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Home to Spain’s ‘Sistine Chapel’, Leon is also a great base for exploring the stunning countryside of the Picos de Europa National Park, the World Heritage listed Roman gold mines at Las Medulas and the winter resort of San Isidiro.
Leon’s two most important attractions are the cathedral and Basilica of San Isidro. The cathedral is a striking Gothic masterpiece and is famous for its two freestanding towers, its giant stained-glass windows and the Romanesque tombs in the transept. It also contains a fascinating museum. Spain’s ‘Sistine Chapel’ is contained within the Basilica of San Isidro’s walls. The frescoes in its underground crypt date from the 12th century and depict scenes from the Old and New Testament, with the original colours of the paint still brightly visible.
To conduct a walking tour of this ancient city, begin in the Plaza Mayor, which has among its baroque buildings the City Hall - from whose balconies nobles used to watch the city below. City Hall is bordered by the neighbourhood of San Martin, whose squares and streets contain gems such as the 10th century church of San Salvador de Palat del Rey and the Palace of Count Luna with its 14th century façade.
The streets of San Martin are home to Leon’s bars and restaurants where specialties like frog’s legs, rice pudding and maragato stew can be washed down with wines from El Bierzo.
Outside Leon there are many important sites, including the Maragatera region with the monastery of Santa Maria and the Roman gold mines of Las Medulas. To the northwest lies the Picos de Europa National Park, where old mountain villages appear between the beech tree forests. In Leon’s central mountains winter sports enthusiasts can also visit the San Isidro skiing resort.
León is served by eleven trains a day leaving from Madrid (duration: 4-5 hours). By road, head northwest from Madrid on the N-VI superhighway toward La Coruña. At Benavente, bear right onto the N-630.