Depending on who you talk to, the ancient Roman-built road that once bisected western Spain and is now the core of a 625-mile-long tourist route, is either accurately named or it is not. Although generally called the Silver Route, some argue the corridor that runs from the country’s northern coast south to the city of Seville had little or nothing to do with the transport of Roman-mined silver.

Others say there is compelling evidence the route that now features modern paved highways should more accurately be called the Tin Way since history asserts the Romans did, in fact, mine considerable amounts of tin from the region. To further muddy the waters, the Silver Route in Spanish is called the Ruta de la Plata, a name that some say was unrelated to silver but instead was derived from the Arabic word, balata, meaning “paved.”

Discounting any debate over what it should rightly be called, today’s Silver Route whose link road was begun by the Romans in the 1st century A.D. embodies an overwhelming wealth of ancient monuments, grand cathedrals, stone aqueducts, castles and charming historical towns with compact cobblestone streets.

Also, while there are plenty of contemporary overnight accommodations, there is also an abundance of historic convents, castles and monasteries converted into delightful paradores. Overall, the Silver Route is rife with things to see and do in a region whose history is filled with conquests and defeats intermittently involving Phoenicians, Greeks, Celts, Visigoths, Arabs and Romans.

Among the Route’s extensive inventory of attractions, there are highlights that should not be missed beginning with the beautiful city of Salamanca. Originally founded by the Celts, it was later conquered in 217 B.C. by the intrepid Carthaginian military commander, Hannibal, prior to the arrival of the Romans. Today, inside the walled city’s Old Town section, many famous sites include a multi-arched stone bridge built by the Romans in the 1st century A.D., plus the town’s 12th century Old Cathedral and 16th century New Cathedral whose spires pierce the sky and can be seen from miles away. Salamanca’s 18th century Plaza Mayor (central square) is one of the largest and grandest in Spain and consistently bustles with activity from early morning until late at night. Rimmed with shops, bars and restaurants, locals fondly refer to the square as their “living room.” Salamanca is also a university town whose renowned school of learning dates back to the 13th century and is also one of the city’s architectural jewels. Overall, the Old Town area embodies an extensive maze of cobblestone streets lined with ancient buildings, some which now house contemporary shops and restaurants. In 1998, Salamanca was declared a UNESCO World Heritage City and in 2002 it was named the European Capital of Culture.

Further south along the Route, the walled city of Bejar is likewise endowed with outstanding historic architecture and is also home to the oldest bullring in Spain. Its most unusual feature–in fact the most unusual along the Silver Route–is the Moss Men of Bejar. Each June for the annual Corpus Christi Procession, six men get completely wrapped in moss-laden sods held together with fishing line. This is a centuries-old tradition that dates back to a time when conquering Arabs laid siege to what was then a Christian city. Legend has it that in order to rid Bejar of Muslim dominance, a group of local Christians devised a plan to don moss coverings in order to portray themselves as fearsome monsters. The plan worked and the intimidated Arabs vacated the city–a successful ploy that town citizens celebrate annually.

Salamanca and Bejar are just two of the ancient cities that punctuate the Silver Route. Others that are similarly engaging include Placencia, Caceres and certainly Seville where its famous 17th century bullring is among the oldest in Spain. However, the Route is much more than a one-dimensional history museum. In fact, it is filled with surprises such as the Monfrague National Park, a 45,457-acre protected natural habitat for Mediterranean wildlife. Regarded among the best bird watching locations in Europe, the park is the summer breeding grounds for a variety of vultures, eagles, black and white storks, the blue rock thrush, owls, eagles and red-rump swallows. In addition to a comprehensive interpretation centre, Monfrague’s varied landscape of woodlands, plains and river gorges is ideal for hiking and there are walking trails of varying duration from a half hour to a full day. Also within the park is an ancient stone castle of Arabic origin plus cave paintings considered among the best examples in the country.

The abundance of regional cuisine is also a large component of any tour of the Silver Route. Tourists can pretty much forget fast food outlets and sitting down for dinner at 6 or 7 pm. Spaniards have barely finished their lunch by this time and they certainly won’t be thinking about dinner until 9 or 10 pm. Some restaurants don’t even open in the evening until 8:30 p.m. Aside from long, long lunches and late, late dinners, the good news is that the cuisine is delightful. Tapas meals (a Spanish specialty) incorporate a variety of small portions of cold meats or cheeses, plus elaborately concocted hot dishes of seafood, meat or vegetables. Tapas is a meal often eaten standing at a bar rather than sitting at a table.

Overall, the Route embodies everything from casual restaurants to elegant dining spots and always a selection of excellent Spanish wines. Two obvious features of the Route’s regional cuisine are outstanding cheeses and the remarkable consumption of pork. Not a single part of the pig is wasted from snout to tail. At the top of the region’s pork ladder is the black-hoofed pig which provides what is arguably among the world’s best ham that is carved into paper thin slices and appears with eggs for breakfast, on plates of evening tapas, at lunch with crusty bread and as a dinner appetizer.

Travel Planner

Travel Planner: See
Getting there: Spain’s main airport is the Madrid Barajas International Airport. Several carriers fly to Madrid from Canadian gateways.
Access: Good paved highways lead from Madrid to any portion of the Silver Route. Distance and time to hook up with the Route depends on where individuals want to begin touring. The Route can be done in whole from top to bottom, bottom to top or, alternatively, a selected portion.

Related Posts