Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain: Basilica of Nuestra Senora del Pilar and Ebro river

Spain //

Aragón

Politically and historically Aragón has close links with Catalunya, with which it formed a powerful alliance in medieval times, exerting influence over the Mediterranean as far away as Athens. Locked in on all sides by mountains, it has always had its own identity, with traditional fueros like the Basques and a written Aragonese language existing alongside Castilian. The modern autonomía – containing the provinces of Zaragoza, Teruel and Huesca – is well out of the Spanish political mainstream, especially in the rural south, where Teruel is the least populated region in Spain. Coming from Catalunya or the Basque Country, you’ll find the Aragonese pace in general noticeably slower.

It is the Pyrenees that draw most visitors to Aragón, with their sculpted valleys, stone-built farming villages and excellent trekking. Some valleys have been built up with expensive ski resorts, but they still reveal the stunning wilderness of the Parque Nacional de Ordesa and the Parque Natural de Posets-Maladeta, with their panoply of canyons, waterfalls and peaks. Aragón’s Pyrenean towns are also renowned for their sacred architecture; Jaca has one of the country’s oldest Romanesque cathedrals.

The most interesting monuments of central and southern Aragón are, by contrast, Mudéjar: a series of churches, towers and mansions built by Muslim workers in the early decades of Christian rule, which have been on UNESCO’s World Heritage list since 2001. In addition to its absorbing Roman remains, Zaragoza, the Aragonese capital and the only place of any real size, sets the tone with its remarkable Aljafería palace. Other examples are to be found in a string of smaller towns, in particular Tarazona, Calatayud and – above all – the southern provincial capital of Teruel. In southern Aragón, the captivating walled village of Albarracín is incredibly picturesque, while to the east lies the isolated region encompassing the Sierra de Gúdar and El Maestrazgo, a rugged countryside stamped with dark peaks and gorges.