As a Pilgrim, Leon was one of my favorite places along the Camino Frances. It is a beautiful city and I wished I had more time to explore it properly. However, I arrived before lunch so I did have the rest of the day to wander. Leon is what I’d call a medium sized city that has a small town feel to it in some parts. The city has Roman roots (apparently, it was founded as a military encampment around 29 BC). Thanks to its rich history, Leon has beautiful architecture ranging from city walls to churches. Much of what you’d want to see is concentrated in the centre so it doesn’t take too long to get a feel for the area. But if you can, just stroll around, take your time, and soak it in. When you’re tired, there are a plethora of restaurants, bars, and cafes from which to choose so this is a good place to try a non-Pilgrim menu meal (I had paella). If you have some Spanish, try to eat in one of the many charming side streets as you’ll find more traditional Spanish food there rather than along the main arteries leading towards the Cathedral which would cater more to tourists. Here are some random photos of the city of Leon that I took while wandering around taking in the sights:
In terms of lodgings, Leon has several albergues, including one run by nuns, and many other options such as hotels. However, for something a little different, this is a great time to splurge on something fantastic: the San Marcos Parador. A grand example of Renaissance Spanish architecture, it was constructed in the 16th century, replacing a 12th century monastery. Its historical function was a resting place for pilgrims travelling along the Way. Today, now a luxury hotel, the Parador honors its history by granting Pilgrims an excellent discounted rate. You will need to call ahead (I called the day before and it was fine) and will need to show your Pilgrim’s passport in order to get that discount. To further reduce the cost, grab a fellow Pilgrim to split with you (the rooms are plenty big enough and you can request two beds). Make sure you leave time before or after your exploration of the city to wander the actual hotel – there is plenty to discover, including a cloister, a consecrated church, a reading room, plenty of ornately carved façades and statues, and lovely hallways! Make sure you stay for the breakfast the next day. In fact, to do that buffet breakfast justice, don’t plan on leaving the hotel before 9am! I actually wasn’t on the road until 10am! Hands down, the best breakfast I’ve ever had at a hotel.
The Santa Maria de León Cathedral is one of three important cathedrals along the Camino Frances (the other two are in Burgos and Santiago). It is said to be the finest example of French-style classic Gothic architecture in Spain. You should get a sello here and the cathedral itself is definitely worth a look, especially for the abundance of stained glass, many of which date from the 13th to 15th century. The museum within the Cathedral has a large collection of sacred art.