Spotlight on Spanish Autonomous Regions: Aragón

Not one to make travel goals, I did make one when coming to Spain: travel to all 17 autonomous communities at least once before going home. While Madrid, Barcelona and Seville are the stars of the tourist dollar show (and my hard-earned euros, let’s not kid around here), I am a champion for Spain’s little-known towns and regions. Having a global view of this country has come through spending ample time in Andalucía, Galicia and Castilla y León – vastly different in their own right – plus extensive travel throughout Spain.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’ve probably not heard of March’s comunidad, Aragón. But I’m pretty positive you’ve heard of Christopher Columbus and the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand and Isabel, whose marriage in the mid 15th Century would ultimately lead to Spain’s Golden Age.

Name: Aragón

Population: 1.35 million

Provinces: Aragón is divided into three provinces – Zaragoza, Huesca and Teruel – and really only has two large cities – Zaragoza and Huesca. The region is comprised of a number of small towns and is best-known for its role in forming modern Spain as the Kingdom of Aragón.

When: 15th of 17 regions, March 2012

About Aragón: The region is rich in the historical, architectural and natural senses. Its mudéjar buildings and plush river valleys take a lot of credit, but given how important it has been historically is worth exploring, too. Aragón became a self-proclaimed kingdom over a millennia ago, eventually claiming parts of Italy and Greece, as well as Corsica and a large part of the eastern coast of Iberia. The kingdom grew when Ferdinand of Aragón married Isabel of Castille, becoming one of the powerhouse couples of Spanish history and reconquering Spain from the Moors.

What remains is a region that seems just as seeped in lore as Andalucia, from the traditional costumes and festivals to the devotion for the local virgin, Nuestra Señora del Pilar, whose feast day coincides with Spain’s national festival.

Must-sees: Zaragoza has a number of sites in its old town, from the Basilicia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar and it’s beautifully tiled roof to the modern Expo site across the Ebro. The region’s capital (and the fifth-largest city in Spain) is also home to the Seo church and the Moorish Palacio de Aljafería, which now houses the provincial court system. It’s a city you can experience in a day, to be honest.

 If you’re into castles, history and architecture, check out the castle of Loarre in the Huesca province, the city of Teruel (sí, existe) and the village that has been ranked as one of Spain’s most beautiful, Albecerrín. Jaca is also full of religious museums and temples.

Outdoor lovers, rejoice! Because of the low population density in the autonomía, there is plenty to explore. Huesca is one of Spain’s snowiest zones, and the Pyrenees are home to a number of ski resorts with outdoor activities of every type. Check out the Ordesa and Parque de la Piedra national parks.

My take: The Novio and I went to visit a friend of his from the Air Force Academy who flies a fighter jet at the nearby base. A ceutí by birth and an andaluz at heart, Gon did his duty to show us around Zaragoza during Holy Week. Unfortunately, crap weather and a flu bug had us all indoors, watching TV and ordering takeout for four straight days.

Gonzalo claims that the draw of the province comes from the Pyrenees mountains, the rich gastronomy and the outdoor activities. We didn’t have a car to use that weekend, meaning we were stuck in the capital (and on the couch, ugh). Thanks to its connection on the AVE, it’s a city I’d be interested in seeing again, and I’m eager to see more of the comunidad.

Each month for the next 15, I’ll take a look at Spain’s 17 comunidades autónomas and my travel through them, from A to, um, Valencia. I’d love your take on the good and the bad in each one, so be sure to sign up for my RSS feed to read about each autonomous region at the end of each month!

In case you missed it, I featured Andalucía, the region I live in, in February.

What do you love (or not) about Aragón?

Top Tips for Visiting Catalonia

Catalonia is without a doubt one of Spain’s most beautiful regions, home to the splendid Pyrenees mountain range, striking medieval villages, breathtaking scenery and of course vibrant and culturally rich cities such as Barcelona, Girona, and Tarragona. With this in mind, here are some top tips to help you make up your mind whilst visiting this delightful Spanish region.

Visit the city of Barcelona

When visiting Catalonia a visit to Spain’s second largest city is a must. You will have the chance to explore this visually stunning and incredibly exciting city, admire Gaudi’s impressive architecture and enjoy attractions such as Montjuïc’s Magic Fountain and Port Vell. Spend a few days here to truly experience the vibe of the city, you will be able to find your room in Barcelona through this page.

Admire the Costa Brava

The beautiful Costa Brava begins in Blanes and stretches for miles on end before reaching the French Coast. Visitors are able to explore quaint Catalan villages such as Begur and Tossa del Mar before taking a dip in the crystal clear waters or relaxing on the beach. The Costa Brava is also lined by delightful restaurants and bars making it a wonderful place to enjoy a little Spanish nightlife.

