Tucked into the Soria region of Spain is a little mountain village is Valdelavilla — a place completely isolated from the rest of the world, where Spaniards trek to learn English through intensive language immersion programs. It’s the only place in Spain where English is the first language.
Other than people participating in the program and the few staff on hand to take care of the property, there is nothing.
There are no stores. There is no cell phone service. The restaurant is located in an old villa. The bar has no stools and doubles as the “internet cafe.” So does the bench outside reception. And, the wifi is about as speedy as an old-school dial-up connection. The more people pow-wowing online at Valdelavilla, the slower it goes.
Despite these things, I fell in love with the town at first sight. Well, once I knew I wasn’t going to have to haul my backpack through the little stone streets.
The old town, which dates back to 18th century, was abandoned in the 1960s and later refurbished to capture its classic charm and atmosphere in the 90s. Today, it is a “rural tourism” location offering well-preserved architecture and beautiful grounds to program participants and tourists in the know.
It is also a perfect place for people to focus on one thing and one thing only — learning English.
Stepping into Valdelavilla takes people back in time, to a world much simpler than today, sometimes to a workaholic or internet/cell phone junkie dismay.
Each villa has retained original architecture, wood beams in the ceiling, windows and balconies providing vistas of the mountains, stone paths that are treacherous in the rain and a whole lot of character.
The village starts half-way down a mountain with a small “meeting room.”
Stairs wind down from there to the rest of town, which contains about a dozen or so villas complete with old wooden doors split in half that latch on the bottom and lock on top, and private rooms for guests.
During the time there, I explored every nook and cranny of the tiny enclave. Each day, I discovered something new — an old laundry building with the large water basins, a church in ruins, a pond, paths to other abandoned towns in the area.
This was my home for six days of speaking a lot, a lot, a lot. About me. About America. About everything and anything. And this was the place where I would make lifelong friends simply because I had volunteered to talk.
When I arrived that Sunday afternoon, I didn’t think it would be possible to really get into the program, but it was much easier than I thought.
My home for six days.