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Thursday, July 03, 2014 (read 921 times)

Bodegas around Salamanca

by David

If you happen to be driving around Salamanca and Castilla y León, you may notice something like sand dunes or mound formations around some villages. Around here there aren't any sand dunes nor are there any unexcavated prehistoric mound cities sprinkled around the countryside. What you are probably observing are the many subterranean bodegas that have been an important part of the culture around these parts for centuries.

A bodega is the term used to identify a place where wine is produced and not that long ago, people around these parts used to make their own wine. Many still do but not on the scale as before. After the Civil War, when food was scarce, people living in the country had to take up subsistence farming to feed their families and those people that had caves used them to make and store the wine and the conserves they would eat and drink during the next year.

Today the caves aren't used so much for wine making anymore but as places for families and friends to get together to enjoy a nice afternoon or evening together. Since the temperature of a bodega is around 60ºF (15.5ºC), having a bodega to go to and escape the scorching sun is a very good thing indeed.

Curiously, there are the different levels of condition you will find these Bodegas in. Some are without lighting and running water (many, in fact) while others feel almost like a home away from home with lighting and plumbing. Most bodegas have a simple floor that is carved from the soft rock but there are also some bodegas where the owners have put in tile or wood floors increasing the level of comfort considerably.

If you find yourself in a small village that happens to have some nearby bodegas—you can tell because you'll see the aforementioned mounds around town plus you will notice doorways that lead directly into the ground—don't be shy about getting something to drink in the local bar (every village has at least one bar)and asking about them. More often than not, you will find a willing neighbor that will be more than happy to take you down to their bodega to show you (and show off). Many times, the bodegas are a source of family pride and an example of the effort and hard work that has gone into making their lives better since most bodegas were carved out by hand.

If you aren't fortunate enough to find someone willing to show you their bodega, there are plenty of restaurants that exist in converted bodegas. These restaurants are more common than you may think and they are a great way to get to know local cuisine and local history. Around Salamanca there are a couple of places that come to mind that offer the visitor this kind of experience: El Perdigón in Zamora and Valdevimbre in León.

El Perdigón is about 40 minutes north of Salamanca along the Ruta de la Plata, 6 miles south of Zamora. This town, eternally linked to the Viscount of Garcigrande, has a population of less than 800 people and is a typical Zamoran agricultural village. What will surprise you is the large number of bodega-restaurants. There are around 13 restaurants that are all underground and waiting for you. Typical food from Zamora is roast baby lamb, all kinds of beef, cheese, cured meats and octopus. After filling yourself up here, you can stop by the local distillery and buy a bottle of orujo (Spanish pomace brandy similar to grappa) or licor de hierbas (an herb-infused orujo) which are great for the digestion.

If we continue on the Ruta de la Plata for another hour or so, we will get to Valdevimbre in the province of León. Right in the heart of the Tierra de León wine growing region, we will find another quaint Spanish village similar to El Perdigón. About 10 miles south of the Roman-founded city of León, this little village goes all out to bring the hearty and flavorful cuisine from León to life. A specialty of this town is the tortilla guisada. Like the traditional tortilla, this is a thick egg and potato omelet, but what makes this different is that the tortilla is passed to a ceramic dish and blended with a hearty broth and vegetables like peppers and onions. It is then finished in the oven and brought to your table piping hot. Other local specialties include cecina which is a salted and cured beef (there are also other kinds of cecina like goat, horse, rabbit and hare) that is an absolute delicacy. Lamb, beef and salted cod or bacalao are also dishes that can't miss here.

These are just two towns around Salamanca where you can explore a lesser known aspect of daily Spanish living.  There is also a well known bodega in Aranda de Duero, Burgos that actually winds underneath the city itself. The Bodega de Don Carlos has 4 miles of passageways and a capacity of up to 6500 bottles of wine. For a small fee you can tour the bodega and for a few euros more they will include a wine tasting.

Wherever you go, you should try to visit one of these historic local landmarks that testify to the effort that people have made to make their lives a little bit better.

Keywords: bodega,salamanca,salamanca spain,bodegas,zamora,zamora spain

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