After our stay in La Rioja, we loaded the four door luxury Peugeot sedan we’d splurged on for our rental and headed south to Soria, the least populous province in Spain, with a population density of a mere 9 people per square kilometer. On the last half of this trip we were continually commenting on how isolated we were; looking out from atop a ridge on a tiny highway and not glimpsing a single dwelling or being for miles. One of the charms of travelling in Spain is being able to completely escape modernity and population if you decide to. It is a unique feeling, to happen upon a hamlet, one that has inhabited its little crevice in the world for centuries, park your car and walk around, in utter silence, knowing there must be someone living there, grasping for evidence of life in windows and finding only empty glass; children’s projects hanging in the frame of the school window the only sign that the village indeed has a resident or two. Especially being from the Southeast, a fairly densely populated region, where an attempt to escape the noise and traffic to the Smoky Mountains is only frustrated by hordes of well-meaning tourists wielding gigantic cameras at each trailhead, a sliver of the world where quiet reigns is welcomed.
Unfortunately the weather turned windy, cold and started to spit rain. We tried to squeeze in a visit to Numancia, the ancient Celtic settlement immortalized by Cervantes in Don Quixote, but freezing water pellets and gusty wind kept us from doing much more than stepping foot inside the ticket booth.
Soria, the city itself, was surprisingly interesting. For not being on the tourist map at all really, this town of 40,000 in the enormous autonomous community of Castilla y León, humbly presents a variety of sights. I think the Río Duero might be what is so enchanting about Soria. Each place I’ve visited that is located on the Duero, whether Porto, Zamora or Soria, has had a unique feel, a lot of which is due to the attractiveness of the river itself. Soria does well to play up this aspect of its location, creating a sense of escape even within the city limits. A 3km walk from downtown Soria, the Monasterio San Santuario is a principal tourist attraction. The walk to the monastery itself is peaceful, the river gently moving along next to you. The monastery is steeped in tradition and, also, a little bit of recent history. The exhibit inside the monastery walls is fascinating, describing in detail what life was like for the monks who decided to forgo the commodities of their time and live a life of solitude within the walls of this fortress. And, the Duero, a source of undying inspiration for poets of multiple generations, like Antonio Machado, is also given a tribute inside of the monastery. Quotes of poetry that pay tribute to the waters of the magical river are transcribed onto the walls of a special room within the monastery.
On our walk back to Soria, we discovered another jewel the city has to offer: a park woven neatly into the banks of the river. Wooden bridges criss-cross the tiny island patches of grass that are scattered along the bank of the river nearest the city, inviting visitors to picnic, swing above the cool water and traipse underneath the umbrella of trees.
Inside of the city, the architecture is also impressive. One can wander into the still functioning high school where Machado taught classes for five years. A smattering of churches with noteworthy facades are sprinkled throughout and restaurants offer up traditional Spanish cuisine at reasonable prices. All this adds to the beauty of the provincial capital, but the real reason to visit Soria is to be inspired and enchanted by the Rio Duero.