Leon, a beautiful province in the northwestern region of Castile-Leon, is known for its rich culture and diverse geography. Leon is the largest province in the Castile-Leon region and in the entirety of Spain. This province is also said to be the one of the largest provinces in the European Union. Before the province was established as we know it today, the area was inhabited by the pre-Roman tribes the Asturians, Vettons, and the Vaccei. The Kingdom of Leon, a kingdom once located in the northwestern region of the Iberian Peninsula, was founded in 910AD. This Kingdom emerged when the Christian princes of Asturias moved the capital from Oviedo to the city of Leon. The Kingdom, however, did not last long. In 1139 Portugal, a region that was once a province of Leon’s Kingdom, separated from the Kingdom of Leon, forming the Kingdom of Portugal. After years of independence, the Kingdom of Leon united with the Kingdom of Castile, forming the Castile-Leon region.

The Leon’s rich culture is showcased by various cities including Astorga, Ponferrada, and the city of León The province’s deeply Catholic heritage is shown through the various cathedrals, churches, and religious monuments throughout the area. In this province there is a float festival during Easter Week and various celebrations for saints as well. The popular foods throughout this region are black pudding, suckling pig, cured meats, and various other carb and protein rich foods (this meat filled diet is not very friendly to vegans like myself). The original language of this region was the Castilian language, now referred to as Spanish. This large province has high mountain ranges, cliffs, rivers, lakes, valleys, farm land, vineyards, and rolling hills. This extremely mountain rich and vegetative filled province has various Regional and National Parks of European Peaks. This region tends to have long, cold winters and smoldering hot summers. Each season change is characterized by a change in the colors of the Riano Mountain range in this province. There are many famous hiking paths in this gorgeous region including ones that pass by waterfalls and the Camino de Santiago passes through this province as well. The region has four main valleys where there are rich, varied ecosystems. The geography of this region is so diverse, it was a joy to travel through.

Hostal San Marcos, the hotel we stayed at while visiting Leon, is definitely one of the most extraordinarily historic hotels in the world. The historic building, that after being rebuilt displays Spanish Renaissance, was originally built in the 12th century during the time of Alfonso VI. The original medieval building was demolished when found in poor condition. The structure was rebuilt in the 16th century when the Catholic King Fernando ordered Pedro de Larrea to construct and design a new monastery, The San Marcos Monastery. Juan de Orozco and others completed the grand building in 18th century. This architectural jewel was eventually converted into a pilgrim’s hospital and a place to stay for the Camino de Santiago pilgrims. This magnificent historical monument is now both a Parador hotel and museum, with a beautiful cloister, and a late gothic-styled 16th century Catholic Church. The original art pieces throughout the building and the museum are marvelous. I have never been to such a beautiful, historic place and I am immensely grateful for having had the opportunity to stay at the amazing Hostal San Marcos.

Leon had many similarities to the other regions that we have traveled through on the Camino. Most of the villages throughout this region are small, quaint, and quiet. In comparison to the others, this region seemed to have the most young people. Many other regions seemed to be occupied primarily by elderly individuals, while when here, however, I saw many children playing in the streets and high school aged children playing in the various rivers along the way. The geography reminded me of Navarra’s landscapes, with plenty of hills, mountains, beautiful villages, and wine vineyards spread throughout. In comparison to the meseta, this region was more aesthetically pleasing, but was also, more mentally and physically challenging due to the intense heat. The area was also similar to La Rioja in having vineyards throughout, Leon, I noticed, also had various wheat fields and valleys where sheep and cows grazed. Overall, Leon was a beautiful and interesting region to travel through, and I cannot wait to return and revisit the province someday. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.
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