The Canal de Castilla on its course through Medina de Rioseco, Valladolid

Canal of Castile Route: an 18th century river dream come true


Explore inland Spain

How do you fancy sailing through the heart of Castile and Leon, in Spain’s interior, hundreds of kilometres from the sea? At two and a half hours from Madrid by car, this route is perfect for a family getaway and to discover the first civil engineering projects of the 18th century in Spain. What is the Canal of Castile? It is a man-made waterway over 200 kilometres long that runs through the provinces of Palencia, Burgos and Valladolid, benefiting from the inflowing water from different rivers. The canal was constructed to carry merchandise from the interior of Spain to the ports in the north of the country.With the success of the railway, this revolutionary Dream of Enlightenment was phased out and never completed. However, it has left us with a unique navigable canal in Spain and a marvellous trip through pure nature that can be done on foot, by bike, on horseback, by boat or even by canoe.

A little history

The works on this canal began in 1753 backed by King Fernando VI and were concluded in 1849. In order to save a total descent of up to 150 metres and to allow the boats to move forward, a multitude of locks were built, an invention by Leonardo Da Vinci that was perfected here. This allowed over 350 boats to be able to circulate here between 1850 and 1860.They also took advantage of the waterfalls to build factories and mills to produce flour, paper or cloth. All of this has left an interesting landscape, peppered with locks, flour mills, bridges and aqueducts that convert the route into a trip back in history.

Covering the route from the exterior: three branches

Did you know that in the past mules were curiously used to tow the barges and help them gather speed? These routes made by animals along the banks of the canal are known as “Caminos de Sirga” and have made today’s paths all the easier for travelling by bike or on foot. Around the canal, you can see the riverside forests that have emerged and where you can spot animals such as the imperial heron and the otter.The full route of the canal is divided into three branches, which are all connected.

Step 1: North Stretch


Route: It runs mainly through the province of province of Palencia, from Alar del Rey to Ribas de Campos. The trip is about 75 kilometres. It is the stretch with the most locks (24) and the steepest descents. Interesting fact: it was where the work began, which can be seen at Ribas de Campos. Here you can see a triple lock (in Frómista you can also observe the route’s only quadruple lock). Herrera de Pisuerga is the starting point of the river boat tours. Well worth visiting:Frómista, popularly recognised as the capital of Palencia’s Romanesque movement with must-visit monuments such as the church of San Martín. Other noteworthy churches include San Hipólito and San Juan, in Piña de Campos. Along the route you will observe many typical elements of the canal, such as locks, bridges, dams… For example, close to Requena de Campos there are four aqueducts and you can also visit the Valdemorco lagoon (habitat for numerous bird species). This stretch is also a habitual route on the Camino de Santiago. Towns along the stretch: Alar del Rey, Herrera de Pisuerga, Castrilo de Río Pisuerga, Mergal de Fernamental (Burgos), Osorno la Mayor, Lantadilla, Requena de Campos, Boadilla del Camino, Frómista, Piña de Campos, Amusco, San Cebrián de Campos and Ribas de Campos.

1 Canal of Castile in Frómista 2 Monastery of Santa Cruz de Ribas 3 Locks on the Canal of Castile

Step 2: Campos Branch


Route: Situated in the province of Valladolid. It runs from Calahorra de Ribas (Palencia) to Medina de Rioseco (Valladolid). It is 78 kilometres long and only has seven locks (the first one at approximately 50 kilometres).Interesting fact: The town of Villaumbrales is home to the Museum of the Canal de Castilla, housed in the building known as Casa del Rey (18th century). Also, Medina de Rioseco is the departure point for boat tours along this stretch.Well worth visiting: The most popular town is Medina de Rioseco, where you can find the largest dock along the canal. It has some pretty temples, such as the Santa María and Santiago churches. You can also visit the old flour mill, which still preserves the ancient turbine and windmills, and the Canal’s Visitor Centre, which organises activities all year round. Belmonte preserves a large part of its Renaissance castle and nearby, in Tamariz de Campos, you can see an interesting five-arch aqueduct. Fuentes de Navas is home to La Nava lagoon, an important wetland in the region.Towns along the stretch: Ribas de Campos, El Serrón, Villaumbrales, Becerril de Campos, Sahagún el Real, Paredes de Nava, Fuentes de Nava, Abarca de Campos, Villarramiel, Capillas, Castil de Vela, Belmonte and Medina de Rioseco.

