When my friend told me that she was moving to Zaragoza, Spain to teach English for a year, I’ll admit it: I had to look at a map. Sure, I had been to Madrid and knew about many of the country’s highlights, but I had never heard of Zaragoza, which is the fifth largest city in Spain and the capitol of the Aragón region. It seemed like the perfect excuse to visit.
When I started reading more about the area, I learned that there was plenty to explore, from hiking in the Spanish Pyrenees to exploring picturesque medieval towns and maybe even sampling some wine. I decided to set off on a little adventure.
Hiking in the Spanish Pyrenees
As my friend had to work during the week, I set off to explore the mountains. The Parque Nacional de Ordessa is situated just a few hours north of Zaragoza, but promises days of hiking and exploring.
I stayed in the town of Broto for two nights at a hostel called A Bordo Felices. Broto is a small, sleepy mountain village with a few restaurants and hotels, but the Rio Ara runs through it and it’s easy to wander. I picked up a hiking map and suggestions for destinations from my hostel host and started up towards Torla, which is the gateway to the park.
The fall is a beautiful time to visit. In mid-October, the leaves are changing, there is a refreshing crispness to the air in the evening, and there are very few other visitors. Glaciers carved the deep valleys and the limestone cliffs are dramatic, punctuated by majestic waterfalls. Hiking is not a speed sport here; You’re too busy stopping to take pictures.
While the temperature tends to be mild, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the elements. I was glad I had a waterproof jacket: it kept me dry when an unexpected afternoon shower descended. It was also helpful for keeping me warm when the sun slipped behind the mountains. After an excellent (early) dinner at Pizzeria la Tea, I was ready to turn in.
Exploring Ancient Villages
After a few days wandering around the waterfalls and circos (loops) in the park, I decided to visit some of the historic towns that dot the landscape. Aínsa, which was the capitol of the kingdom of Sobrarbe in medieval times, has a charming central plaza, restored castle, and plenty of cobblestone streets to wander. Graus is known for its brightly colored houses, decorated with frescos.
But Alquezar was my favorite. Perched on the edge of the canyon carved by the Rio Vero, this Moorish village seemed plucked from a fairytale. Stay at the Hotel Santa Maria de Alquezar while you’re there; not only will you have an awesome view of the ancient castle of Jalaf Ibn Rasis and the Vero Canyon from your balcony, but the hotel itself is a fantastic landmark to explore, perched atop the cliffs above the town in a traditional stone building.
Winding through the stone streets, I found a bakery with traditional dobladillo de alquezar pastries, strong coffee, and incredible views. I decided to take a quick walk before leaving Alquezar and happened upon the Ruta de las Pasareles del Vero. This route is a stretch of walkways and footpaths that lead down to the Vero River, past the Leap of Alquezar (a waterfall and large pool) and affords great views. I was dressed for the drive, but it’s not a strenuous walk and the payoff was worth it.
Just a sip…
Spain is becoming known for its wine, especially Tempranillo and Verdejo. I couldn’t resist stopping at a few vineyards on the way back for a sip and sample. The wineries are located in pockets, with centuries-old family vineyards situated just a few miles from large, modern establishments. My suggestion is to obey your instincts and visit the ones that appeal to you, like Lalanne did for me. I have to admit — I wasn’t disappointed.
Aragón is a gorgeous and sometimes overlooked area of Spain when you consider all that the country has to offer. But if you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination with plenty to explore, then make your way to the region.
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