Astorga is an interesting town and I was happy to stop here for a sightseeing session despite the cold and rain. This was one of the places I did wish I had an umbrella but in lieu of that, I had a nap while I waited for the rain to stop. Naps are good. Especially on rainy days. Rain or no rain, though, it is worth a wander around. But granted, the cold rain did stop me from seeing everything – for example, I totally missed seeing the ancient city walls.
The history of the area dates back to the Bronze Age and Astorga itself was founded in 14BC as a Roman city. By the 11th century, it became a major stop on the Camino Frances and by the 15th century, construction began on the city’s cathedral. Astorga is also considered to be the European birthplace of chocolate (cacao bean brought to Spain by everyone’s favorite “explorer”, Hernán Cortés) and today, Astorga chocolate is still famous in the region.
What to See
Town Hall: It is 17th century and its most interesting feature is the bells in the middle tower. Make sure you take a look on the quarter/half/full hour as you’ll be treated to a little show. Or perhaps it’s a treat only for nerds like me…
Episcopal Palace: Seize the chance to explore this awesome 19th century building designed by Antoni Gaudí. It is one of only 3 Gaudí buildings outside of Catalonia. And is probably the cheapest one to see (when I was in Barcelona, I was shocked at how expensive it was to visit inside Gaudí buildings). The ticket price includes your entry fee to the Cathedral as well. The Episcopal Palace houses the Camino Museum and has an abundance of glorious stained glass. If you love unique architecture or stained glass, this is a must see.
Roman archaeological remains: Apparently there is a museum. Okay, okay. There is a museum but as my luck would have it, it was closed the day I was there. However, mosaics are still available for you to see as they are outside of the museum building itself. I was extra happy to see the mosaics as it was a taste of what I would be seeing in a few weeks (part two of my trip was to Turkey).
Cathedral of Santa María de Astorga: The cathedral is a mix of styles including Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance. It makes for an interesting structure, one that also houses various historical/religious artworks. Because if its red stone, the Cathedral is beautiful in late afternoon light or early morning light (assuming it isn’t cloudy or rainy!).
Mantecadas Velasco Chocolate Museum: Super random thing to do but worth a look. The museum is full of memorabilia and has a section on the history of chocolate as well as how to make chocolate. All signs are in Spanish, though. There is also a documentary that you can watch about chocolate making but that too is in Spanish. The museum does provide some tasting samples as well as an opportunity to buy some of the delicious chocolate and pretty postcards. The street on which the museum is situated was hard to find (it is a small side street) so pay attention as you hunt for it!
El Capricho Restaurante: I ended up having dinner here as it was not far from my albergue, off the main square, and there was the bonus of it displaying a Trip Advisor sticker. It turned out to be one of the better pilgrim’s menu I had – food was delicious, plentiful, and they gave me the entire wine bottle! Not that I drank it all… El Capricho features cocido maragato, food typical to the region so it was a good cultural experience as well.