Disney’s Mountain-top Village
Area: Southern Teruel
Route: Teruel-Albarracín-Rubielos de Mora
Distance: 310 kilometres
Glory at the sparkling architecture of Spain’s coldest city and wander the narrow streets of a picture-postcard village that could have been designed by Walt Disney.
In the southernmost province of Aragon, Teruel city is only a couple of hours away from bustling Valencia and the shimmering beaches of the Costa Azhar, but a world away in temperament.
Architecturally Teruel is a little gem, renowned for having some of Spain’s most beautiful examples of Mudejar buildings. Mudejar emerged as an architectural style on the Iberian peninsular in the 12th century as a result of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian cultures living side by side. Unlike Gothic or Romanesque, Mudejar did not involve the creation of new shapes or structures, but rather reinterpreting. Western styles through Muslim influences. It is accepted that the style was born in Toledo, as an adaption of architectural and ornamental motifs, although it became most highly developed in Aragon, especially in Teruel.
It is characterised by an extremely refined and inventive use of brick and glazed tiles, especially in belfries. Tiles are often cobalt blue and white, although a lustrous green predominates in Teruel. Look for airy patios with a fountain or tiled reflecting pool, and repeated motifs like square flowers and eight-pointed stars rather than faces and images. Teruel’s most glorious examples are the towers of San Pedro, San Martíon, El Salvador and the Cathedral. El Salvador’s is the only tower that can be ascended. From the first floor of the Café Torre next door you get an unusual, wonderful view of the tile-work glistening above.
On top of a pillar in the historic centre, the Plaza Torico, sits the symbol of Teruel, El Torico, a statue of a bull atop a fluted column. Given the Spanish propensity for big and bold in public sculpture, it comes as a shock to see how small the “little bull” actually is (the suffix “-ico”is a common diminutive).
Legend has it that in the 13th century two young people, Diego de Marcilla and Isabel de Segura, fell in love and wanted to marry. Isabel came from wealthy stock, but Diego was skint and her parents forbade the match. In a magnanimous gesture of a sort, Isabel’s father gave Diego five years in which to make his fortune and establish a name for himself. At the end of this time he returned to Teruel a wealthy man, only to find his bride-to-be already married to a local nobleman. Poor young Diego died of a broken heart and Isabel, full of despair at his death, snuffed it the following day. You can see the couple, forever linked by alabaster hands, in the cloisters of the church of San Pedro. Sadly, the Plaza de los Amantes alongside the church that dedicates their love must be one of the ugliest in Spain. In true fairy-tale style, the story of the Spanish Romeo and Juliet has been made into a film.
If you want to take something home, pick up a couple of bottles of the cheap but excellent Campo de Borja wine from the Aragon region, but for a real bit of giddy gastronomy nip into Martín Martín, just opposite the defunct Mercado Municipal at the top of Calle Joaquín Costa. In one of the strangest combinations you will come across, it’s a pickle, cake and sweets shop. The former are sold loose from about 50 big ceramic pots, or in tins and jars from a mouth-watering selection on shelves behind the counter. On the other side of the shop are containers of lollipops, liquorice sticks, jelly things, crunchy what-nots, twists and twirls of all sorts. Plus a nifty selection of dried fruits, biscuits, cakes and nuts. An adult and children’s edible heaven.
Instead of taking the road direct from Teruel to Albarracín, make the slight detour into the Sierra de Jabalón via Bezas (A1513 to San Blas and Toril) and the Espacio Protegido Pinares de Rodeno, with its Neolithic rock paintings. (Teruel province makes much of its prehistoric heritage and, if you can’t see the dinosaurs in real life, you can at least visit a whole theme park designed around their existence on the edge of Teruel.)Rodenotakes its name from the reddish rock in the area that contorts into strange formations.
The road through the Espacio is a delightful wander through pine trees with long vistas of cornfields snaking off into the distance. When you take the right turn for Albarracín shortly after Bezas, you come to the Mirador de Las Tejadas, a viewing point where, in front of you, you see the curious red stone formation known locally as the Buddha’s Foot.
