The busy industrial town of Jaca is one of the main crossroads and transport hubs of northern Aragón, and first impressions are not great. Venture into the city centre, however, and you’ll find a bevy of sights that powerfully evoke the town’s long history, including a magnificent cathedral. Extending south of the cathedral is Jaca’s casco antiguo (old town), which includes atmospheric little plazas and streets, and the fifteenth-century Torre de Reloj (watchtower).
Jaca was founded by the Romans and then conquered by the Moors in the early eighth century. Later in the century, it was won back by the Christians in a victory that’s celebrated annually on the first Friday in May. In an interesting twist, the Moorish armies were driven back thanks to an immense – and brave – effort by the town’s women, and the festival includes a parade that pays homage to these brave Jaca ladies. In the eleventh century, Jaca became the first capital of the Aragón kingdom, though by the end of the century the power had shifted to Huesca.
Jaca makes for a good jumping-off point for outdoor adventure in the Pyrenees, including skiing at Astún and Candanchu, just 30km away. During the Festival Folklórico de los Pirineos (wjaca.es/festival), held in early August every odd-numbered year, people stream in from all over the Pyrenees to show off their cultural traditions with religious dances, performances and food. Also in August, over a two-week period, is the annual Festival Internacional en el Camino de Santiago (wfestivalcaminosantiago.com), featuring religious and classical music concerts at different venues, including the famous cathedral, as well as a medieval market in the city centre.