As the town’s slogan goes, Zamora cuenta mucho; Zamora has a lot tell.
Castilla y León is underrated, but I believe a few of its provinces are even more so. Zamora is one of those provinces. Why am I so passionate about this city of 67,000 in northwest Spain, mere kilometers from the Portuguese border?
- It’s Mario’s hometown. What can I say? I first went there to meet Mario’s family.
- I have a thing for the underdog. How many articles have been written about Barcelona (ugh)? Or Madrid? Or Santiago de Compostela, as much as I may love it? But there’s something about the not-so-popular spots that resonate with me. There’s an authenticity still there, because tourists are few and far between.
With that in mind, following a fellow blogger’s lead, I’d like to show you all a few things to see, eat, and do in Zamora, starting with the see part.
My Top 10 Sites to See in Zamora
Want a map of all these sites? Check out my custom-made Google map!
1. Cathedral and Castle
Zamora is known as the Ciudad del Románico, the Romanesque City. It is indeed the city with the most Romanesque architecture, followed by Segovia. The cathedral, constructed between 1151 and 1174, is also home to one of the finest pieces of original Romanesque art, the Puerta del Obispo (Bishop’s Door).
The castle, located right beside (northwest of) the cathedral, has an interesting history. It is still surrounded by a moat, but the perimeter is what has been maintained of the original structure, along with the courtyard, the most important walls, and the main tower. Before the reconstruction, which finished in 2009, it even housed the Official School of Languages!
Related: Check out the Baltasar Lobo Castle Art Center, dedicated to the work of the Zamoran sculptor.
2. El Casco Antiguo
Most every Spanish city has its casco antiguo, its old town, where the buildings are older than my country, many having been built in the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries. These areas are full of narrow streets, dead ends, and—of course—churches. Above, you’ll see San Cipriano, the church where Mario and I were married. The construction on this church likely started at the end of the 11th century, making it one of Zamora’s oldest. Another likely sighting would be a stork perched atop its towers, maybe with a baby or two. (Bonus: right next to the church is a great lookout point.)
By all means, get lost in Zamora’s old town, but you should take time to see the Church of San Pedro y San Ildefonso as well, a church built on a Visigothic church and contains elements of the Romanesque and Gothic styles.
3. Palacio de los Condes de Alba y Aliste (Parador of Zamora)
Paradores are a kind of luxury hotel, and Spain’s paradores were founded in by Alfonso XIII, who was trying to promote tourism in Spain. The first one was inaugurated in 1928 in Ávila. These hotels are often located at historic sights: old palaces, castles, and monasteries are likely sites.
Zamora’s parador was once a palace, built by Enrique Enríquez de Mendoza, the first count (conde) of Alba de Liste, a castle in the Zamoran village of Losacino (population: 249). It is a stately palace, and a splendid example of Spanish renaissance architecture from the early 16th century. Don’t miss its elegant courtyard!
4. Mercado de Abastos
Spain is famous for its markets. One of the most-talked about ones in Madrid is the Mercado San Miguel, full to the brim with gourmet tapas, cheeses, libations, and fruit that’s way too expensive for my budget! While these markets are fun, I prefer the traditional-style ones, with real characters and cheap prices.
Zamora’s mercado de abastos is just that. It was constructed in 1902, so it’s a fairly new building (especially for Spain), but its façade is beautiful. Inside you’ll find all sorts of vendors selling all sorts of products at rock-bottom prices: glistening piles of fresh sardines, wheels upon wheels of cured sheep’s-milk cheese, piles of quinces in autumn, heads of lettuce picked the day before, whole rabbits and pigs for sale … you name it, it’s probably here.
Even if you’re not looking to buy, it’s worth a visit to chat with the produce vendors or observe the fruit piled up to the ceiling or see all the different types of olives available.
5. Calle Balborráz
This street begins at the Plaza Mayor and is one of Zamora’s oldest and most intriguing. The name Balborráz comes from the Arabic “bab al ras,” which can be translated as “head gate.” This name comes from the 10th century, in which a battled called Día de Zamora (Zamora Day) took place. There was a gate with the same name, Balborráz, which later gave the street its denomination.
The street was a connection point between the Jewish neighborhood, the Douro River, and the center of Zamora. It was a street of leatherworking and ceramics, where traders came and went, as it was one of the city’s commercial hubs as well as a point of reference for artisans.
6. Las Aceñas de Olivares
Aceñas are watermills, and these watermills are located on the Douro river. While they have been not been used productively since the early twentieth century, they were once important sources of energy for the city. They take their name from the Zamoran suburb of Olivares. While they belonged to one owner, the city helped to maintain them, with religious orders in charge of the currency.
7. El Puente de Piedra and the City Walls
Unlike much of Zamora, this bridge is not Romanesque, it’s actually Roman. For centuries, this bridge was the only river crossing in the city. Due to its location on the Vía de la Plata, it became an important crossing for people, goods, and migrating herds.
A photo I took on a run around Zamora
It’s recently been made pedestrian-only, so cross the bridge on foot and admire the city and its walls from the other side of the Douro.
8. Church of San Pedro de la Nave
Now we’re going outside of the city a bit, but nothing too far, I promise! Only 22 kilometers (13.7 miles).
San Pedro de la Nave is a Visigothic church located in Campillo, Zamora. The church was founded and built in the 7th century, during the resign of a Visigothic king named Egica, before the Muslim conquest of the Iberian peninsula. It is one of the only remaining works of Visigothic architecture. The temple was originally located on the banks of the Elsa river but was the construction of a dam threatened its existence. It was thus moved to its current location, stone by stone.
Toro, 32 km away, is both a city in the province of Zamora and a Denominación de Origen, a Designated Region, for wine production.
Photo I took at Toro’s Grape-Harvest Festival
Toro, like my study-abroad city of Toledo, is known for its Mudéjar art and its roots in antiquity—it is possibly the site of the city of Arbukala, home to pre-Roman Celtic peoples, the Vaccaei. Its name, Toro (Bull), may be derived from a bull totem of these people.
What to see: the Collegiate Church of Santa María la Mayor, which dates to the 12th century; the Espolón Viewing Point (see above photo); the city walls.
10. Puebla de Sanabria
Puebla is one of those hidden gems—a great day-trip from Zamora. Almost no one knows about it, but this city is home to good food, great views, and your new favorite lake: El Lago de Sanabria.
It’s quite cold, even in July, but cold-blooded fishes like my husband do enjoying bathing in its brisk waters. The lake is located within the Sanabria Lake Natural Park, where you’ll find great biodiversity—it’s home to the Iberian lynx, among many others.