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Grape escape Why a trip to Spain's largest region Castilla y Leon is to wine for

Teeming with delicious restaurants, stunning views and a plethora of vineyards to explore, Castilla y Leon has it all.

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Eimear at a vineyard in Toro, Castilla y Leon

Eimear at a vineyard in Toro, Castilla y Leon

Eimear at a vineyard in Toro, Castilla y Leon

WHEN you think of Spain, it is often followed by thoughts of sipping cocktails on a beach dotted along one of the costas. However, just two hours outside of Madrid lies the north-west region of Castilla y Leon and its wine routes Arribes and Toro. 

The region may be land-locked, but it is also steeped in history and surrounded by vineyards, breathtaking views, quaint villages and more ‘queso’ than even the most ardent cheese lover could want. It is a case of the path less travelled when it comes to the tourist mecca that is Spain and therefore ideal for someone looking for a peaceful and culturally unique trip.

The town centre of Toro and the ancient Plaza de Toro makes you feel like you have stepped back in time, albeit with the possibility of a drink at one of the outdoor bars. The centre’s pretty streets are quiet but all the more charming for it as you can enjoy a stroll down the main thoroughfare or a glass of wine while people watching without having to worry about large queues and huge crowds.

A big attraction in Toro is the towering 12th century Colegiata de Santa Maria la Mayor — home to Pórtico de la Majestad — a huge artwork featuring a representation of the Final Judgement.

It is also home to a treasure trove of historic relics such as part of the skull of St Valentine. We eased ourselves into three days of wine tasting and vineyard hopping with a trip to the Toro wine museum, Pagos Del Rey, where I got a first-hand experience of cellarthe work that goes into producing a bottle of their famous Tinto de Toro.

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The Colegiata de Santa Maria la Mayor

The Colegiata de Santa Maria la Mayor

The Colegiata de Santa Maria la Mayor

The Spanish are also renowned for their long meals and a siesta after lunch. That was certainly needed following my first restaurant experience in Castilla y Leon.

At Latarce, we got a crash course in Spanish cuisine with suckling roast pig and lamb on the menu. Even if baby animals are not a delicacy that you find appealing, this restaurant is definitely worth a visit for the croquettes with cheese and duck. The menu is in Spanish so translation is needed but the friendly staff are more than happy to recommend dishes.

In Ireland, if you wanted to stay in a luxury castle surrounded by nothing but beautiful scenery, you would need a fairly hefty budget. But in Toro, you can stay in the 19th century Hotel Castillo Monte La Reina for as little as €130 per night with the nine-bedroom castle available for rent for €750.

Toro also boats the only cheese museum in the region, Chillon, which documents how the making of sheep cheese has evolved over four generations of the family business.

We really got to see the full picture of wine production when we visited the Farina wine business, which is the oldest and biggest family winery in Toro.

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Eimear takes in the sights from the top floor of the Hacienda Zorita Natural Reserve hotel

Eimear takes in the sights from the top floor of the Hacienda Zorita Natural Reserve hotel

Eimear takes in the sights from the top floor of the Hacienda Zorita Natural Reserve hotel

The bustling venue was a hive of activity as they prepared for the start of their harvest and we enjoyed a walk around one of the 450 vineyards before a tour of the museum which includes paintings inspired by wine and a beautiful Crianza (just €11).

For a traditional Spanish lunch, visit Divina Proporción where €20 gets you a six-course set menu that includes the region’s speciality of Zamora rice as well as pig cheek and oxtail. For an extra €7 you get wine with your meal and there was a very relaxed atmosphere as groups of families and friends enjoyed a long and late lunch after an early Friday finish.

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Just over an hour outside Toro lies the 1,200-year-old medieval village of Fermoselle in Arribes Del Duero.
A guided tour of the town is definitely worth doing as is exploring how wine was made here with an underground tour of a traditional cellar. Wine tasting is also available in some of the cellars as part of the Arribes wine route.

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Eimear pressing grapes at the home of Jose and Lily

Eimear pressing grapes at the home of Jose and Lily

Eimear pressing grapes at the home of Jose and Lily

If staying in Fermoselle but not looking to go overboard on budget, Dona Urraca, a beautiful inn located in the heart of the village comes with a terrace area that gives you a fantastic vantage point from which to enjoy the scenery. Rooms are available from €60 per night including breakfast.

Just down the road from the hotel is the lively bar and restaurant La Enoteca del Marques, which offers traditional fare and wine from its well-stocked cellar, but also has an international selection. We were served mojitos and delicious BBQ burgers in their outdoor garden.

A highlight of the trip was a visit to the home of a couple — who followed the ultimate wine dream — spending time in California and Australia in order to hone their craft.

Jose and Lily invited us to their beautiful renovated farmhouse, where they live with their two daughters and two dogs, complete with a yard where their wine production business, Bodega El Hato y El Garabato, was in full swing.

The following day, I took a jaunt out to the Douro Canyon lookout, which you can do as part of a guided birdwatching visit. The visit also included a trip to the Mirador de las Barrancas (Las Barrancas lookout) where you are treated to amazing views of the Douro river.

Just a few minutes drive outside of the village of Fermoselle lies the beautiful Hacienda Zorita Natural Reserve. The accommodation provides 10 cosy rooms separated into two villas with many of the rooms overlooking vineyards. Bed and breakfast cost €150 per night, going up to €200 in July and August.

The Douro river is the natural boundary between Spain and Portugal.

I got to explore it more with a boat cruise to take in the beauty of the Arribes del Duero Natural Park from the river itself. There are plenty of stops along the way during which, if you’re lucky, you will see otters in their natural habitat, eagle nests and vertical cliffs.

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Toro ahead of its annual harvest festival

Toro ahead of its annual harvest festival

Toro ahead of its annual harvest festival

Castilla y Leon boasts the title of the biggest region in Europe with the smallest population. So, to me, that meant plenty to do with plenty of space to do it in. And it certainly doesn’t disappoint as you can enjoy walks around the endless vineyards, breathtaking sunsets and late, leisurely dinners in quiet restaurants.

But if you want a more active holiday, you will find plenty of history and culture to explore, not to mention wineries to visit.

I would recommend packing some headache tablets as it is almost impossible to avoid the dark lure of the region’s famous Tinto (red wine) and given how Fermoselle is known as the ‘village of 1,000 wineries’, it really would be rude to.

Travel factfile

Ryanair and Iberia fly daily from Dublin to Madrid, which is two hours from Toro by car or three hours on the train. Arribes Del Duero is 90 minutes further from Toro.

  • Eimear stayed at Hacienda Zorita Natural Reserve and Hotel Dona Urraca in Fermoselle and Hotel Castillo Monte La Reina in Toro.
  • See winetoursofspain.com


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