Adventures in Aragón

The history of Aragón has for years been a beacon inviting us to discover and travel its ancient roadways.

Aragón is another of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities and it coincides with the borders of the medieval Kingdom of Aragon. The Aragónese landlocked autonomous community comprises of three provinces: Huesca, Zaragoza, and Teruel. On this car trip we explored Teruel Province for most of our adventures but we did visit a few sites in Zaragoza Province as well. 

Teruel Province in Aragón:

Albarracín

We discovered what has to be one of the prettiest villages in Spain. Frozen in time, a photographer’s dream, built into the side of a mountain – the cliches accurately describe this exceptional village. 

Towering medieval walls, called the Murallas de Albarracín, dominate the hillside above one side of the town and in the deep valley on the other side of town runs the picturesque Guadalaviar River lined by trees in their stunning autumn colors. 

Autumn in Albarracín

Immediately after checking into our cute old hotel, we headed back out to get a few photos of the town as the sun was setting. The weather changes very quickly in the mountains and we soon were caught outside in a terrific icy rainstorm without hats or umbrellas and as we dashed back to our hotel in the dark, hoping we were choosing the correct path, we noticed the streets were so narrow and the roof overhangs so large, we were surprised we got as wet and chilled as we did.

We stayed in, warmed up and dried off and because we had only had a few snacks in the car for lunch, we made dinner reservations for 8:30pm, the first seating when the restaurants open in the evening. After dinner the sky had cleared up, we could see both the moon and stars, so we decided to explore the town again. Few people were out, it was crisp and energizing, Albarracín Castle, the walls and a couple of ancient churches were all lit up. It was magical!

Albarracín City Walls

The next morning we got up early to capture the sunrise on the town. We only stayed one night but this is a village we would both love to return to. 

Albarracín

Ródenas 

After leaving Albarracín without our first cup of coffee, we drove for an hour and a half in the early morning detouring into three quiet towns searching for an open cafe. Luck finally brought us to Ródenas where the coffee and pastries were fresh and the young couple that ran the restaurant were friendly and full of suggestions. They highly recommended traveling to see the Castillo de Peracense. After checking it out online – and it is a beauty and we were tempted- we decided to keep to our agenda and headed in the opposite direction in search of the Castillo de Zafra. We wrote about that stunning site in our Carefree Car trip in Castellón blog. It was truly an amazing site.

Luco de Jiloca

There is an extremely well preserved 1st century CE Roman Bridge (Puente Romano) located near the village of Luco de Jiloca was part of the Via Augusta road.  It once was at the confluence of two rivers, the Jiloca and Pancrudo, although the river bed of the Pancrudo has been diverted and in late autumn the Jiloca was little more than a rippling brook.

The style of the bridge is called “bridge of donkey back” because it has a big central arch and two small arches on each side. The bridge is relatively small at 115 feet long x 11 feet wide x 17 feet high (35x 3.4 x 5.3 meters). This was not a long stop but it certainly was an attractive site to see.

Puente Romano

Alloza

This teensy town is in the province of Teruel, Aragón, Spain and has a population well below 1000 inhabitants but it is an interesting, significant and unusual historical site worth visiting. 

One of the oldest in Aragón, the Calvary of Alloza is located on a steep hill called Mount Calvary, and is made up of one church and 14 individually constructed 18th century stand-alone chapels. In the 12th century, St. Francis created a list of 14 stations of the Passion of Christ. The 1st station begins with ‘Jesus is condemned to death’ and ends with the 14th station, ‘Jesus is Laid in the Tomb’. We have seen these 14 stations pictured around the inside of nearly every church in Spain.

At the Calvary of Alloza there is a lovely path to follow that takes you past each of the 14 Stations of the Via Crucis. This outdoor setting is a very personal and private way to commemorate the Passion of Christ. Each tiny chapel is cared for by a different family in Alloza. The chapels are quite private beneath the more than 200 specimens of trees including some of the cypresses, believed to more than 500 years old. There are fountains and ponds and plenty of benches to reflect, absorb the peace and take in the magnificent views. 

We may not initially have understood what we were viewing as we had the entire site to ourselves with no one there to instruct us and there was no information available onsite. Nevertheless, we thoroughly explored and appreciated this exceptional venue. A few days later we discovered the meaning and purpose of the Calvary of Alloza. Like so many sites, once you understand the significance of what you are looking at, the experience is enhanced, even when that understanding comes afterwards.

Calvary of Alloza

Lagunas de Gallocanta 

The Gallocanta Lagoon is an endorheic lake or basin, meaning it does not drain into any other body of water – no river, sea or ocean. It receives fresh water exclusively via rainfall and loses it exclusively through evaporation. This large body of water crosses the border of two provinces; Teruel and Zaragoza.

Our first stop was at the Lagunas de Gallocanta Museum, where we were able to pick up a map and see a taxidermy collection of mounted birds representing the dozens of varieties that use the lagoon at various times throughout the year. It was very informative and we were able to listen to each bird’s song and calls to help us recognize them when we visited the lagoon.

The lagoon is almost 3,300 feet above sea level (1,000 meters). During our visit in November we were told the large protected lagoon is one of the most important overwintering sites for cranes (grullas in Spanish) and can support an average population of 20,000 birds at a time. It was a chilly day so we opted to drive around the area stopping at designated lookout points. Can you guess what a flock of cranes are called? The two most common names are a ‘dance or herd’. We were lucky to spot and hear a large dance of cranes in the distance at the lagoon but midday we came across two much smaller herds feeding in a field much closer to the road. 😁 They generally spend their days away from the lagoon, but return each evening to sleep in the safety the water provides.

