finest quality, in truly impressive amounts: it is obligatory to order the famous beef steak, bigger than the plate served on, and perfect accompanied by the view of the lake from this height.
Leaving the restaurant and 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. Apart from the serene views from the monastery, you can also visit a small exhibition on the upper floor about the flora and fauna of the lake’s eco-system.
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; one of many that have marked the stormy history of this country under the dictatorship of Franco. The 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. It has 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 and with the dreadful outcome: 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 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 lake, only interrupted by the haunting sounds of a bell tolling and children, that today many say they hear coming from the lake.
Need to know
KLM flies to Madrid via Amsterdam from Dhs2,855 return.