They are neither among the most popular monuments in Spain, nor a major tourist attraction, but the string of gothic cathedrals dotted along the Iberian Peninsula well deserve a detour to explore the history and cultural wealth stored under their vaults.
Their thick stone walls have witnessed the urban landscape evolution that has taken place around them since the 13th century and coexist with other temples that are meant to satisfy more mundane needs. These were built to feed and quench the thirst of thousands of pilgrims on their way to Santiago who stop by the cathedrals of Burgos, León and Toledo, three of the most important medieval buildings in Spain.
This route follows the path of these cathedrals and their surrounding areas, where visitors can find excellent bars and restaurants -small pieces of heaven on earth- offering a local, genuine selection of tapas and wines. Three people who know their cities well recommend their favourite spots to eat and drink.
In his Twitter profile, Paco Berciano describes himself as a “long-term vintner”. He is the owner of Vinoteca El Lagar, one of the first specialist wine shops in Spain, and is involved in Alma Vinos Únicos, which distributes and imports quality wines. Below are his favourite tapas places, all of them located near Burgos cathedral, World Heritage Monument since 1984 and final resting place of El Cid Campeador and his wife Jimena.
La Favorita. Avellanos, 8. Tel. +34 947 20 59 49. Wines by the glass and tapas are the main attractive at the lively pretty bar and charcoal-cooked dishes made with good quality ingredients is the option at the restaurant. Check the excellent Joselito hand-sliced ham, mayonnaise salad -called Russian salad in Spain- lobster in tempura, sirloin and foie pincho and sardine sandwich. The list of wines by the glass changes regularly on the blackboard and includes wines from Burgos as well as from other areas.
La Cantina del Tenorio. Arco del Pilar, 10. Delicious pinchos and platters on offer and a wide selection of wine bottles are kept in a temperature-controlled cellar in full view of the patrons. Roast potatoes are a must-try, as well as the Esla Valley mini-burgers, Burgos black pudding, churrasquito (barbecued steak) and torpedos (king praws in rice batter). The restaurant offers homemade dishes and seasonal produce. Very pleasant, reasonably priced place.
Casa Pancho. San Lorenzo, 13. Tel. +34 947 20 34 05. A small but busy pedestrian street houses a wonderful bar full of pinchos and people. Ask for a cojonudo (with chorizo) or cojonuda (with black pudding) – they are both invariably good. Other pinchos worth trying are the mushroom, the anchovies, stuffed peppers or black pudding. The wine list is good and includes several wines by the glass.
El 24 de La Paloma. La Paloma, 24. Tel. +34 947 20 86 08. Located right next to the cathedral, this restaurant offers a mix of traditional and modern food served by elegant, extremely kind waiters. It also features an interesting wine list. Right next door is 22 La Paloma, with a very correct if small pincho offer.
El Huerto de Roque. Santa Águeda, 10. Tel. +34 947 27 87 93. Located very close to the cathedral. it offers an excellent daily menu for 15€ made with fresh seasonal produce and controlled creativity. The wine list is good and reasonably priced. There is also a pincho bar.
Luis Peique is the director of Bodegas Peique, a project launched in 1999 although the family tradition goes back three generations. Along with brother Jorge and the rest of the family, they grow 40 hectares of old Mencia vines and a small amount of Godello which go into seven different bottlings. The winery is located in Valtuille de Abajo, in the heart of Bierzo, around 120 kilometres from León.
The former capital of the kingdom boasts one of the most beautiful gothic cathedrals in Spain, started in the 12th century and inspired in the Reims cathedral, just as its predecessor in Burgos. Over 700 stained glass windows, most of them dating from the 13th to the 15th century, let the light through into the church, where thousands of pilgrims gather on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
Luis, who knows the city well, recommends several places where he usually takes his friends. All the addresses are located in the medieval quarter, around the cathedral and the Barrio Húmedo:
La Trastienda del 13. Ancha, 1. Tel. +34 987 00 73 33. This trendy vintage-style bistro lies next to the cathedral and offers an interesting and attractive menu with sushi, sashimi and tataki dishes for around 14 euros. The wine list is funky and creative and leans heavily towards local wines from León and Bierzo. Typical tapas are salads, cold cuts of meat such as chorizo and sausage, garlic soup in winter and a tomato-based cold soup called salmorejo from spring onwards. It is at this time of the year, when the sun starts to shine after the cold winter, when punters flock to the outside tables to relax while enjoying a first-class view of the cathedral. Pleasant surroundings and good service.
La Bienquerida. Del Pozo, 2 Tel. +34 987 075508. Located at the entrance to Barrio Húmedo, this cool gastrobar is a two-minute walk from the cathedral. The decor is clearly 80s and features a large ceiling mirror which adds depth to the premises. The central location attracts a young crowd who meet at the restaurant and bar to sample innovative recipes based on traditional dishes. Tapas on offer include sushi, bacon rashers, stews, calamari and paella. Another option is the daily menu, which costs 14 euros. The wine list is ample and includes some interesting references. There is an adjoining hotel, called Le Petit León. In the sping, punters can sit outside, at the large but cosy terrace.
Adolfo Muñoz is the man behind Grupo Adolfo, a culinary empire with restaurants in Japan, Madrid and Toledo, a cooking school, a patisserie, a winery and a couple of lodgings in this city. Despite its size, the business is still family-run, with Adolfo at the helm helped by his wife and three children.
He is an ambassador for Toledo, whose cathedral ranks among the greatest French gothic masterpieces. It stands on the site of an old Arab mosque, which itself had replaced a Visigothic temple. The inside features a spectacular Baroque altar and works by Caravaggio, Tiziano, Van Dyck, Goya, Rubens and El Greco, whose 400th death anniversary is being celebrated with a large exhibition throughout 2014 and for whom Adolfo Muñoz has prepared a special menu. His daughter Verónica, who is the group's PR manager, explains what's on offer at two of their establishments.
Colección Perdiz. Reyes Católicos, 7 Tel. +34 925 25 29 19. Located in the touristy Jewish quarter of Toledo, between the Tránsito and the Santa María La Blanca Sinagogues. There is a large variety of tapas on offer, many of them sourced locally, in the Castilla-La Mancha region. A great option is carcamusas from Toledo, made with pork, peas and boiled or fried potatoes. The star dish is the famous perdiz (partridge) served on its own juices and with a final touch of pure olive oil from Adolfo's local vineyards at Cigarral Santa María.
Colección Catedral. Nuncio Viejo, 1 Tel. +34 925 22 42 44. This modern gastrobar is located in Toledo's Historical Quarter, opposite the cathedral and next to the city's town Hall. The informal layout includes high chairs from which clients can watch the open kitchen. Huevos rotos (fried broken eggs) is their most popular dish and it comes with chips and deer meat, wild mushrooms or cod. There are over 250 references in the wine list, including their home-made Pago del Alma red, made in the only urban vineyard in Spain.