Soria, lying about three hours drive south of Bilbao, was our stopover en route to our homebound ferry. It is described as being in north-central Spain in the region known as Castille y Léon. Francine had become fascinated by the area when, from the autopista, we saw snow-capped mountains in the distance off the starboard bow. 🙂 We had debated the length of our stay, one night or two, and chose two. Francine had trawled through booking.com and discovered that Soria has a Parador.
“What’s a Parador?”, I hear you ask. Good question. Well, a Parador is usually described as being a kind of luxury hotel, most often in a converted historic building such as a monastery or castle. The Paradores are state run. Parar is Spanish for to stop, halt or stay. The Parador in Soria is a little different from the norm, though, being a modern building with floor to ceiling glass, built atop a hill overlooking the valley in which Soria sits.
On a few journeys through Spain, we have stopped. halted or stayed in one very decent hotel (La Vid) on one occasion but our other stops, halts or stays have been, shall we say, on the more basic side. Once when travelling back alone, Francine having returned for the classic family emergency, I found myself scratching my head wondering how to gain entry to one such basic accommodation, just a stone’s throw from Bilbao. My dinner that night was the result of a raid on a Dia supermercado, which there is nothing particularly super about. It served a purpose but that’s about it. Other stops, halts or stays have been perfectly adequate but we fancied a little more of a treat. Besides, it would be Monday again (remember Monday restaurant difficulties) and the Parador would have a very decent restaurant. We pushed the boat out and booked in to stop, halt or stay in relative luxury for two nights. Spend the kids’ inheritance, why not? Wait a minute, we don’t have any kids to inherit. 😉
We arrived in Soria and, following strategically placed Parador signs, wound our way up a 12% [a.k.a. 1 in 8] hill, round a series of hairpin bends to reception. Part way up, Francine yelled “orchid”, which she’d spotted in the grass of the verge. I concentrated on the hairpins but I could guess where our first sortie on foot would be heading. After 5 or 6 hairpins, we arrived at the Parador.Joy: car parking spaces, park grounds with grass and trees plus the odd ruin or two, sun, cloudless skies, an open door, a welcoming young lady on reception. This was beginning to feel like the way to do it.
Time to try a bit more Spanish: “tenemos un reservación”, I ventured. Completely unnecessary, of course, Miss Delightful’s English was far better than our stilted and very limited Spanish is ever likely to be. Still, it showed a willingness to try, though, which, we know from extensive French travels, often helps. Relative luxury, Paradores may have but this one did not have a currently functioning key-card machine. Miss Delightful had to accompany Francine up to our room to let her in while I went to get our bags from the car. A replacement key-card machine was on its way.
I should point out that, whilst Soria may sit in a valley, the valley floor is at an altitude of roughly 1100m/3500ft – that’s higher than the top of Snowdon in North Wales, for any countrymen who fancy a handy yardstick – hence the snow-capped peaks at some times of year. Francine read that Soria is known as one of the coldest places in Spain with 90 days of frost per year.
We were not now suffering frost; we were enjoying sun and warmth. Through the floor to ceiling glass of our greenhouse-like balcony, our view of the valley was splendid. We could clearly see the communications tower on the hill to the left of the valley, an array of four further towers atop the hill to the right, and the strategically placed factory blotting the landscape straight ahead of us at the end of the valley, the end from which we had approached. Still, modern necessities and the need to put industry on the flatter parts of Spain which may be in relatively short supply, I suppose. It wasn’t unpleasant but it did seem a shame. As we sat drinking our bottle of vino, five Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus) with wings like barn doors entertained us by drifting across the hill to our right and getting a bird’s eye view of the array of four towers. Whilst not being a proper panorama, this approximation may give the idea.
What we didn’t know before we arrived was that Soria is on the Riu Duero. (That’s it, not lining up with itself in the bottom of the non-panorama above.) In fact, Soria is near the beginning of this lengthy river. It flows south, then turns west twisting its way towards neighbouring Portugal, where, as the Douro, it serves as the border between the two countries for ~100km before nipping west again and out into the Atlantic through Porto. Some river. It might have odonata. 😉
What we knew from griffon-vulture-eyed Francine’s observation on our way up, was that the hillside had at least one orchid. We set off to investigate, beginning in the park grounds. Francine soon spotted an orchid spike with white flowers growing beneath a tree: a Narrow-leaved Helleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia). This seemed to be a lone example; search as she might, she couldn’t find another.
We exited the hilltop park and began working our way downhill and round hairpins to roughly where Francine had yelled “orchid”. We were very impressed by the metal-framed and supported boardwalk which wound its way downhill alongside the road. What an effort of construction that had been. It kept the pedestrians out of the path of hairpin-negotiating cars, so was most welcome. Bravo, Spain! We did have to put ourselves in the path of cars, though, when we found the Francine-spotted Orchid. [Sorry, that was a bad orchid joke: Common-spotted/Francine-spotted.] Once we started looking, these were present in quite good numbers. Francine thinks this dark beauty is an Early Spider Orchid (Ophrys sphegodes); a new one for the collection so she was a very happy camper.
Continuing down the excellent boardwalk, we found two other species, both in quite good numbers: Barton’s Orchid (Dactylorhiza insularis) and White Helleborine (Cephalanthera damasonium). Barton’s Orchid was another addition to the catalogue – my happy camper was now a decidedly ecstatic camper.
Tearing ourselves away from the orchids eventually, we carried on down the boardwalk to arrive at the promenade fronting the river. It was early evening and the locals were out in force, enjoying the parkland beside the river banks Actually, some of the parkland was in the river, being on a small island. I did spot one damselfly, a Common Bluetail (Ischnura elegans), but I’ll leave that for later. Francine’s original thought had been to explore the surrounding area on the following day by car but we were both so impressed by what we’d now seen of the river at Soria, that we agreed it would be more relaxing just to explore locally on foot.
Walking back up the 12% boardwalk round five or six hairpin bends got the heart pumping, and our legs considerable practice for tomorrow.