When Walt Disney had Mickey Mouse running around medieval streets in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, he must have conjured up the idea after a visit to Albarracín. This mountain-top village’s streets are so narrow that neighbours can not only shake hands from their windows but probably share the same curtains.
Albarracín, on a rocky outcrop above a meander of the river Guadalaviar, has been classified by UNESCO as a monument of world interest. Stand in the centre of the Plaza Mayor and in a 360-degrees turn you’ll see a town square almost as it would have looked in the 16th and 17th centuries — without the cars of course. The buildings have been tidied but not tarted up and the streets that radiate off at odd angles are like cobbled, stone-and-iron canyons, up steps, around sharp bends, down tiny alleyways, where even in the height of summer the sun never reaches.
The magnificent mansions — and there are a surprisingly large number of them — date from the 17th century, when the town experienced rapid economic growth thanks to the raising of cattle and wool exports. That faded during the 18th century, leaving the town virtually moribund until a few years ago when the tourist industry brought a new lease of life.
If you are a fisherman you may like to chance your line in the Guadalaviar, one of Spain’s richest trout rivers, where the national fishing championships are held every year. The surrounding Sierra de Albarracín is a walkers’ and naturalists’ paradise, while you can hunt wild boar in the Montes Universales National Game Reserve.
Return in the (this time taking the more direct route) Teruel and take the road for Cantavieja, the A226, which wends its way through beautiful rolling countryside, interrupted only by scattered farmhouses, many in ruins but some still with the curious steeple-like towers seen on early buildings in the region.
There are two routes you can follow here, depending if you want to pass by the ski resort of Valdelinares, or the slightly more direct route via Alcala de la Selva.
Skiers should take a right just after you leave Allepuz on a country road pointing towards the Sierra de Gudar and Valdelinares, one of the two ski centres in Teruel, the other being Alcalá de la Selva.
You feel as if you are driving through somewhere untouched since Noah was a lad. On the outskirts of the few villages you pass are rows of pajares, one-storey stone sheds the villagers use to store grain and keep rabbits in. Some are being bought up to make rural homes, although you’ll need a lot of building experience and a good bank balance to tackle them.
You begin to realise just how cold Teruel province can get when you see the pistes at Valdelinares where, even in mid-April when coastal types are having their first tentative toe-dipping in the Med, the mountainsides are covered in snow and villagers are scarved-up when they nip out for a loaf.
Drift on, past Linares de Mora, with its ancient arched entrance to the village and the church spire rising over the narrow streets, down to Rubielos de Mora, not to be confused with Mora de Rubielos, its next-door neighbour and poor relation in the architecture stakes, bonny as it might be in its own right.
For those who want to take the route past Alcalá de la Selva, and its ski resort village of Virgen de la Vega, take the left before Allepuz, the A228. While this route may look a bit more main-roadish on the map than the other, in reality they are equally higgledy-piggledy.
Alcalá is a pretty mountain village, with a delightful XVII-century church, la Iglesia de San Simon y San Judas, a castle in the usual state of ruin, a pretty hermitage, and a dance all of their own. More a theatrical presentation than just a dance, it takes place on 8 and 9 of September, during the fiesta in honour of San Roque, and involves shepherds with large castanets and a big stick, Moors and Christians on horseback, and groups of boys and girls dressed in virginal white interlacing their way between each other. As with most of these village dances, probably only the locals have the slightest idea of what it all means.
It comes as a shock, as you leave Alcalá to pass almost immediately through Virgen de la Vega, a brand-new village built solely for followers of snow, and for the few people who discovered the summer delights of the region. But it’s well done, nonetheless, with houses more reminiscent of the Alps than Aragon.
