VALLADOLID, at the centre of the meseta and capital of the Castilla y León region, ought to be dramatic and exciting. Many of the greatest figures of Spain’s Golden Age – Fernando and Isabel, Columbus, Cervantes, Torquemada, Felipe II – lived in the city at various times, and for five years at the turn of the seventeenth century it vied with Madrid as the royal capital. It had wealth and prestige, yet modern Valladolid – a busy, working city of 400,000 – lost much that was irreplaceable, as many of its finest palaces and grandest streets were swept away during subsequent centuries. Nonetheless, much that remains is appealing in a city centre of restored squares and gleaming churches, including a series of excellent art museums, one of which holds the finest collection of religious sculpture anywhere in Spain. While it doesn’t have the overriding beauty of Salamanca, or the stand out monumental presence of Burgos or León, Valladolid is an easy city to like – whether it’s the pretty shaded gardens of the Campo Grande, or the student bars lined up under the shadow of a majestic Gothic church. The best time to get a sense of the city’s historic traditions is Semana Santa (Holy Week), when Valladolid is host to some of the most extravagant and solemn processions in Spain.
Outside the city, there are easy side-trips to the handsome small towns of Tordesillas and Medina del Campo, both now on the quiet and sleepy side but, like Valladolid, also boasting significant histories.