Route of Charles V: the last journey of an emperor
Port of Laredo
Panoramic view of Laredo, in Cantabria
Simancas castle in Valladolid
Valdecorneja castle in El Barco de Ávila
Bridge in Jarandilla de la Vera, Cáceres
In 1556, Spain witnessed a symbolic journey. Emperor Charles V disembarked in Cantabria, northern Spain, to cover the approximately 550 kilometres to Yuste monastery in Extremadura, where he would retire and subsequently die after 40 years of historic rule. Four centuries later, you can relive this exciting itinerary on the Route of Charles V. Are you ready to follow in the footsteps of a real king?
Turn your calendar back to the 16th century, when Spain was the world’s foremost superpower. Imagine a major historical leader, Charles V of Spain, disembarking in northern Spain after his abdication with more than 50 boats. Accompanied by his entourage, he set out on a journey lasting more than a month through the regions of Cantabria, Castile-León and Extremadura until he reached the site of his retreat, Yuste Monastery. Here we offer suggestions for following in his footsteps through 34 municipal districts in these three regions. Choose whichever part of the route you like best – in all of them you will find stunning settings along with an artistic and cultural heritage, and monuments that conserve all the charm of the period. Below are some of the most attractive destinations:
The route. Eleven destinations not to be missed
The route starts in Laredo (region of Cantabria) where Charles disembarked and where today you can see a symbolic bust of the emperor. Don’t miss the old town, defensive walls and stately houses. You'll also be able to enjoy beaches like La Salve –Laredo is set in a privileged location on the Cantabrian coast.
After travelling through various parts of Cantabria we come to Medina de Pomar (in the province of Burgos, Castile-León), 60 kilometres from Laredo, where Charles V once spent the night. Enjoy its medieval atmosphere and the Alcázar de los Velasco, a magnificent 14th-century castle.
Some 100 kilometres further on is the city of Burgos, whose Arco de Santa María arch depicts the figure of Charles V. The cathedral, which has the UNESCO World Heritage designation, and the Las Huelgas Royal Monastery are among the other treasures to be seen here.
Once in the province of Palencia, we can continue on to Venta de Baños, 90 kilometres from Burgos. Legend has it that the Visigoth king Recceswinth ordered the construction of the church of San Juan de Baños by way of thanks, after noting the curative properties of one of its fountains. This Visigoth basilica is well worth visiting.
After passing though beautiful and unique areas such as Dueñas, we come to the province of Valladolid and its capital city (37 kilometres from Venta de Baños). Here the emperor stayed in the old Royal Palace. This is the ideal place to stroll around and visit its palaces, the Plaza Mayor square, cathedral and its Santa Cruz Residence. Another tip? Don't miss a trip to Medina del Campo, only 55 kilometres away, where you'll be welcomed by the impressive castle of La Mota.
Continuing on along our route, now in Salamanca province, we come to Peñaranda de Bracamonte, 55 kilometres from Medina del Campo. Its old town has been declared a Historic-Artistic site. Further on, in Avila province, we come to the village of Barco de Ávila. Here the emperor met with a warm welcome, as you will too. From its castle there is a wonderful view of the Tormes River.
The final stage starts in the province of Cáceres, in Extremadura. There, the town of Jarandilla de la Vera, 90 kilometres from Barco de Ávila, is home to the outstanding Charles V Parador Hotel, a palace steeped in history where the king himself stayed. Nine kilometres further on, the route finishes in Cuacos de Yuste. Here, at the monastery and in the adjacent palace (whose distribution is very similar to that of the palace where the monarch was born) is where Charles V spent his last days. When you lay eyes on this lovely place, you'll understand why he chose it.
If, besides history, you're also a sports enthusiast, then this route will be perfect for you. If water sports are your thing, you can go sailing, surfing or scuba diving, or take boat trips in Laredo. For hiking fans, Cantabria, Castile-León and Extremadura all have signposted routes where you can explore the local countryside. You'll love their viewing points, walks through chestnut forests, and the waterfalls and natural swimming pools to be found at the Garganta de los Infiernos (hells’ gorge) Nature Reserve in the province of Cáceres. Horse riding, caving, river canoeing, climbing, paragliding and hot-air balloon flights are some of the other options on offer.
To relive the spirit of this route on your way, we recommend the following events held in honour of the emperor. The “final disembarkation of Charles V” is celebrated in Laredo at the end of September. You'll be surprised to see the local people dressed up in period costume, and you'll be able to buy typical products at the Renaissance market, enjoy fireworks displays and concerts, mingle with noblemen and street musicians and performers, and see knights demonstrating their courage with the lance.
Another key date is the “Route of the Emperor” Cultural Tourism Walk, which takes place from Laredo to Medina de Pomar in mid-October. The route runs over 40 kilometres and recreates the atmosphere of the 16th century on forest trails and livestock paths. When you reach Medina de Pomar you can enjoy a medieval dinner and the re-enactment of the arrival of Charles V.
The Route of Charles V has all this and much more to offer: delicious gastronomy, wonderful places to spend the night… Any time of year is good to make this journey, although perhaps the most pleasant temperatures are in spring. You can do the whole route or the parts you choose in your own vehicle –the route is well signposted. Become a dreamer and travel back to the times of this historic emperor.