Outdoor activities in Salamanca

Hadley1

By Hadley Stein, Spring 2013

 

I love all outdoor activities and here are some  I discovered during my semester in Salamanca. Even though Salamanca is a city, there is so much nature to explore both inside (and right around) the city as well as tons of activities a little farther afield.

I went biking with friends along the bike path, which follows the river for a while and is perfect if you want any easy, flat ride for just a couple hours or even shorter. We also followed roads that went outside the city and just explored. Biking is great if you want to get a sense of the layout of the city and the residential areas that are a little farther afield. The parks near Villamayor Golf are beautiful and a perfect picnic spot with benches and picnic tables along the river. It’s less crowded than the riverside on a sunny day in Salamanca with beautiful wildflowers in the late spring.

I went hiking twice in La Alberca, a small town about an hour away from Salamanca in the Sierra de Francia mountain range. There are three great day hikes I discovered there: Ruta de las Raices, Las Batuecas, Peña de Francia and tons of other smaller trails that you can easily explore in a couple of hours. Peña de Francia is the tallest peak in the range – a fun hike, with great views and a lot of switchbacks. Go up to the summit for a great view of the sunset; there is a restaurant and chapel at the summit open during the day. La Alberca is perfect for an easy weekend trip. There is a bus that costs just less than seven Euros and will stop right in the center of La Alberca; however, it only runs 1-2 times a day. If you ask the driver when you get on the bus, they will also stop at Albereka, the hotel I stayed at both times (see below), which is right before you enter the town. The trails are beautiful, not very crowded and well marked. Be sure to stop by the Casa del Parque at the base of the trail to Las Batuecas. You can get maps and trail information there.

            Over the course of five days during my spring vacation, I walked a little over 100km of the Camino de Santiago to the main Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. I started in a small town called Sarria (accessible from Santiago de Compostela by bus), which is where many people start because in order to get a certificate of completion you must walk 100km or more. I went on the trip alone and would highly recommend it to absolutely anyone. Some people I met were travelling with one other person, and there were a couple families, but travelling alone was very common. Thousands and thousands of people from all over the world do part of the Camino each year, for all different reasons and for varying lengths of time. I personally did not go for religious reasons, and the people I met along the way were doing it for a mix of spiritual, wanting to be outdoors and religious motivations. As a girl, I never once felt unsafe, even when walking early in the morning before the sun had fully risen. The trail is well marked with yellow arrows, so it is hard to get lost. Even the first week of April, during what is considered the low season, I would rarely walk for more than an hour before running into someone else. It was a beautiful way to see the Galician countryside – which is a lot greener (and rainier) than Salamanca. I was able to meet and walk with other pilgrims that I met along the way. You walk from one small town to the next and it is easy to stay at hostels all along the way with no advance planning needed. At most have names of hostels you have read good reviews of and a destination the night you arrive, but reservations are not necessary, and many places do not take them at all. The municipal hostels (which you need a credential to stay in) are just five euros a night and they provide you will a sheet, but you’ll need to bring a sleeping bag. The municipal hostels fill up the fastest, especially during busier times (i.e. the summer); however, I highly recommend them because you’ll often see the same pilgrims from one night to the next. On my final night in the city, I ended up getting tapas and drinks with 10-12 Spanish people I had met along the way.

            I went on two hiking trips through the University of Salamanca. I highly recommend them, especially to start out because they really give you a sense of what outdoor activities are available nearby at a very good price (full day trips cost 17 euros). Trained guides from the university led the trips; in my experience they have all been incredibly nice and are very familiar with the area. The nice thing is that you start and end in different locations – so you are never tracing your steps on the way back and get to see more countryside. There are generally two guides per trip. The trips are open to anyone in Salamanca, both inside and outside the university community and are capped at about fifty people – one bus. While there were some students, there are also many young professionals and adults on the trips. I went on the trips alone both times and met people and talked to people the whole time, however, many people came in groups of friends and I would highly recommend that as well if you have friends that like to hike. While it is a large group, after the first hour or so people all hike at different paces, so it doesn’t feel like such a large group. The University regularly updates the schedule online and trips do sell out, so be sure to check the website often if you’re interested in going on one. In order to enroll, you must go to the office of the Departamento de Deportes of the Universidad de Salamanca, which is behind the Facultad de Geografia e Historia (Plaza San Bartolomé) to sign up and pay.