The Canal of Castile on its course through Medina de Riosec, Valladolid

Step 3: South Stretch


Route:  This is the shortest (54 kilometres) and perhaps the most visited due to its proximity to cities. It passes through the provinces of Palencia and Valladolid, starting at El Serrón (Grijota, Palencia), where the canal branches, and runs right to the city of Valladolid. It has 18 locks and natural surroundings that are perfect for all types of sports.Interesting fact: This stretch forms part of the EUROVELO 1 cycle route and many of its municipalities are on the Cigales Wine Route. A curious fact: in Villamuriel de Cerrato you can find the point where circular and rectangular locks stand side by side (something that is very unusual to see). This is because the works were paralysed for years and when it resumed, the initial project had changed.Well worth visiting:  Valladolid and Palencia are the two main cities along this stretch and are well worth visiting. In Valladolid, the canal reaches as far as the old town, where its dock is completely integrated. We highly recommend a visit to some of the wineries in towns like Cigales or Dueñas. The old quarter has been declared a site of historical importance and is particularly worth a visit. Whereas in the area surrounding Cabezón de Pisuerga we recommend the monastery of Santa María de Palazuelos and the Palazuelos bridge that crosses the canal.Towns along the stretch: Grijolta, Viñalta, Palencia, Villamuriel de Cerrato, Soto de Albúrez, Venta de Baños, Dueñas, Cubillas de Santa Marta, Trigueros del Valle, Aguilajero, Cabezón de Pisuerga, Cigales and Valladolid.

Canal of Castile and Valladolid

By boat or tourist train

The tourist boats run regular trips from Tuesday to Sunday:- Tourist Boat “Marqués de la Ensenada”. Departs from Herrera de Pisuerga (on the North branch) and once on board you can assist the crew with operating a lock. Highly recommended.- Boat “Antonio de Ulloa”. Departs from Medina de Rioseco (Campos branch). You will learn about which animals inhabit the natural environment and you can choose between a short one-hour trip or a two-hour one where you can also have the chance to help out with the lock procedures.Together with these two there are also other boats, such as the “San Carlos de Abánades” (departs from Melgar de Fernamental, in Burgos) or the “Juan de Homar” (departs from Frómista, in Palencia) and which also operate one-hour cruises.The Canal de Castilla tourist train runs on the first Sunday of every month, from March to December, approximately. It is a return journey that runs from Madrid to Valladolid in around an hour with a performance by a theatrical group that narrates the history of the canal. Once you arrive in Valladolid, the trip includes a boat trip on the canal and, according to the date, there are different excursions to Medina de Rioseco, Urueña (the first “Villa del Libro” (book village) in Spain), the castles of Montealegre, the San Antonio flour mill, Tiedra, Fuensaldaña and different monasteries and wineries. You can find more information on its official website.

Tips and recommendations

What to eat: Take full advantage of the trip to sample Castile and Leon’s most traditional cuisine, the star attractions of which are the roast meats, especially the baby lamb and suckling pig. The dishes prepared from local horticultural produce are also highly recommendable, including “patatas a la importancia” (fried potatoes in sauce), mixed vegetables or the garlic soup. And as the route runs through rivers, don’t miss out on the chance to sample some of the dishes made with crayfish. In addition, wine is very popular in Castile and Leon with proposals such as the Ribera de Duero, Rueda or Cigales. Where to stay: We recommend that you check with the tourist information office in each town or city according to the journey and days you have planned. You can find a wide range of rural guest houses, hotels, hostels and inns to choose from.

When to go on the route

Spring, summer and autumn are the best seasons to visit. During autumn the riverside forests take on a magical transformation bursting with bright yellows and reds. Furthermore, you can also enjoy other activities such as observing the bellowing of the deer, watching thousands of birds migrating or collecting mushrooms with expert guides.

What to do

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