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Bowing to a regal past

GO CITYBREAK: The former royal capital of Spain and final resting place of Red Hugh O’Donnell, Valladolid has a lot to tickle…

INSPIRATIONAL HEART The city's Plaza Mayor Beach life: Valladolid has a riverside strand and outdoor gym

GO CITYBREAK:The former royal capital of Spain and final resting place of Red Hugh O’Donnell, Valladolid has a lot to tickle your interest – and your palate, writes ALANNA GALLAGHER

Despite its industrial hinterland, the city of Valladolid – pronounced Baya-doh-lid – is a verdant surprise, with formal parks forming several of its natural boundaries. From Campo Grande – an enormous, spotless landscaped park that is home to peacocks, red squirrels and ducks – to the formal riverside Parque de las Moreras, which is colonnaded by trees, the metropolis is rich with green spaces that offer welcome respite from summer heat.

A recent addition to the city is Playa de las Moreras, a river beach complete with fake sand and beach shack, and an outdoor gym that you can use for free. It is a heavenly place to escape the city – and, if you’ve time on your hands, you could take a river cruise and explore the metropolis from the water.

Valladolid was once the capital of the kingdom of Spain, and there are vestiges of that regal past in its architecture. Historic buildings punctuate the municipality. The heart of Valladolid’s old city is its 13th-century main square, Plaza Mayor, said to be the inspiration for city squares in Madrid and Salamanca.

The metropolis was the birthplace of the poet and dramatist José Zorrilla y Moral and home, briefly, to Cervantes while he was writing Don Quixote, at the start of the 17th century. It became the death place of Christopher Columbus. All these famous sons’ homes have become museums, and all are worth a look.

Also worth looking at is the cathedral, which resonates with centuries of devotion; it has a raw brick interior and gilt main and side altars. In the crypt below is a museum that features ecclesiastical riches such as a diamond-encrusted crown for Mary. It gives you some idea of the wealth and power of the church.

The religious theme continues at the Museo Nacional de Escultura, housed in one of the region’s best Flemish Gothic-style buildings. It has carvings by important figures of the Spanish Renaissance, including Alonso Berruguete and Gregorio Fernández. Also astonishing in its workmanship is the facade of the Iglesia de San Pablo.

Valladolid’s winters are harsh and its summers hot, so the city is ideal for an autumn or spring break – and these seasons also bookend the highlights of its year: Semana Santa, or Holy Week, in April, and the bull-fighting festival in September.

Valladolid comes alive during Semana Santa; its celebration of this holiday is one of Spain’s great traditions. The high point of the city’s tourist calendar, it includes silent processions as religious iconography is carried through the streets.

Then there is Valladolid’s role in Irish history. This is where Red Hugh O’Donnell fled after being defeated at the Battle of Kinsale. He came looking for more aid from the Spanish crown, which at the time of his arrival was based in Valladolid. He met with the king and, believing him to be onside, departed again for Ireland. En route he heard that further aid would not be forthcoming. He turned back to remake his case to the king. But history had other plans. O’Donnell died in the hilltop hamlet of Simancas, 15km from the city, a victim of tapeworm. It seems tragic that a man who made such a daring escape from Dublin Castle died so prosaically. (Another school of thought that claims he was poisoned; neither cause of death is substantiated.)

Inside the front door of the castle, high on the wall, is a bronze plaque that states, in Irish and Spanish, that this is where he died. As a Donegal woman for whom O’Donnell’s escapades were painted theatrically large by enthusiastic teachers, viewing the plaque was as close as this writer got to paying her respects.

Not everyone has such heartfelt feelings about the Donegal prince. Basically, he was a fiery warmonger, says Ciaran O’Scea, doctor of history at UCD. “He didn’t have the calmness of Hugh O’Neill. After Kinsale, I would say, he panicked.”

It is said by some biographers that he was given a state funeral in Plaza Mayor, but others imagine he was more likely to have had a funeral fitting a man of his position. He was buried in a Franciscan monastery that fronted the square. Sadly, it was burned to the ground in the 19th century.

