July 2004 issue

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Golden Salamanca

Salamanca's reputation as a high quality language travel destination, with plenty of cultural attractions and a lively student scene, is growing, as Gillian Evans finds out.

Known as La Dorada (the Golden City) owing to the golden glow of its sandstone buildings, Salamanca is one of Spain's lesser-known gems. Tucked away on Spain's border with Portugual, it has in the past been overlooked by language travellers who have favoured the Mediterranean beach locations strung out along the south coast. But more and more students are now discovering the beauty of Salamanca.

'Salamanca is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain,' asserts Mercedes Martin at Don Quijote school, situated in the heart of the old centre. She adds, '[It] is large enough to be able to offer the advantages of a big city but, at the same time, it has the friendly atmosphere of a small town.'

Asun Pleite at Estudio Sampere agrees. 'Although Salamanca is quite a big city, everything is close to the beautiful centre.'

Salamanca is situated on the historic Via de la Plata ('Silver Road'), a Roman road that ran from Seville to Astorga, and which was later used by pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. Today, the legacy of its historic position is evidenced in the medieval towers and ornate Baroque buildings throughout the city centre. 'Salamanca is rich in beautiful historical buildings, such as the Plaza Mayor, two cathedrals, the old university buildings [and] the House of Shells, among many others,' states Susan Bernamont at Dile Cursos Interncionales de Espanol.

The Casa de las Conchas, or House of Shells, derives its name from its Renaissance facade which is covered with over 300 pilgrim shells, while the Plaza Mayor is said to be one of the most beautiful squares in Spain, framed by over 80 ornate arches.

As well as its beautiful buildings, Salamanca offers all the other facilities of a major city including museums, exhibitions and theatres. Bernamont adds, 'There are also many cinemas in Salamanca, which are very popular with students and a good way for them to improve their Spanish comprehension skills.'

Salamanca is home to one of the world's oldest universities, dating back to 1254, which attracts students from all over the world. '[Salamanca] receives about 30,000 students every year, of which approximately 5,000 come from abroad,' says Martin at Don Quijote. The large student population makes for a lively nightlife scene.

'The nightlife in Salamanca is infamous for being [among] the best Spain has to offer,' confirms Maria Garcia Merchan, Assistant Manager at Abaco Instituto Hispanico de Salamanca. Martin adds that, at night the streets are full of people. '[Salamanca] is a non-sleeping city. There is something to do at any time.'

One of the most popular ways to spend an evening is to go out to some of the many bars in the city and enjoy wine, beer and pinchos (small dishes of typical food), according to Bernamont. She adds, 'There are also several discos and clubs, which are especially popular with young people, open till late at night.'

Pleite adds, 'It is really awesome [for students] that they can meet all their friends in the morning at famous burger places like Leonardos, to have their first breakfast and speak about the fun they had during the night.'

Another draw of Salamanca is its fine food. 'The exquisite cuisine is very rich and very famous in Spain for [offering] some of the finest dishes available,' says Garcia Merchan. Salamanca is particularly famous for its meats including the Guijuelo-cured ham, its chorizos and other spicy sausages. And sampling the local culinary delicacies does not have to be expensive. 'You can get beverages with tapas for only [a few] euros,' says Pleite.

Despite the lively student scene, Salamanca is a city for all ages. 'It is popular with young people for its cosmopolitan atmosphere and lively nightlife, and with older people for its rich cultural, artistic and historical heritage,' confirms Bernamont.

Outside of the city of Salamanca there is also plenty to discover. 'There are many small villages with a lot to see and day trips out to the countryside are very popular with the students,' reports Garcia Merchan. '[At] our institute we try to provide students with a variety of typical Spanish activities such as trips out to tapas bars, Spanish cooking lessons, bull fights and trips around Spain.'

In addition, not far from Salamanca, is Ciudad Rodrigo, which hosts an annual bull run in February. 'Students enjoy the opportunity of being able to run with the bulls and also to sit and watch the spectacle from the safety of the stands,' says Garcia Merchan.

Like most places in Spain, Salamanca plays host to a number of festivals. 'In September, the Ferias and Fiestas de San Mateo are spectacular. For two weeks there is a fully organised programme of concerts, parades, exhibitions, bullfights and markets,' says Martin.

These ferias are popular with students 'because they are really Spanish and show you different aspects of Spanish life', according to Asun.

Surrounding the city are the Sierra de Francia and the Sierra de Gredos (mountains), and Martin says, 'In winter you can ski, just 45 minutes from Salamanca.' The city is also well placed for trips to Madrid, which is only 200 kilometres away, and Portugual can be reached by train within an hour.

For language students Salamanca has a particular attraction. 'The people of Salamanca speak the purest Spanish,' claims Martin, 'which makes the city very popular for learning this language.'

With so much to offer, it is not surprising that Salamanca is increasingly being discovered by language travellers. Already, says Garcia Merchan, 'Over 50 per cent of students come on the recommendation of friends or family who have studied with us before.'

Agent viewpoint

'Salamanca is a fantastic city! It has one of the oldest universities in Spain and has a long tradition of receiving students from different parts of Spain and also from other countries. Salamanca is known as a region where people speak a very pure Spanish, 'castillano'. The cultural offerings of Salamanca are very good. In spite of its size (only 170,000 inhabitants), the town is very lively, especially at night. It is also a good surprise that everything in the town is within walking distance.'
Madelene Englund, Avista Sprakreseformedlarna, Sweden

'There is a good variety of high quality Spanish schools in Salamanca and it is also a university town with a perfect nightlife, nice atmosphere and a lot of young people. Students enjoy meeting the friendly people and discovering the city's unique architecture. The negative points [for some students] are that there is no beach or airport, and the city is [relatively] small.'
Arne Schmager, Vamos Sprachreisen, Germany

'Students who want to experience the Spanish student life choose Salamanca. Some students also think it's a good thing that Salamanca is a smaller city, which means that it's less anonymous and it's easier to get to know both Spanish students and students from all over the world. At the same time, they have Madrid only two hours away. However, Salamanca is not one of the most popular cities for Swedish students. Most Swedish students want to go to a city by the sea. They want to take a break from the Swedish cold climate and want to experience the sun, the heat and the ocean.'
Sofia Henningsson, SI-Sprakresor & Spanska Institutet, Sweden

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