SALAMANCA is the most graceful city in Spain. For four centuries it was the seat of one of the most prestigious universities in the world and at the intellectual heart of the burgeoning Spanish crown’s enterprise – the conquistador Hernán Cortés and St Ignatius of Loyola were students while Columbus came here in 1486 in an initially unsuccessful attempt to persuade a university commission of enquiry to back his exploration plans. City and university declined in later centuries, and there was much damage done during the Napoleonic Wars, but the Salamanca of today presents a uniformly gorgeous ensemble from Spain’s Golden Age, given a perfect harmony by the warm golden sandstone with which its finest buildings were constructed. It’s still a relatively small place with a population of 160,000 but an awful lot of those are students, both Spanish and foreign, which adds to the general level of gaiety.
You’ll need to set aside the best part of two full days to see everything in Salamanca, and even then you might struggle – time has a habit of flashing by in a city so easy on the eye that simply strolling around often seems like the best thing to do. Highlights are many, starting with the most elegant Plaza Mayor in Spain before moving on to the two cathedrals, one Gothic and the other Romanesque, and the beautiful surviving university buildings. After this, it’s down to individual taste when it comes to deciding exactly how many stately Renaissance palaces, embellished churches, sculpted cloisters, curio-filled museums and religious art galleries you’d like to see.