SORIA is a modest provincial capital of around 40,000 – an attractive place, despite encroaching suburbs, and the inspiration behind much of Antonio Machado's best-loved verse (the Seville-born poet lived here 1907–1912). It stands between a ridgeback of hills on the banks of the Duero, with a castle ruin above and a medieval centre dotted with mansions and Romanesque churches. You can see all the sights easily in a day, but a quiet night or two has its attractions, especially if you use the city as a base to explore some of Castile's loveliest countryside. Roman Numancia, in particular, is an easy side trip.
The city centre is rather elongated, with sights split between the old centre and further down by the Río Duero. For once, the Plaza Mayor – quiet and handsome – isn't the focal point. Instead, all the bustle is to the west along the pedestrianized shopping street of c/El Collado and its offshoots and little side squares, while Soria decamps for strolls, games and chats into the lovely Parque Alameda de Cervantes – the city centre's best feature.
Of the central churches, the highlight is the rose-coloured facade of the twelfth-century convent church of Santo Domingo, on c/Santo Tomé, a few minutes' walk north of the main drag. The recessed arches of the main portal are magnificently sculpted with scenes from the Life of Christ, surrounded by a wonderful gallery of heavily bearded musicians who resemble the lost medieval ancestors of ZZ Top – look out, in particular, for the fetching three-in-a-bed scene.
The rest of the sights lie down towards the river, including Soria's now rather isolated cathedral, the Concatedral de San Pedro, whose interior takes the Spanish penchant for darkness to a ridiculous extreme. However, light and harmony are restored in the three bays of a superb Romanesque cloister, which belonged to the cathedral's predecessor. It's another five-minutes' walk to the old bridge over the Duero, where you suddenly realize that you're out of the city and in the country.