The tectonothermal evolution of a unit in the foreland fold-and-thrust belt of the Iberian massif is established using the conodont colour alteration index (CAI). The unit consists of two parts with different tectonothermal histories – the Esla nappe region and the Valsurbio region – separated by a synorogenic Carboniferous basin (Guardo–Valderrueda basin). The Esla nappe region evolved in diacaizonal conditions (corresponding to the diagenetic conditions of the pelites) whose palaeotemperatures were controlled by rock burial. Maximum values were reached before the emplacement of the thrust nappes, so tectonic superimposition is not registered by the CAI. Overburial due to the emplacement of the thrust units was prevented by simultaneous intense erosion. The geothermal gradient obtained for burial was c. 35 °C km−1 and the temperature reached by the older Cambrian rocks was c. 210–230 °C. The Valsurbio region was affected by an extensional tectonothermal post-orogenic event that gave rise to metamorphism with ancaizonal or epicaizonal conditions (corresponding to anchizone or epizone of the pelites). The most common maximum palaeotemperatures reached in this event fall within the range 305–415 °C, although higher palaeotemperatures could be reached locally as a consequence of contact metamorphism. This event gave rise to subhorizontal cleavage that cuts the main Variscan folds. Coal rank data indicate an increase in maximum palaeotemperatures eastwards from the Esla nappe region to the Valsurbio region through the Guardo–Valderrueda basin.