Although the anthem O’Donnell Abu says that O’Donnell “found on Spanish ground his final earthly home”, his burial site remains a mystery. There is a consensus among biographers and historians that his remains are underneath the buildings that replaced the monastery, but there are several of these. And to date no plaque marks his final resting place.

According to O’Scea, an urban myth says that if you give the owner of the rundown Café del Norte, on Plaza Mayor, a bottle of whiskey he will take you down to the cellar and show you where, it is said, the body of the prince of Tir Connaill lies.

As well as letting you play detective, the city is a gourmet’s delight that remains true to the Castilian style of cooking. To get a real flavour of what’s on offer visit the food market. Here cow’s nose sits cheek by jowl with butterflied pig snout, cockerel combs, suckling pig and lamb, goose barnacles, carmine-coloured prawns that cost €80 a kilo, and a writhing mass of snails that you imagine are trying to escape the confines of their display. It’s a ferment of old women and young couples haggling and outwitting each other for the choicest cuts.

Eating out is a casual affair. Valladolid has its share of upmarket restaurants, but it is far more atmospheric to pull up a stool in a tapas bar and graze. This is where the real action takes place. Los Zagales regularly wins awards for its offerings. The ham-hung interior doesn’t look much, but this place offers some of the finest nibbles in the city– to be washed down with local wines from Cigales, Ribera del Duero or Rueda et Toro.

The nightly paseo is when locals take to the streets to walk, sip coffee and people-watch. The tradition makes a vital contribution to the heart of the city, with natives heading for its bars and restaurants when the day’s work is done.

And when all the culture, history and bar hopping gets too much you can let off a little steam at the local stadium. Real Valladolid are a Primera Liga outfit who compete with megateams such as Real Madrid and European champions Barcelona in a rowdy and colourful shouting and singing match. Let the blue language turn your lungs pink.


5 places to stay

Mélia Recoletos. Acera de Recoletos, 00-34-983- 216200, spain/valladolid. A great boutique-style hotel on Campo Grande, within sneezing distance of the train station and town and complete with cocktail bar and outdoor terrace.

Meliá Olid.Plaza San Miguel, 00-34-983- 357200, spain/valladolid. A sister hotel to the Recoletos, the Olid is centrally located and clean – if a little heavy on the marble interiors.

Sercotel Felipe IV. Gamazo, 00-34-983-307000, A simple and well-situated hotel just off the city-side of Campo Grande. Rooms are plain and functional.

Hotel Imperial.Calle del Peso, 00-34-983-330300, Very basic accommodation, but the location is excellent, in the historic city centre.

Parador de Tordesillas.Carretera de Salamanca, Torsedillas, 00-34-983-770051, ptordesillas. A regional manor house with a swimming pool in the nearby town of Torsedillas. It’s a perfect place to base yourself for the September Toro de la Vega. It is 24km from Valladolid.

5 places to eat

La Parilla de San Lorenzo.Calle Pedro Niño, 00-34-983-335088,

Descend the stone steps of this 16th-century former monastery into an atmospheric grill house where the speciality is shockingly young milk-fed lamb baked in a wood oven.

Los Zagales.Calle Pasión, 00-34-983-380892, The bar of prize-winning Los Zagales is packed at weekends, as the jamon-decorated interior is home to the best tapas in town. Animated eaters eat pinchos – small skewers – for as little as €2.50 a plate.

Braseria Molino Rojo.Calle Gabilondo, 00-34-983-231946. Braseria Molino Rojo is where the bullfighters go after the Toro de la Vega to discuss their kill during the fiesta. Lots of shouting and slapping of backs accompanies a menu of stuffed rabbit and duck. The walls are covered in photographs, dating back to the 1940s, of famous bullfighting moments, and the owner is pictured in most standing next to the toreadors.

