I can´t recall if I was ever waiting for any other trip that much as this one. I moved to Spain just three months before, and regardless of having the chance to travel a couple of times to Spain in the past and visiting a couple of obvious places, still the real country, the in-land, the less touristy parts were completely unknown for me. We agreed to dedicate 10 days in the end of July 2019 to travel around Spain with a Fiat 500. Just the two of us and our little car on the go, free as the birds. I was so excited!
Of course, we had some draft ideas in mind, where to go, more or less on which roads, and what we had known for sure since the beginning that in the end we wanted to reach Andalusia, but we just outlined a plan and decided to go with the flow. Since Spain is relatively a big country to travel around by car, we had known that we need to spend every night somewhere else in order to comfortably reach Andalusia and return to Barcelona within this period of time.
Not to mention that on the first day of our trip we could leave Barcelona only in the afternoon hours, therefore Dani decided to limit the number of kms for that day and booked a place in Aragon…
How to arrive
The main axis of communications is A2 road, Autovía del Nordeste, Madrid-Barcelona.
From Barcelona: 395 km, 4h. Catching AP-2 and A2 once you are off Catalonia. You can go all the path via A2 but it’s a bit longer.
From Zaragoza: 88 km, 1h.
From Madrid: 232 km, 2h 30m.
From Madrid and Barcelona: www.alsa.es
From Zaragoza: http://www.automovileszaragoza.com
To move around the region or from the capital of the neighbouring region: http://www.autocareshermasa.com
For more information check Zaragoza bus station website: http://www.estacion-zaragoza.es
By train you can go to Calatayud with AVE (Spanish Speed Train) from Madrid, Barcelona and Zaragoza mainly. With AVANT train (Low-cost version of AVE), the same routes are available.
Flights from Brussels, Bucharest, London, Malaga, Menorca, Milan, Palma de Mallorca and Tenerife land in Zaragoza airport, 53 km from Calatayud.
The plan was to make a Spanish tour to let Anna understand, even partially, the diversity of my country. Therefore, Aragon was the first region we were going to pass through. I checked on the map for a stopover, where I could explain some interesting things about Spanish history and I found an ancient town, whose past dates back to Roman times and hosts many of the best examples of the Mudejar architecture preserved in Aragon from the Muslim period. Its name is Calatayud and couldn’t be better for my purpose.
What to do
Erlueta Palace: It is a classic traditional Aragonese Renaissance palace from the 16th century with some additions from the 18th in classicist style. It’s located in between Plaza de Erlueta and Calle San Miguel in Calatayud.
Colegiata de Santa María de Calatayud: It’s one of the building declared World Heritage by Unesco as part of the Aragonese Mudejar Art. It’s very worth to observe the particular Arabic partterns that left those Muslism suddenly converted into Christians in their buildings.
Plaza de España: It is a squared square with arcades on all its sides. We will see that some inclination it’s present on the ground so the buildings lean on each other showing a particular balance.
Ayud Castle: it located on the top of a Hill and is the best preserved of the five castles that existed in the area even being in ruins. From above we have magnificent views of Calatayud and the remains of those five castles in the surrounding mountains.
Historic downtown: Awesome quarter very rich in historic civil and religious architecture. There many patrimonial houses, palaces and civil infrastructures (like Fuente de los Ocho Caños, a fontain from 16th Century and Terrer Gate, also 16th Century). Its Mudejar art churches are especially remarkable (church and tower of San Pedro de los Francos, the tower and church of San Andrés and the collegiate church of the Holy Sepulchre).
We arrived there in the evening, just on time to have something for dinner and check in the accommodation. And that was indeed the first asset this town gave to me, an ancient traditional house of Aragon built probably in latest 15th century. We left the car in the open-air nearby parking lot and we got into the large house by a gate under wooden beams. The name of the house is Meson de la Dolores, and you shouldn’t miss it.
Where to stay
Hotel Monasterio Benedictino: located in an excellent location out of an original historical baroque building from the s. XVII that used to be a Monastery of Benedictine nuns and on the remains of an early gothic church from the XIII century. After its last renovation in 2013, was raised up with the intention of becoming an exclusive and elegant boutique hotel. Excellent value for you money. Doubles 60-80€
Meson de la Dolores: On this article, you will get some reasons to choose this place. Doubles 70-90€
Hospedería El Pilar: A magnificent restored medieval building located in the historic center of Calatayud, next to the Collegiate Church of Santa María, which preserves the highest Mudejar tower in Aragon. Familiar environment and local vibe. A bit noisy and some rooms quite old. Doubles 35-50€
We found there a gentle receptionist who explained with her particular local accent that the house has a large cobbled courtyard and an outdoor patio with a circular stone-made well. On the first floor, there was the kitchen and the dining room, with original tiles on the walls and all around the rooms, corridors and stairs, you could find awesome decoration out of old tools and objects.
