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Backroads of Spain 2018 | Roadtrip - Navarra, Aragon, Toledo, La Mancha, and Cuenca

Hi all, I just wanted to share another one of my travel albums, to help us all get through these uncertain times and dream of our next travels. This time we travel on the backroads of inland Spain! A land of rolling multicolored plains, Moorish architectural eye-candy, forgotten ancient Roman ruins, cliff-side medieval villages, and surprisingly few foreign tourists. Let's hit the road!

Here is my photo album (includes photos from two separate roadtrips, through the same regions): https://photos.app.goo.gl/eGELNBMmMJXRVfpy5

Part 1

Our first stop is the walled-castle town of Olite, in northern region of Navarra. This medieval town is dominated by the Royal Palace of Olite, the former seat of the Kings of Navarra. We park on the outside of the walled part of town and you walk in. The town walls are quite impressive and are incorporated with the Royal Palace, more a medieval castle then a grand palace. Walking through the winding lanes of the old town is a delight and 95% of the tourists we meet are fellow Spaniards. We have a quick stop for a taste of the local traditional Sidra (hard-cider), before touring the Royal Palace. The exteriors of the palace are magnificent and the views of the surrounding countryside are fantastic. The interior on the other hand is sparse and lacking of furnishings, this was due to fire damage during the Napoleonic war, the exteriors were restored but the interiors were yet to be brought back to their original state, which were described as gilded and sumptuous back in the day.

We next head south-east to the city of Zaragoza for a few days. It's the capital of the neighboring region of Aragon. The city has more than 2,000 years of history including Roman ruins of the city walls, forum, and amphitheater, as well as the Aljafería; an 11th-century Moorish palace. It's also the home of the famous pilgrimage site of Nuestra Señora del Pilar Basilica, housing the miraculous image of the Virgin Mary of Pilar. The best part, Zaragoza is relatively undiscovered as far as major Spanish cities go. That night we will go on a tapas bar crawl through the historic and lively backstreets of El Tubo district.

Early the next morning we wake up to views of the Basilica del Pilar bathed in the early morning light and we set out for our daytrip destination, the Castle of Loarre. Tucked in deep in the foothills of the Pyrenees, el Castillo de Loarre is an imposing fortress with commanding views of the Aragonese countryside. Loarre Castle was one of many defensive fortifications in the Pyrenees, bulit to keep the Moors from advancing any further north. Dating from the late 900s/early 1000s, Loarre Castle is one of the oldest castles still standing in Spain. It was consequently used as filming location by Ridley Scott in the film Kingdom of Heaven. We end our day at the Castle's bar/restaurant, with the stunning view before us.

(continued in part 2)

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Really, must you?😁 Now we have to fit in another trip to Spain! These sights are beautiful! And some of our favorite seafood. Thanks for this report. Looking forward to part 2.

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Part 2 (see photos link above)

The next day we drive straight south to the centre of the country in the famed La Mancha region. Stopping at the historic capital of Spain, Toledo. While as a day trip Toledo can often get crowded, we opt to spend a few nights in town, giving us the flexibility to avoid most of the tourist crowds. Christmas is upon us and Toledo is preparing with lights and decorations. We first stop the Cathedral with its impressive solid gold altarpiece and other baroque eye-candy. We then make the trek up to the imposing Alcázar de Toledo. Touring its huge military museum we find many artifacts of Spain's storied past; the armour of Carlos V, the sword of last Moorish King, the cloak of Franco, the sword of El Gran Capitán, and the racing helmet of Fernando Alonso. We wake up early the next morning and set out across the rolling plains of La Mancha.

After driving through the empty backroads of La Mancha, we reach our destination, the expansive ancient Roman ruins of Segobriga. The Roman town of Segobriga was a prosperous Roman town that was completely abandoned during the very early middle ages, only recently begun excavations, it’s relatively undiscovered even by locals. After we pay our entrance fee of 6 euros, we don’t run into a single other person, we have this whole Roman town to ourselves to explore! After a few hours seeing the amphitheater, forum, theater, and fortifications, we hit the road again to our next destination, the cliffside medieval town of Cuenca.

Cuenca is a medieval town founded by the Moors, it’s unique as the old part of town hangs off of a cliff overlooking the Jucar valley gorge. Unfortunately, this time around we only have a few hours in Cuenca, but we are able to efficiently walk through its compact old quarter. We briefly visit the 12 century Catedral de Cuenca, las Casas Colgadas, and the most excellent Spanish Museum of Abstract Art. We are able to grab a bite to eat at Parador de Cuenca, a 4-star hotel located in monastery, with stunning views of the old town, before setting off through the Serrania de Cuenca National Park.

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Part 3 (see photos link above)

La Serrania de Cuenca is an isolated forested expanse the makes up the southern part of the Aragon region. We are definitely off the beaten path now as for hours we drive on an old road from the 1930s and don’t pass more than a few other cars. We finally make our way down from the forested mountains into the badlands of the Aragon region, dotted with forgotten old towns and villages (see my videos), finally coming out of the badlands we are rewarded with the medieval town of Albarracín!

We are only able to do a quick drive through Albarracín, but it’s magnificent. It was the capital of its own Moorish city-state and was named (by popular vote) the prettiest village in Spain. The town is made of several tall pink hued buildings, on the ciffside, surrounded by town’s old Moorish walls.

We finish the loop back in Zaragoza, in time for the Christmas festivities, the main plaza of the city is now converted into a giant Christmas market. In front of the Basilica is a life size Nativity scene. We end the night feasting on traditional local sausages and Aragonese “Migas”.

Well that’s my shot at writing a travel story lol. I hope you enjoyed the trip as much as I did and that it has inspired you to visit some of Spain’s untouristed inland sights!

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4006 posts

Thanks. I’ve added the Segobriga ruins to my next trip for, hopefully, later this year. Hopefully we can fit it in on the drive between Chinchon and Belmonte castle, en route to Alarcon. The other places you mentioned we’ve either been to, or are already on the itinerary. Segobriga reminds me of Italica outside Sevilla and also the ruins at Merida.

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@jaimeelsabio that sounds like a great trip you have cooking up! I highly recommend Segobriga, a true hidden gem, they even has a small yet modern museum on site with artifacts and the story of the town. I also wanted to visit the recently discovered Roman Villa de Noheda, and the Visigothic city of Reccopolis but alas I did not have enough time. You may find this link to archaeological sites in the area helpful - https://cultura.castillalamancha.es/patrimonio/parques-arqueologicos

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Great photos. Thanks for posting. I see the same weather I experienced in Zaragoza.

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@Jazz+Travels - yes lol! Zaragoza is famous throughout Spain for that kind of weather. According to legend, the bad weather comes down from El Moncayo, a rugged mountainous area just west of Zaragoza, a place supposedly haunted by evil spirits and witchcraft 😨