Now the beautiful city of Leon is within a stone throw. After Reliegos, the Way of St. James takes you through Mansilla de las Mulas, another popular end of stage before reaching Leon. Mansilla de las Mulas is a bigger village, already influenced by the proximity of a city. Pilgrims will find in Mansilla all the common services that one pilgrim might be looking for. Just after leaving Mansilla de las Mulas one has the feeling that he’s also leaving the “meseta” and its endless flat cereal fields behind. The reason for that is the sight of the irrigated fertile and green valley of the river Esla that comes down towards the river Duero from the peaks of Asturias. Fields of poplars for wood production are very common around this area too. Further down in between, Villamoros de Mansilla and Puente de Villarente there is the river Porma, a tributary of river Esla, and therefore the same greenery continues.
After those villages the Camino de Santiago goes through some other dormitory villages very close already to Leon. The last stretch before Leon, as the entry to every big city, is a bit painful walking on the side of big and busy roads. However this one is not as bad as the entry to Burgos which is by far the worse of the whole Camino de Santiago. I remember that at some point I decided to give a try to hitchhike and the first car that came gave me a lift into the center of the city breaking again the rules of a strict pilgrimage. However the ride was very nice because the two lads were such characters. They were explaining me how they supported the independence of Leon from Castile, and that if Leon had to be with some other province to form a Spanish autonomous region those should be Asturias and maybe Zamora instead of the rest of Castilian provinces. They were also complaining that under the current autonomous division, i.e. being part of the autonomy of Castile and Leon, Valladolid, the capital in Castilian territory was getting all the power and money. All this might not make sense to a foreigner reader but it’s a good example to illustrate that in Spain no matter how small they are every community wants to be independent from something bigger. There’ll be still more examples to come later in Camino de Santiago.
Now let me add just a bit of history for this specific case. In the Middle Ages when the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula began there were 5 Christian kingdoms: Aragon, Navarre, Castile, Leon and Portugal. So from that starting point, Castile and Leon weren’t quite the same, actually they were enemies for a long time. At the beginning Leon was the most powerful kingdom but after some centuries both kingdoms merged by marriage alliances.
And finally the promised city of Leon, the end of “la meseta”, fascinating medieval architecture, typical fiesta, tapas and wine quartiers, and, maybe, a bit more of luxury to make a break in the austere pilgrim’s life. I won’t even try to make a summary of Leon’s attractions or landmarks or history, that’d be too much for these short stories that I’m writing. However I’ll just add two notes. The impressive Gothic cathedral of Leon must be visited for it’s one of the finest examples of the Spanish Gothic style and, above all, its 1800 square meters of stained glass windows are one of the finest stained glass works in the world. Secondly, the historic center of Leon is really charming with narrow cobblestoned streets and you should look for the famous “Barrio Humedo” if you want to have some tapas and wines in traditional Spanish taverns. If you have plenty of time, a break of a day to enjoy Leon wouldn’t be a bad idea.