Lagunas de Gallocanta 
(photo credit: Gallocanta Lagoon )

Perhaps even more exciting though was to witness a dozen or more giant birds gliding on the currents above us as we rounded a corner. There were lammergeiers; the condors of the Pyrenees, also known as the bearded vulture. An incredible site – 10 foot wingspan with paddle shaped tails and pale colored heads, they were easily recognizable after seeing one up close in the museum. The lammergeier is the only known vulture who rarely eats meat, but instead it’s diet consists of 85–90% bone marrow. In Spain this bird is called ‘quebrantahuesos’ which means bone breaker. The lammergeier can swallow whole or bite through a half inch diameter brittle bone and its powerful digestive system quickly dissolves them. The bearded vulture has learned to crack bones too large to be swallowed by carrying them in flight to a height of 150-500 feet (50–150 m) then dropping them onto rocks below, which smashes them into smaller pieces and exposes the nutritious marrow.

The population of this species is in decline. It has been labeled as Near Threatened because there are fewer than 150 pairs remaining, so we were humbled and overjoyed to spot this magnificent raptor. 

Bearded Vulture

Zaragoza Province in Aragón:

Daroca

Our first destination in the province of Zaragoza was the medieval city of Daroca.  In the 13th and 14th centuries, high city walls once entirely surrounded the town and it’s fortress, castle and defence towers. Entering into the town benesth the commanding presence of the 13th century Puerta Baja, we spent an interesting couple of hours exploring along the more than 2 miles (3.5 kilometers) of the old city wall that still remains. Although less than 2000 people inhabit this town, we found beautiful churches, a handful of museums, the remains of an old palace, an historic Jewish quarter, narrow streets, oodles of cafes and pastry shops. Daroca has earned the moniker “the city of the seven sevens” because it has 7 parishes, 7 convents, 7 hermitage’s, 7 fountains, 7 squares, 7 city gates and 7 wind mills or molinos.

Daroca tower

La Paradera near Ibdes 

As we plan our travels and create our ongoing tapestry, we try to weave in a variety of sites, activities and experiences.  After wandering through medieval castles and sitting in a car, it was time for a little nature.

The waterfalls of La Paradera are completely hidden from the road but surprisingly close once you park and leave your vehicle. La Paradera falls have a drop of perhaps 40-60 feet or more and the rushing water is enough to create those negative ions that make you feel so good. 

La Paradera near Ibdes

Spain has a number of Gruta de las Maravillas or “Caves of Wonders” in various parts of the country. A couple of dozen steps away from the waterfall we found a smaller version of a Cave of Wonders, open to the public and filled with stalactites, estimated to be 50,000 years old, hanging from the ceiling. Some spots were pretty low and tight to get through without bumping into these timeworn formations.

The final reason we stopped at this location was to find the Grotto of Our Lady of Solitude, a tiny church built within a second cave. This cave had no stalactites and the ceiling was tall enough to comfortably walk around in and large enough to hold a church service for perhaps a dozen people.

All in all, a lovely and worthwhile stop.

Grotto of Our Lady of Solitude

Monasterio de Piedra near Nuévalos

Nuévalos is another small town with a population of less than 400, located in the province of Zaragoza, Aragón, Spain. A mile and a quarter outside of town is the Monasterio de Piedra – the Stone Monastery, located near the Piedra River Canyon. The monastery was founded in 1194 when Alfonso II of Aragon and his wife Doña Sancha donated an old Moorish castle to thirteen Cistercian monks to build a monastery in the area.

This former monastery has been turned into a charming hotel. The moment you walk into the building you will feel like you are in a monastery more so than a hotel. The ambiance has been well preserved. The beds however are extremely uncomfortable, hard and unforgiving perhaps to remind you that monks once slept here.

After our car trip through Aragón and before our wonderful dinner in the hotel dining room, we decided to explore the grounds. The former church had been destroyed but we were able to discover partial ruins that were still beautiful beneath the nearly full moon that night. There is a large park with gardens, caves, paths and waterfalls to discover but access was closed by the time we arrived. 

Monasterio de Piedra near Nuévalos

The population of Spain is 46.7 million and in the entire Autonomous Community of Aragón, which is nearly 10% of the size of the country, has a population of only 1.3 million people and well over half of those live in the region’s capital, the city of Zaragoza.

The climate is harsher, colder and drier than elsewhere in Spain and one may have to work harder to make a living. The Aragónese seem to somehow reflect those conditions. There is a certain feeling of independence, an inherited hardiness about Aragón residents that is also represented in the stories and history we have read. They are however helpful, caring and friendly to visitors and returning to this part of Spain to continue exploring the hundreds of towns and villages is a delightful prospect.

Salud from these Aragónese,

Ted and Julia

View our Adventures in Agarón photo galleries here:

Province of Agarón #1
The town of Albarracín,
The town of Daroca,
La Paradera Falls,
The Laguna de Gallocanta,
The Luco de Jiloca-Roman bridge

Province of Agarón #2
The Chapels at Alloza-Calvario de Alloza,
The Monasterio de Piedra,
The Shrine of the Virgen de la Balma

Beautiful scenery “Along the way”

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