A road trip to me is always one of the greatest signs of freedom. Road trips are a great way to explore any place as you get to make more stops and detours than you would with any regular bus or train route. In fact, sometimes it is necessary to have a car to make it to some of the more interesting things that cities or countries have to offer as they are not always located in the heart of the major population centers.
Yesterday, we took a road trip to through the region of Spain called Aragon. As I mentioned in my earlier post, Aragon is an interesting Spanish region with a history that is very significant and relevant to Spain’s founding as a modern nation.
Having seen many of the things that Zaragoza has to offer, I was finally able to get to the countryside to see some more historical relics of Spanish history. We set off to explore, with a loose plan of seeing a few things.
First Stop – Loarre Castle
Loarre Castle is a national cultural heritage site for being an 11th Century castle. Many say that it is one of the best Romanesque castles in Europe, as it has been well-preserved. Due to its pristine condition, Loarre Castle has been the site of movies such as Kingdom of Hearts with Orlando Bloom as well as others in the past. The original castle constructed between 1020-1035 was built for Sancho III El Mayor de Navarra. Over the preceding two-hundred years several additions were made by other kings such as a monastery and lastly the outer fortress walls.
Second Stop – The Origins of Aragon
Catholicism has long played a part in the traditions of many European kingdoms, Spain is no exception. Origins of Spanish culture can be traced with origins of Catholicism as it was at one point the focal point of Spanish civilization. For this reason, many believe that religious relics can often be considered the foundations of the local life as much was concentrated around them. Much like San Joan de Les Abadesses in Catalunya is thought to be the origin of Catalan culture, the monastery of San Juan de la Peña is considered to be the same. Carved into the mountain side, San Juan de la Peña is a small yet uniquely positioned Catholic monastery. The surrounding landscape is beautiful and hiking is a common past time for visitors to the monastery. A newer monastery was created not far from the older one, but it is of little significance to Aragonese origins.
Third Stop – France, Urdos (Aquitaine) to be exact
I find that Europeans rarely realize how fortunate they are to be able to drive short distances and find themselves in foreign lands with new languages and cultures. In the United States, you can literally drive for thirty hours at times and jump out of the car and find little cultural differences outside of the changes in terrain. Being so close to France, we made the decision to cross the Pyrenees for a quick drink and relaxing drive. Arriving in France, I was amazed at how different the surroundings became almost immediately. Obviously, the differences were not completely drastic, but notable differences in architecture and scenery were. Not to mention the language. I never would have guessed that something so close could be so different. Bienvenue a France.
Fourth and Final Stop – Jaca
The last stop on our way home was a town called Jaca. Jaca is a mountainous town that has been quite relevant to Pyrenees history. It is at the heart of a valley that crosses into France, which is of obvious military significance for Spain in the past when people like Napoleon were on the loose. In modern-day Spain, Jaca serves as a focal point both for hikers and skiers alike. During the warmer summer months, one can encounter a variety of hikers as Jaca is one of the stops for one of the many routes for the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage to Galicia. Whenever the weather is cold, Europeans hit the slopes for some skiing and winter sports.
I visited the Cathedral of Jaca. The Cathedral is one of the stops where pilgrims and voyagers can receive a stamp on their “passport” from the Camino de Santiago. (They get a paper to authenticate that they have made the journey, receiving stamps at each destination they visit)
Another common stop for people in Jaca, is the Castillo de San Pedro Ciudadela de Jaca. A military citadel, which is still used for some exercises today. I took the tour of the citadel and found it to be fairly interesting as it was a well-constructed and pre-planned citadel. It was even complete with some of the world’s best gardeners. Seen below.
Special thanks to the Government of Aragon and JC for providing the resources to enjoy this excursion.