I am planning to do some fixed pages with all of these details (and a bit more hopefully), but for now I will post it as it is. Hopefully this is helpful for those wishing to travel to Beirzo.
Where is it? Bierzo is a geographic region that sits in the north west of Leon, on the border with Galicia to the west and Portugal to the south. It is about 400Kms from Madrid on the very good AP6 – Autopista del Noroeste, a very new superhighway from Madrid to A Coruña. The nearest airport is Leon, but you will need a car. While there are buses that service the area, the services are limitted.
Where to stay? You have more than a couple of options here, with a number of villages to stay in and different quality and style of hotel. Villafranca del Bierzo must be one of the prettiest little villages around and Las Donas is the best place to stay in Villafranca del Bierzo for my money. A small, modern hotel with lovely staff and owners, right in the centre of town, but still with excellent views of the river and bridges. A double room will set you back a very reasonable 78 Euros and a very good breakfast at the hotel will cost you 10. They also do a very nice dinner for a reasonable price. If you want something more traditional, head over to Cacabelos, about 4kms from Villafranca, to La Moncloa de San Lázaro. While more traditional, they have all the mod cons and even a could of rooms with Spa baths. They also have an excellent restaurant, bodega and shop full to the brim with local produce. Lovely people too, they made up a take home lunch for my wife on hearing she was a bit jet lagged!
Other options include Casa Méndez in Villafranca with also has a great restaurant. There is also a Parador in Villafranca, which was one of the more homely (read run down) paradores, but it is undergoing a full renovation and should be fantasic when finished. As a bonus it is just down the road from the Descendientes de J. Palacios bodega. There are also a swag of Camino de Santiago hostels around, which are quite cheap and cheerful for the most part.
Where to eat? As mentioned above hotels seem to hold the gems of the region. There are of course others around, I just haven’t been to them yet…if you go somewhere great let me know! Both Casa Mendez and La Moncloa de San Lázaro have restaurants that are seperate to the hotel (i.e. you don’t have to be a guest at the hotel to eat there). There is also a couple of good restaurants in Ponferrada, the only one I’ve been to is La Casona.
An interesting side note is that the region is the home of the Prada a Tope restaurant chain…not sure if thats a good thing, I’ve never been to one.
Whats good to eat there? There is lots to like in terms of food here. One really good tip I picked up from the guys over at Catavino is to ask “Qual es lo muy typica aqui“, or what is most typical here. You do need to know some Spanish to understand the answer, but often that doesn’t really matter, just ask them to bring it out! The one thing that I really love from this region is the cured meats. Much of the meat here is smoked in the curing process due to the humidity in the valley. The thing I like most is the cured Galician beef called Cecina (or Cecina de Leon to give it’s full name). Sliced thin like jamon and served with a little oil, it is magic stuff. Occasionally served with a little chili sprinkled on top (quite rare in Spain). Coming a close second on my list is Morcilla de Leon, which is not actually a saussage but a kind of goop that uses onions instead of rice, usually served with some potatoes. Super good.
In general, beef and lamb are the top meats here and the Asador is still king (good to see). One of the key dished in north western spain is the chuleton. This is a large (usually around 1-1.5kg), ribeye or t-bone from grass fed older Galician working ox/cow and is some of the best meet in the world for my tastes. There is also wonderful array of fresh and preserved produce from the local fruit trees. Plum, cherry and figs are made into jam, things are pickled (pickled figs with your chuleton are excellent), excellent cheeses and nut products like chestnuts (either preserved in brandy or in a paste). Deserts are the usual Spanish fare: a milk based flan or something with chocolate. The layer cake is also popluar.
Hotel Las Doñas
Ribadeo, 2 (Calle del Agua)
24500 Villafranca del Bierzo, León
Telephone: +34 987 542 742
Fax: +34 987 540 257
La Moncloa de San Lázaro
Calle Cimadevilla, 97
24540 Cacabelos, León
Telephone: +34 987 54 61 01
Fax: +34 987 54 90 56
Espíritu Santo, 1 E
24500 Villafranca del Bierzo
Telehone: +34 987 54 24 08
Fax: +34 987 54 00 55
Calle Real, 72
Fuentesnuevas E – 24411 Ponferrada
Telephone: +34 987 45 53 58
Fax: +34 987 45 53 58