Hidden Corners of Spain: Saldaña, Palencia
This tiny tucked-away town of 3,000 inhabitants on the Carrion River isn’t really near anything in particular. It’s about an hour’s drive from any larger city – Palencia, León and Burgos being the closest. In the north of the province of Palencia, this rural area is full of gentle and fertile rolling hills and pine and poplar forests.
The town itself doesn’t have a lot going on, but there is a fascinating display of ancient Roman ruins just outside town at Villa Romana de la Olmeda. It has an original mosaic floor from a Roman palace and plenty of archaeological treasures. The explanation given by the guides is thorough. In town, there’s an Olmeda museum with more information and artifacts. Olmeda is one of the top places to see Roman ruins outside of Italy! General public tickets cost 5 euros and there are reduced rates for special groups. (2020 update: Due to Covid-19, you now have to make a reservation to visit, so be sure to check the website!)
What to eat? You can find some excellent Spanish food at La Casa Torcida in the heart of town. It’s a funky, very old building that looks like the second floor is going to fall through. But it’s well-preserved and this just adds to the charm of the place. Inside, you get the feel that you’re stepping into another era, with the wooden rafters and beams – it almost feels Shakespeare-esque. Here you can get typical Spanish fare such as lamb, beans with sausage, stuffed Piquillo peppers, stuffed roasted tomatoes, and more. You can also present your meal receipt to get into the Villa Olmeda for free! (You do still have to reserve your Olmeda visit by phone first.)
The town is full of well-preserved old Castilian-style buildings with wooden beams holding up the second level, forming a sort of walkway underneath. You really only need a few short hours to visit, including the Roman ruins. You can visit the ruins, have a walk around town, stroll along the river, visit the park, climb the hill to see some castle ruins, have lunch, and be on your way! For a more complete list, here are all the places of interest.
Getting there? There’s no train station, the closest one is a 30-minute drive. There is a bus station which can get you to the Basque Country or to other towns around Palencia. Saldaña really is a hidden enclave but it’s worth stopping by, especially if you’re taking a roadtrip around Cantabria and Castilla y León. There’s plenty of history and culture to be found in small towns like Saldaña, off the beaten path.