Explore medieval Montblanc

Montblanc is located in the Catalan region just one hour’s drive from the city of Barcelona. Legend tells that it was here where St. Jordi killed the ferocious dragon back in the medieval times. The medieval village itself is well worth a visit due to its spectacular ancient defences, splendid architecture, colourful past and extraordinary Catalan panoramas.

Marvel at Tarragona’s Poblet Monastery

If you are passionate about architecture you will almost certainly want to visit Bargués’ fabulous monastery. The monastery has been considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site for more than two decades and attracts a staggering number of visitors each year. This is one of Spain’s most historically significant buildings as it was once the royal pantheon of the almighty kings of Aragón.

Discover the Delta de l’Ebre

This spectacular nature reserve is also home to Spain’s rice growing plantations. If you are a keen bird watcher you will be delighted to admire the region’s many migratory species from the specially constructed birding stations. Nearby visitors are able to visit a number of museums dedicated to the Battle of the Ebro, the longest battle of the dramatic Spanish Civil War.

Catalonia not only boasts awe-inspiring architecture, natural beauty and a fascinating history, but this Spanish region is also celebrated for its divine cuisine, exquisite shopping and vivacious nightlife meaning that there really is something for everybody!

Check back in a few months when I delve even deeper into Cataluña (a region I really like, despite not clicking with Barcelona) as a part of my 17 Spanish Regions series! For the first two installments, click here.

What are your top tips for Catalonia? Looking to learn Spanish in Barcelona? Contact me!

Photo Post of Carmona: The Perfect Little Day Trip from Seville

Nothing says long weekend like a roadtrip, a quick stop in a village and the mass migration of people during the sacred puente. Not wanting to go too far, I settled on taking a day trip to Carmona, one of the province highlights that is often shadowed by Seville (even though, in my opinion, the province doesn’t offer too much by way of historical sites). 

Rain was on the forecast, but it didn’t matter – Phyllis and I grabbed Pequeño Monty and took the A-4 all the way into town. My first trip to Carmona was five years ago on a similar, drizzly morning – I’ve been aching to return since (particularly because that was one of my poorest points of expat life – we didn’t pay to see anything and split two plates of food between five of us).

Most visitors to the city arrive to the Plaza del Estatuto, known to locals as the Plaza de Abajo. The oblong plaza is lined with old man bars. I swooned immediately.

This small city, perched on a hill above acres of wheat and olives, has seen traces of Bronze Age settlers, Roman emperors, Visigoth Kings and the Moors before its conquest in the 13th Century. In pounding the pavement, I felt like we were on the tails of history.

The old center winds up from the Puerta de Sevilla and its imposing city walls and onto Plaza San Fernando towards Calle Prim, called the Plaza de Abajo by locals. Hidden within the gradually steep walls that stretch to the Iglesia de Santiago and the Puerte de Córdoba are tucked-away plazas, convents, grandiose cathedrals and stately palaces. Many alleyways are so slim, you can touch both sides of the walls.

There was little car traffic (it seemed the whole town was either sleeping off the Carnival celebrations or at a wedding at the Priory of Santa María), and we practically had the whole place to ourselves.

Ending the day at the Necrópolis de Carmona (which is free, so you have no excuse to not go), we had gone from lavish renaissance palaces to the ruins of an ancient burial ground by just driving to the other part of town. Laying along the Via Augusta, Carmona has been attracting tourists for millennia.  We were just two unassuming guiris still amazed that such old stuff exists.

Have you been to Carmona? What are you favorite villages in the Sevilla province? I’d recommend the following:

Estepa, Ciudad del Mantecado

Itálica and its Roman Ruins

San Nicolás del Puerto

Spain Snapshots: A Visit to Spain’s Highest Point, el Teide

The Megane steadily climbed out of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, past La Laguna and into the plush interior of the island. The pines and windy roads took me back to Colorado, but with an occasional glimpse of Atlantic waters.

Gua guas pushed up the hill slowly, and Forrest swerved around them, comfortable as he shifted into third in our rental car and rode the mountain up. Tenerife was formed by an underground volcano 30 to 50 million years ago, and its highest point, Teide, actually gives the island its name: tene (mountain) and ife (white), joined by an /r/ during the colonial period. The entire island is formed from volcanic rock, in fact, evident from the steep ride up and down, and the white-capped mountain is visible from seemingly every rincón of the largest island in the archipelago. 

Once we reached the national park and UNESCO World Heritage site, we parked the car and took the gondola up the mountain. Most tourists don’t venture up to the top, standing nearly 3800 meters above sea level, despite Teide being one of the most visited sites in Spain. The landscape is almost barren, and the only sign off life we saw after starting our ascent were lizards.

