My Top 8: The Best of Salamanca

Two weeks before classes commenced last year in September, those of us in the program from America were required to take a Spanish language immersion course, which was used as a way to lessen the culture shock of having all of our classes in Spanish. On the first day of these transitional classes, our professor asked each of us to write our favorite Spanish word on a piece of paper. Right away I knew what my word was: Salamanca. Not only is it phonetically beautiful, but it just gives me this sense of a rustic, mysterious, historically rich place. And it just so happens that Salamanca embodies all of these descriptions.

Just a 2-hour bus ride away, my friends and I have been wanting to visit since way back last September, but just never found the right timing until this spring. Before leaving, many friends told me what a beautiful city Salamanca is. With University of Salamanca as its anchor, Salamanca was once the hub of academic excellence and center for scholars. To this day, the city is teeming with university students, many of them from abroad. The city is entirely walkable, with monuments, plazas, and exhibit around each corner.

So here goes, the top 8 unique attributes of Salamanca:

8. SANDSTONE

As soon as our bus pulled into Salamanca and we began walking in the direction of our hostel, I could tell that Salamanca is so, so different from Madrid. One tell-tale sign is the amount of sandstone buildings. I love sandstone because usually Spaniards will carve the facades into ornate patterns and paint them, like I saw in Segovia many months ago. Almost every single building is made of sandstone, which gives the entire city a gorgeous, warm golden color, looking as if the buildings were baked under the Spanish sun.

7. LA CLERICIA

This is the huge building in front of the Casa de Las Conchas. We mistakened La Clerecía for the University of Salamanca and bought tickets for a tour and also for access to the tower. After a while we realized that it houses the Pontifical University instead! We tried to use our student IDs for discounts (since our school in Madrid is the Comillas Pontifical University), but we didn’t even get discounts to go in because our school wasn’t in the official sisterhood of schools linked to the Pontifical University in Salamanca. Despite our confusion, I am so glad we took the tour! The interior of the building is so beautiful and the views from the tower gave us a view of the whole city and its monuments.

6. JAMÓN

Salamanca is known for supplying the best jamón in Spain. I remember way back in December when the family whose kids I tutor English to gave me a packets of cured jamón which they ship in from Salamanca every autumn/winter. It was absolutely delicious, and I was excited to try the jamón in Salamanca itself. We finally had some accompanied by fried eggs and a piece of baguette for breakfast. The jamón just melted in my mouth. The region is famous for its Iberico ham, which is produced from black-hooved pigs that are solely fed acorns, which gives the cured jamón its buttery, nutty flavor.

5. CASA DE CONCHAS

One of the most interesting facades in the city belonged to Casa de Conchas, or the House of Shells. Each shell is carved of stone, and more than 300 of them decorate the outer walls. It used to be a palace back in the day, but now it is a public library.  I would have loved to see the library, but it was closed by the time we got there. On the bright side, there was a great photography exhibition along the perimeter of the courtyard featuring life along the mountains in Southeast Asia.

4. UNIVERSIDAD DE SALAMANCA–THE FROG MYTH
Every city has its own folklore. One of Salamanca’s most famous myths is of the carving of a frog, hidden above the entrance to the University. It is said that if students cannot find the frog on their own, they will never graduate. If they do find it, they will graduate in good time and marry within a year after their graduation. I was really excited for this frog version of Where’s Waldo until I saw what I was dealing with.

This is the entrance to the building. And it’s not even like the frog is some ornate, full-figured object on this facade. It is pretty much this teeny, tiny lump!! Eventually I had to ask the woman selling postcards nearby to help me out. Here is the frog:

Do you see the skull towards the right hand side of this photo? Do you see the tiny lump on top of the skull? Yes, that is the famous frog…..So, what is the graduation rate in Salamanca?

3. CONVENTO DE LAS DUENAS

This convent is famous for is delicious assortment of cookies that the nuns bake in order to make a living. They are most known for their armarguillos, made of almonds. But my definite favorite was their polvarones, sprinkled with powdered sugar. They were absolutely amazing and I still get cravings for them!! I could have eaten both boxes all by myself.

2. PLAZA MAYOR

Captivating both by day as well as by night, Plaza Mayor is the heart of Salamanca and is considered one of the most beautiful plazas in Spain. At the front is city hall, while the rest of the perimeter is lined with restaurants and small shops. Our hostel was originally booked for the center of the plaza, which we were super excited about! But turns out that they overbooked their rooms, and we were moved to a different hostel in a street nearby. There was a manifestación (demonstration) going on involving laborers unhappy with labor laws (not surprising these days), while the rest of the plaza was teeming with visitors, street entertainment, and those soaking in the sun at the outdoor cafes. I absolutely loved the plaza at night; the hundreds of balconies lit up and the entire plaza was surrounded by golden light.

1. MUSEO ART NOUVEAU

This was my favorite stop of the trip!! It was a little out of the way in coordination with the other sights, and we got lost a few times, but it was definitely worth it. The exhibitions were very eclectic; really different than what you’d find in a typical art museum. The stained glass was absolutely gorgeous. I couldn’t get enough of it, much less stop taking sneaky photos (they weren’t allowed). Finally we were able to relax at the cafe. We stopped for some tea and hot chocolate to wait out the drizzle and chilly weather. The entire wall looking out into the city was stained glass, and the decor inside was so beautiful and unique.


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