            I also took a five-day long rock climbing (escalada deportiva) class through the University. The University has a climbing wall at the gym that is across from Campus Unamuno. It was a great way to meet more students (the class is capped at ten people) at the University, practice my Spanish, learn a new vocabulary and learn to do something that I had never done before. There was one other international student in the class and the teacher was incredibly patient with us and worked to make sure we understood what was happening and were taking the right safety precautions, etc. All the materials (ropes, helmets, etc.) were provided and the only optional thing, which I did not end up buying, were climbing shoes – thin sneakers seemed to work just fine for the course. At the end of the class you can choose to take a test in order to be able to come back to the rock climbing wall and climb without teacher supervision and you will receive a certificate of completion. I did not end up taking the test because I took the class towards the end of the semester and did not want to invest in all the equipment necessary in order to come back, but it was such a fun experience and I received climbing invites after from people I’d met in the class.

 

Below you will find links to some of the resources I mentioned above. Happy adventures!!

 

Biking:

http://www.bikecicletassalamanca.com/

 

This place is right around the corner from the Facultad de Geografía e Historia right in the center of town. You can rent bicycles by the hour, half-day and day. There is a student discount so be sure to ask for it. Everyone that works there is incredibly nice and the bikes are well maintained. The bikes come with helmets, locks and baskets. You don’t need to sign up for a yearly membership like you need to do for the city bike program.

 

Bus schedule to La Alberca:

http://www.laalberca.com/autobuses.html

 

The hotel we stayed at in La Alberca:

http://www.albereka.com/bungalows-la-alberca

 

This is a fantastic, family-run place; I stayed here both times I went. They are great about telling you how to find the trails and let us come early and stay past checkout both times. Four of us stayed comfortably in the bungalow both times. It is about a mile walk from the center of town and some of the main trailheads, but is nice because you can cook and store food. We packed groceries we bought in Salamanca. Be sure to bring dish soap, paper towels, trash bags, etc. because they do not provide any of those things.

 

Casa del Parque:

http://www.miespacionatural.es/node/311

This website provides some basic information (opening times, etc.) on the Casa del Parque, which for a small donation has great trail maps. You can also buy topographic maps at the bookstore right across from the Facultad de Geografía e Historia, especially if you want some that include some of the other surrounding small towns.

 

Website for the Camino de Santiago:

http://caminodesantiago.consumer.es/

 

This is a Spanish website; it is incredibly informative. However, if you Google around you’ll see that there are tons of websites and blogs with some great information out there. I printed out the summaries of each day (here they are referred to as stages or “etapas”), which I would read the night before so that I had a sense of what I could expect the next day.

 

Credentials:

You can get your credential at the archdiocese in Salamanca – the Obispo de Salamanca, which is right behind the Convento de San Esteban. If you go into the building (Calle del Rosario, 0) they have them right at the reception desk for one Euro. While they aren’t necessary for doing the Camino, it is fun to collect stamps from all the places you stopped along the way (restaurants, hostels, churches, other points of interest, etc.) In order to get a certificate once you get to Santiago, you need to walk at least 100km and have two stamps from each day, from different towns. This is there way of verifying that you walked there and did not take a car, etc. There are also bikers along the way – sometimes the trail is not groomed enough for bikers so many end up biking along the main roads during long stretches, but it is a great bike trip as well, and the roads – even main roads – are generally quiet until quite close to the city.

 

Hiking group at USAL (grupo de senderismo):

http://campus.usal.es/~deportes/naturaleza1.php

From this website you can also see the other outdoors activities they offer through the university. Depending on the time of year there is also kayaking, canoeing, skiing, rock climbing, etc. Each activity provides a detailed description in PDF form, which outlines the necessary skills, difficult level, required materials, etc.

 

Cursos Extraordinarios:

http://212.128.129.103:666/servlet/Cext.Cext?usuario=Cext&clave=

This is the site you use in order to sign up for Escalada Deportiva and other courses offered through the university. You can pay online with a credit card but after paying the student rate you must email the office a scanned copy of your USAL ID in order to verify your student status. In my experience, classes can sell out far in advance.