Steep rock stairs have been carved into the rock face, but we still scrambled over boulders, stopping for vistas and water breaks every 10 steps because the air was so thin. 

The great crater caused by multiple eruptions in visible from just about everywhere on the island, but seeing it from a bird’s-eye-view was insanely cool.

From the very top, you can see Gran Canaria to the east and la Gomera to the west. We actually hiked above the cloud level that covers the occidental side of the island, watching them get burned off by the warm midday sun.

If you go: Visitors can take the gondola up the mountain at the cost of 25€. If you want to hike to the top, you’ll need to print off an access pass on the national park’s main page. It’s free, but you’ll have to bring a form of ID.

Be sure to dress in layers, as it’s cold at the top, and wear comfortable shoes. Bring sunscreen, sunglasses and plenty of water, as there are no facilities after leaving the visitors center.

Have you ever visited a national park in Spain?

My rental car was graciously provided by Car Rentals UK. All opinions (as well as the memories of my stomach dropping during the hairpin turns) are my own.

Tapa Thursdays: The Corte Inglés Gourmet Experience

One of my favorite things about eating out in Spain is sharing dishes with friends. One of my least favorite is having to decide on what to eat when everyone has different gustos.

The Corte Inglés Gourmet Experience in the flagship store in Plaza del Duque recently opened its Gourmet Experience on the top floor, selling overpriced peanut butter next to an oyster bar. The appeal was being able to sample different cuisines at the same time while not having to walk all over town. For a Saturday night, I expected loads of diners, but the long weekend meant room to walk and eat and breathe without Semana-Santaesque crowds.

The Gourmet Experience has several different chains, all respected in Seville – 100Montaditos Gallery, with upscale sandwiches between 1,50 and 3,50; Barajas20, a gastro tapas bars; La Calata by Amor a la Mexicana, featuring Mexican favorites in ración form; Hamburguesa Nostra, where gourmet mini hamburgers take center stage; heralded bakery (H)arina; Egaña pintxos and Amorino gelato.

We settled on Mexican and shared a plate of nachos with several spicy dipping sauces. I like Amor a la Mexicana, but was disappointed with the excess of cheese. The price was steep, but desperate times call for desperation when it comes to shelling out euros.

Had we not wanted to share, the space has plenty of communal seating, similar to Mercado San Miguel, so you don’t all have to commit to the beauty of sharing dishes and tastes amongst friends. Like Food Life, the choice is up to you.

The terrace is worth sitting at, though, with views across the square to both the Setas and the Giralda. You can also get drinks. I’m interested in trying to hamburgers and gussied up montaditos and perhaps even leaving room for dessert.

If you go: The Gourmet Experience is located on the top floor of the mega department store in Plaza del Duque, accessed by its own set of elevators after normal store closing hours. 

Would you ever go to a place like The Gourmet Experience? Madrid’s Callao, Gran Vía, Goya and Castellana Cortes have them, too, as well as Alicante!

Climbing the Via Ferrata of Archidona

Something hard hit my boob. I watched a rock about the size of a plum careen down the grassy knoll before rolling to a stop. I squinted up at the rock face. There was a lot of mountain to go, and it had already beaten me up.

The via ferrata is the Italian name given to the iron railings the Italian army used in WWI to scale the Alps and the Dolomites, which may have existed a century or two before. The peñón of Archidona is certainly not the Alps, but as a first time climber, my legs were shaking before I had even strapped my kit to the long wires extending more than 140 meters vertically.

Franci explained the procedure to us once more –  to use the mountains, take off one carabiner at a time and don’t panic. I watched Meg Spiderman crawl over the first half a dozen before I took a deep breath and pushed off the ground, grasping the iron peg above my head.

Reaching the top a few hours later (there were periods of waiting for slower climbers or turns to cross the bridge that spanned a canyon) was a tad anti-climactic because my legs were tired and I’d already seen this view of the town below and the mountains that enclose it. My hands were red and raw and I could feel my nose burning under the hot sun.

We started down the mountain – this time walking – and snaked back around to the cars.

Facing things that make me nervous gives me just as much satisfaction as a really good meal and a glass of wine. Yeah, I like being outdoors and trying new things, but I’m not an adrenaline junkie. That said, I’d consider doing other activities that Ocioaventura offers, like spelunking or rafting. Anything that allows me to keep my two feet on the ground!

Ocioaventura offers a half-day Via Ferrata pack, which includes equipment rental, insurance and a basic training course, plus the climb, for 45€. Be sure to wear comfortable clothing and shoes, put on sunscreen and eat beforehand. You’re able to carry a small backpack for water. The course in Archidona is for beginners and can be climbed in 2-3 hours.

And if you’re looking for a place to stay, be sure to check availability at Almohalla 51, a beautiful boutique hotel that will only require a quick uphill trek from the main square.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...