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I have been told that I have a gypsy soul. This is a phrase and a name that I like. This is because I have an insatiable desire to explore and discover new places. It's hard to imagine ever staying in one place for a long time and not going off to find what lies undiscovered somewhere else. My fiance and I like to explore new places. We like to stumble across places where it appears no human has ever gone before. We also like to come across places where people used to live but for some reason have deserted the area. We found such a place on a recent driving trip through Spain.
Driving the length of the country from Malaga to Bilbao, we wanted to break up the journey. My partner did some research and found a decent hotel, not too far from the highway, overlooking a lake. Since we weren't planning on staying there too long we didn't research the area. We were just happy to be near a lake before continuing our journey.
Salvatierra de Tormes is a municipality in the province of Salamanca, roughly halfway up Spain. The town was once very important but now is muchly forgotten and over-looked by tourist guides. As it turns out, we think we stayed in the only tourist accommodation in the town.
The first sighting of the town, after driving around the Santa Teresa Reservoir, was of a number of derelict buildings. Knowing that our hotel was closer to the center of the town, we made a note to come back out this way and take some photos. As we drove further into town, we soon realised that most of the buildings had a similar appearance. It wasn't long before we started creating stories for where everybody had gone, why they had left, and when they had decided to leave.
We concocted stories about natural disasters (earthquakes), violence (either Civil War or World War), human interaction (think Hiroshima type stories for this one) and a plethora of other ideas for why a town in such a beautiful location would be seemingly deserted.
We found our hotel and were directed around the back of the building to a car park. The drive to the said car park showed more derelict buildings, but no more sign of life, except for a dog sleeping in the middle of the street.
The hotel has a tiny cat who gives a very warm welcome. Or, maybe she was just very happy to see somebody! Once checked in, we discovered that we had been given a lake view room, with stunning vistas to the snow-capped mountains in the background. This seemingly forgotten town is a thriving place in the winter for skiers. The Sierra de Bejar Mountains are roughly a 30-minute drive away. We were currently the only guests and had the bar, library, chill out area and restaurant all to ourselves.
As it was still light, we decided to go exploring. Walking around the town, looking at all the old buildings which now had trees growing through them, we continued with the possible stories for what had happened here. Maybe everybody had left when there was a huge earthquake? Maybe they had been driven out of their homes by threats of "leave or we'll shoot you"? Maybe there had been a chemical spill at a local factory and they had been told to leave for their safety? Maybe the local lake was infested with deadly animals that come out at night and make people disappear?
Near the end of our tour, we stopped to admire a Stalk who had made its home on top of the church. It was feeding its young. Given the quiet around the area, it was possible to hear the Stalk making the kinds of noises that birds make. I can't describe the noise because it isn't actually like any other bird, but a variation on a number of different birds. It was truly beautiful to hear though since these birds often like populated areas and so hearing them is not possible over the sounds of traffic, engines, or air conditioning units.
On our walk, aside from the Stalk, we saw one old lady in her doorway and five stray dogs. There had been three men in the bar at the hotel, plus the receptionist (who also turned out to be the barmaid and waitress). We can't be sure, but we think she might have been the chef too. We speculated that she was also the cleaner, but this idea was to disproved the following morning.
Unlike in England, where all the derelict buildings would have been blocked off, we were able to freely walk around and explore at our leisure. It was fascinating to see the architecture, the coats of arms on some of the walls, the bookcases still hanging in place, the old laundrette where the whole town washed their clothes together and the way that nature had started to reclaim the stone buildings and the land.
When I say "we" concocted stories, what I mean is "I" concocted them and my partner listened. Curiosity got the better of him and he Googled why this town had been deserted and apparently forgotten.
He found that it had a registered population of 77 inhabitants. We were not sure where these people lived given the Blitz-like appearance of the town and the distinct lack of obvious life.
More research led him to discover that most people had deserted the area in the 1950s and '60s when the river had been dammed to create the Santa Teresa reservoir. The company who dammed the river bought 80 percent the houses which allowed the residents to buy or build elsewhere. Prior to this, the town had a population of 800+ inhabitants.
Salvatierra de Tormes has a long history, with origins dating back to the beginning of the Thirteenth century. Back in the day, the town was given the title of Villa, due to its strategic location on the River Tormes. To defend such an important place a fortress was erected and the town was walled.
In the late thirteenth Century, the town belonged to Spanish Royalty and was considered important due to its location on the banks of the Coa River and its links with the villages of Sabugal, Alfaiates, and Castelo Rodrigo, which are now located in Portugal. With the deaths of a number of royalties, and the final deceased having no descendants, the town passed into the hands of the Crown.
The current provinces were created in 1833 and at this time Salvatierra was integrated into the province of Salamanca, within the Leonese Region.
We stayed at the Hotel Rural Savatierra, which has a bar and restaurant on site, which is good because there is literally nowhere else to go in town! Despite the lack of other options, we were very impressed with the friendly staff, clean environment, and yummy food.
If you are in the area, it is definitely worth stopping by to wander around the old streets and peer into the seemingly once magnificent buildings. It's obviously on a different scale but we made references to Pompeii whilst we immersed ourselves in history and viewed how people used to live.