A local’s guide to Burgos, Spain: 10 top tips

Castilian cuisine

Eating out in Burgos is a delight. The restaurants are generally very affordable and for a small city there is a lot of variety. But for something classic, it’s hard to beat Ojeda. Slap-bang in the city centre this much-loved restaurant was founded in 1912, and its main dining room, upstairs from the bar, is still the most impressive in the city, decorated with intricately carved wood and cool tiled walls. The lamb chops (chuletillas de lechazo) or the sole (lenguado salvaje) with basil sauce (both around €20) are always good, but the lechazo – milk-fed lamb slow-roasted in a wood-burning oven (prices vary according to weight) – is something special and, without doubt, the most famous and best dish in the city, and probably the entire province.
Calle Condestable 2, restauranteojeda.com

Tour the vines

Burgos is an excellent base for a tour of the Ribera del Duero, one of Spain’s most famous wine regions. An hour’s drive or so south-west of the city takes you into the undulating vine-filled landscape, with its abundance of atmospheric, apricot-coloured small towns. Here, as in its sister region of Rioja, the tempranillo grape is king. Be sure to check out the bodegas of Villacreces (bottles from €10), Arzuaga (bottles from €18) and Vega Sicilia, Spain’s most famous wine producer. It’s best to ring in advance to organise a tour.

Pincho hopping

As in the Basque city of San Sebastián, going for pinchos – like tapas – is part of everyday life in Burgos. The best time for a pincho tour is either Thursday or Friday night, or Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Start on Calle San Lorenzo at La Quinta del Monje and order a glass of local Ribera del Duero red wine with a pincho of charcoal-grilled sirloin with foie gras (€3.50). Then head a few bars up the street to Casa Pancho. Here, order an ice-cold caña (small beer) with a cojonudo, a small piece of bread topped with a quail’s egg, spicy chorizo and red pepper. From there, move on to La Cantina de Burgos and wash down the carabinero (prawn) croquettes or bean stew with a glass of verdejo white wine. Finish at La Favorita for fried lamb sweetbreads, and be sure to try some of the house wines: they are written on a slate board in the middle of the bar (from €2 a glass).

Bloodless bullring

Spain has probably the second-strongest basketball league in the world behind the NBA. And San Pablo Burgos, the local team, plays in the country’s top division. Although the players finished in 11th place last season, the fans were declared the best in the league. And the stadium, housed in the city’s bullfighting arena, reaches its 10,000 capacity each weekend. The standard is high, the atmosphere feverish (almost football-like) and the ticket prices (€25 for a standard ticket) are significantly lower than for an NBA fixture. The new season starts in mid-September and if you’re in the city over the weekend, it’s a great afternoon out.
Coliseum Burgos, Calle la Chopera, sanpabloburgos.com

Stay in a castle

The Landa hotel doubles from around €120 room-only) was rebuilt from the ruins of a 14th-century tower and is set in lush gardens about a mile from the city centre. It is the most luxurious of Burgos’s hotels, with an excellent restaurant that serves classic Castilian cooking, such as morcilla (like a fried black pudding with rice) with fried eggs. Or stay right in the centre at Meson del Cid (doubles from €69 room-only), with views of the cathedral from most of the bedrooms, and a restaurant in a 15th-century stone-built hall with beams and the original fireplace.

Gothic glory

Seen one cathedral in Spain, you’ve seen them all, right? Wrong. Burgos cathedral rises from the city centre like an ecclesiastical exclamation mark, and its grey Gothic spires are the city’s most recognisable landmark. It started life in the 11th century as a Romanesque church but was transformed in the 13th century into one of Spain’s first Gothic cathedrals. Today, it is a mishmash of styles, with an interior that is no less beautiful or complicated. It was declared a Unesco world heritage site in 1984 and is the only Spanish cathedral that has this distinction independently, without being joined to the historic centre of a city. Follow the labyrinthine of knaves, Gothic cloisters and Renaissance chapels, and visit the resting place of Rodrigo “El Cid” Díaz de Viva.
Plaza Santa María, catedraldeburgos.es, €7

Michelin-star dining

For something more refined after all the bar-hopping, try Burgos’s first and, so far, only Michelin-starred restaurant, Cobo Vintage. Chef Miguel Cobo combines the traditions of Burgos with those of the more northerly region of Cantabria, which has also played an important role in his culinary development. The Origen tasting menu, which is perhaps most expressive of the Cobo’s philosophy, includes dishes such as morcilla biscuits, smoked scallops and fresh cow’s milk croquettes. The wine list is packed with excellent, and reasonably priced, local wines. Indeed, at €70, it’s one of the cheaper Michelin-star tasting menus you’ll come across.
Calle La Merced 19, cobovintage.es

Go in search of cavemen

Just 25 minutes’ drive outside the city is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world: Atapuerca. The caves on this site were home to the earliest human beings in Europe a million years ago. Among the many discoveries here are cave paintings, some with scenes of hunts and others with geometrical patterns. Visiting this Unesco site costs from €6, and guided visits can be organised from the Human Evolution Museum in Burgos’s city centre.

Monastic retreats

The monastery of Santa María la Real de las Huelgas is near Burgos University and surrounded by a high grey wall. As you enter from the north-west of the complex, the imposing, disorderly medieval church, replete with sturdy buttresses and cloisters, tumbles into view. Alfonso VIII and Eleanor of England ordered the construction of the Las Huelgas monastery in 1187. The king wanted a memorial for himself and his descendants; the queen wanted an influential, female-only monastery that would be as independent as possible. Both achieved their objectives. Alfonso VIII, Queen Eleanor and their direct descendants were buried in the monastery, and the power and independence of the nuns and abbesses living there was upheld. The sisters were subject only to papal authority, not to the local archdiocese. Las Huelgas was also where King Edward I – he of Braveheart and Outlaw King fame – married Eleanor of Castile in 1254. Be sure to visit the Claustro de los Caballeros and the monastery’s church. Both are beautiful.
Plaza Compás, Tues-Sat 10am-2pm, 4pm-6.30pm, Sun and public holidays 10.30am-3pm, €6

End with a gin and tonic

Although British in origin, gin and tonic is a drink the Spanish have made their own. Almost any bar in Burgos (and all of Spain for that matter) will serve you a paralysingly strong G&T, but some are a cut above the rest. Vara cafe, just off the city’s historic centre, has an impossibly large gin selection, from as far afield as Japan and Scotland, which it displays proudly at the central bar; the cheaper brands start at €7. For views over the city, head to the roof terrace at the Silken Hotel. In 2016 its bar won a local competition for the best gin and tonic. Enjoy the views of Burgos by night and toast to a trip well done.

Getting there
Regular trains and buses run from Madrid (Renfe train from €25.85, 2½ hours; bus €12.25, three hours).

Best time to go
Perched at 859 metres, Burgos sees extreme temperature ranges, swinging from sub-zero, snowy winters to short, hot summers. At the beginning of June, the Burgos Callejeando Food Fest delivers food trucks, music and a party atmosphere to Paseo Sierra de Atapuerca. In mid-September, the fourth edition of Tribu Festival hosts music, food and art events across 10 stages in the city.

Prices
£1 = €1.09. A bottle of beer in a bar costs around €2.50, a coffee €1.50.

Matthew Bremner is the author of several articles on Spain, including Where the Bull Never Dies

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