Mesón Cervantes. Calle del Rastro, 00-34-983-306138. After exploring the museum home of Cervantes, why not retire for a smorgasbord of all things Catalan? Try the veal scaloppine Don Quixote or arroz con liebre, a seasonal dish of herby rice and roasted rabbit.

La Buena Moza.Calle de Cascajares, 00-34-983-299682, A swish restaurant set in the shadow of the cathedral. A great place for a long lunch of the menú del dia followed by a postprandial walk around the historic quarter.

5 places to go

Museo Nacional de Escultura.Colegio de San Gregorio, Calle Cadenas de San Gregorio, 00-34-983-250375,

The National Museum of Sculpture, in the old Colegio de San Gregorio, has one of Spain’s best collections of religious sculptural art, spanning the 15th to 18th centuries.

Museo Patio Herreriano.Calle Jorge Guillén, 00-34-983-362771, An important collection of more than 800 works from the 20th and 21st centuries, including pieces by Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Julio González, José Sempere, Eduardo Chillida, Jorge Oteiza, Antoni Tápies and Esteban Vicente.

Castillo de Simancas. Calle Miravete, Simancas, 00-34-983-590750, Simancas Castle is a pockmarked limestone fortress where Red Hugh O’Donnell died. Inside the gates is a bronze plaque erected in his memory, with text in Spanish and Irish. Afterwards repair to the General Archive and read Red Hugh’s correspondence. Both castle and archive are open Monday to Friday from 8.15am to 2.30pm, except for the feast days listed on the website. Simancas is about 15km from Valladolid.

Details of buses that can transport you there are listed under the “Cómo llegar” on the right-hand side of the site.

Boat trip on Pisuerga river from Parca de las Morenas. 00-34-983-350766,

Get a different perspective on Valladolid with a boat trip down the river on the Legend of the Pisuerga. On the water the pace of life is even slower than in the city.

Museo Casa de Cervantes. Calle del Rastro, 00-34-983-308810, Pay your respects to Cervantes with a visit to his one-time home, which is now a museum. Its design and layout, with sunken gardens and terrace, will delight interioristas as well as the literary set. Casa Cervantes was home briefly to the writer in 1603. He published El Ingenioso Hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha( Don Quixoteto you and me) with the help of Francisco de Robles, a bookseller from Alcala, who had set up shop in 1601 on the city’s Calle de la Librería.

Hot spot

Playa de las Moreras, the fake beach on the edge of the Pisuerga river, is a hot new addition to city life. Rent a deck chair and stay cool as temperatures soar. In high season the nearby outdoor gym is like Miami’s South Beach – perfect for people-watching. Glamorous women eschew shorts in favour of short skirts to run, jog, lift iron and look good. And as for the men...

Shop spot

The city offers well-priced sartorial delights not easily found at home. Choose from national hero Adolfo Dominguez or Bimba y Lola, Zara’s upmarket older sister. The boutiques along Calles de Maria de Molína and Héroes Alcazarde Toledo offer chic clothing and alluring accessories for pocket-friendly prices as well as the cache of the folks at home not having access to it. Adolfo Dominguez: Calle Héroes Alcázar de Toledo, 00-34-983-353212, Bimba y Lola: Calle Héroes Alcázar de Toledo, 00-34-983-374201,

When to go

Semana Santa(March 28th to April 4th, 2010): Holy Week in Valladolid and, in particular, the Good Friday procession showcase the best of Castilian religious sculpture. It is the highlight of the tourist calendar.

Toro de la Vegais a September festival in which a bull is sacrificed in the streets of nearby Tordesillas. The festival, which predates bullfighting as we know it, starts the Tuesday after September 8th.

Semana Internacional de Cine. The International Film Festival, in October, sees film buffs and actors descend on the province’s capital. This year the city streets were lined in red carpet for all the citizens to enjoy their very own film-star moment.

Go there

Aer Lingus ( and Iberia ( fly from Dublin to Madrid, an hour’s train ride from Valladolid ( You could also fly to Valladolid with Ryanair (, via London Stansted, from Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Derry, Kerry, Knock or Shannon.

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