Besides the Obvious favourite
Meson de la Dolores: It’s not just an accommodation, it’s a history lesson as a cosy hotel built out of a manor traditional Aragonese house. The house includes a cute old-style cellar and a museum of one of the most famous characters of the Spanish folklore: La Dolores, a legendary woman who has inspired famous couplets
The room was super cute, very authentic and cosy. But since it was kind of late, we have decided quickly to go out and discover the centre of the town in the hope of having a bite somewhere. Since our accommodation was very close to the main square, “Plaza España”, our first idea was just to find a cute place there and observe the iconic houses of the square. There were a couple of bars open, and we have chosen one in the corner from where the views on the square were maybe the best. “El Pescadito Frito” was the name of the place, therefore we ended up with some fish plate, and of course accompanied with 2 (that became later 4) local Ambar beers. Somehow life stopped there, that was my feeling, but in a nice way.
There was a big sign hanging on the surface of one of the houses: “Noches de Verano”. For sure it was an advertising for some kind of cultural activity, or concert series, but for me it summarized everything there. It was summer, it was late night, the first night of our “Vuelta a España” trip, the whole journey was still ahead of us, but we already reached the first stop, and we were sitting among a couple of locals only, listening their conversations about the life there, we could observe the stars, a perfect “Noche de Verano” for us.
Eat and Drink
La Perla: Home-cooked restaurant that serves always huge portions. It has a daily menu for less than 12€ with plenty of options to choose.
Bilbilis: One more option on a budget. Daily menu for 11€ and traditional dishes menu for 25€. Good value for your money.
Arco De San Miguel: Small restaurant for typical Aragonese quality cuisine and very elaborate dishes. A bit pricy but worth.
La tortilla: Taditional Aragonese Bar-restaurant for tapas, dishes or drinks all at once in the same place. Very local atmosphere, very reasonable prices.
El pescadito frito: Excellent location and perfect views in its terrace to catch up with the local vibe. The food is fair and cheap.
Calatayud was the new settlement of the old roman city of Bilbilis Augusta. That’s why locals are called bilbilitanos. When the Arabs arrived to the area, at the beginning of the 8th century, decided to set up their town in the current location, chose to Ayub Castle (Qal’atAyyub), which gave the place’s name.
Calatayud was located at the bottom of a complex defensive system made up of five strategic points, fortresses or castles, from the Arab period, considered one of the oldest military systems in Muslim Spain. Two octagonal towers remain from the Ayub Castle, as well as numerous canvases on the wall. The city concentrates an endless number of stately houses and Renaissance palaces.
The town was very convenient to explain to Anna about the Arab occupation in Spain that took place during almost eight centuries and along long peaceful periods of normal convivence, as well as in between many short wars that had to do more with private interests than with religion or cultural matters. Of course, there was a Cristian and Muslim identity and that ended up in the last centuries of the occupation in somehow a national, or many national projects, based in religion as a strategy for social cohesion. When Muslims were pushed away from the Iberic Peninsula in very bad conditions and no any kind of deal at all, some of them decided anyhow to stay and got converted to Christians, or they pretend so, but the Arab culture remained. That is very visible in on the patterns churches walls, we call the art and culture of those people Mudejar.
Nowadays the town is still a strategic point in the region even though its development is somehow irregular, consequence of the decadence in its importance in the big historical picture. It has a quite modern centre combined with some degradation in the old quarter, visibly on its way of reverting. That makes the town even more interesting to me and real. To take a stroll around the town is sweet, easy and safe, all is walking distance and you could feel immediately the vibe of authenticity. We didn’t see tourists at all but traditional products are available and you can find local atmosphere everywhere. Definitely, a town in a very interesting point, that you shouldn’t miss in a Spanish tour.
The next morning, we woke up with full of energy. After a lovely breakfast we were ready to continue our trip. We had many kms ahead of us and we couldn´t wait more to go and explore further this beautiful country… España.