There’s no escaping the castle at Mora de Rubielos, a four-square block that guards the entrance to the town. It looks wonderful from the outside, with it’s stout walls and great turrets, but unless you are a devotee of big, empty, over-restored rooms, it’s not worth the two euro entrance fee. Totally devoid of charm, it is a testament more to the ‘skills’ of modern poured concrete than to the hard life of those who lived there during the fourteenth century.
Continue on to the village with the same name but in reverse, Rubielos de Mora, one of those wonderful Spanish villages that seem forever set in Sunday afternoon mode. In the narrow, twisting medieval streets within the walls of the historic centre you may see the occasional granny pulling a wheelie basket and you know it’s rush-hour when a cat gets up to stretch its legs after a doze in the sun.
The size of the village belies the fact that it was once one of the most important religious centres in Aragon, with not just one but two convents, one of which is still home to five monjas clausuradas, elderly nuns who never leave the confines of the convent.
Enter through either of the 14th-century portals, of Carmen or San Antonio, and you enter a time warp where grand mansions and stunning casas señoriales (noble houses) fill the squares.
An amusing detail on a couple of large houses, long corrugated plaster ribs, isn’t a regional architectural oddity. It was a way wily householders stopped the local lads using their walls for an impromptu local handball game that left marks all over a nicely painted house front.
If you feel in need of relaxation after all this beauty, you can nip over the border into Valencia, to Montenejos, and soak in the natural hot water springs or while away an hour in its famous spa. Take the CV20 to return to Valencia from Montenejos or A515 from Rubielos, which joins the N234.
WHAT TO SEE
Mudejar towers of San Pedro, San Martín, El Salvador.
Dinópolis, Polígono Los Planos, s/n Tel. 90 244 80 00. Dinosaur park. Open daily 10am-8pm (last ticket 6pm) €18, children under 11 and pensioners €14.
The whole of this delightful town has been declared of International Tourism Interest.
Rubielos de Mora:
Ayuntamiento, in 16th-century nobleman’s house.
Santa María la Mayor, parish church consecrated in 1620.
WHERE TO STAY
Hostal Serruchi, Calle Ollerías del Calvario, 4. Tel. 97 860 54 51/675 8089 653. Recently opened hostal has all the amenities of a three-star hotel at budget prices. €€
Fonda del Tozal, Calle del Rincón, said to be the oldest hostelry in Spain. €
Casa Xana-Ana, Terriente, Sierra de Albarracín. (A-1703) Tel. 636 354 967. A delightful casa rural set in a quite village fifteen minutes drive from Albarracín. The English-speaking owner is an encyclopaedia of what to do and where to go in the area, and can prepare a programme to suit each individual’s needs. Highly recommended
Casón del Ajimez, San Juan 2. Tel. 97 871 03 21 or 655 843 207. Unusual hotel in historic house decorated, supposedly, to celebrate the Christian, Jewish and Arabic faiths. €€€
Hotel Casa de Santiago, Subida de las Torres 11. Tel. 97 870 0316. Set in 16th-century ex-priest’s house. Bright, colourful and idiosyncratic. €€€
Hospedería El Batán, Ctra Comarcal 1512, km43, Tramacastilla. Tel. 97 870 6070. Charming country hotel with highly rated restaurant, 15-minute drive from Albarracín. €€€
Rubielos de Mora:
Casa del Irlandés, Calle Virgen del Carmen 18. Tel. 97 880 44 62 or 649 612 635. Owned by Irish/Spanish couple. House and owners are equally delightful. €
Hotel Los Leones, Plaza Igual y Gil 3. Tel. 97 880 44 77. Elegant historic home of local gentry. €€€
WHERE TO EAT
La Parrilla, Calle San Sebastián. Serves good portions of local cuisine, heavy stews, excellent chorizo and beautiful local lamb. €€
Bar Gregory and Gregory Plus, Paseo del Ovelo, for tapas, either as a nibble or full dining experience. €€
Bar Serruchi, Calle Ollerías del Calvario. Neighbourhood bar serving excellent local sausages, meats and grilled veg at bargain prices. €
Hotel Casa de Santiago, Subida de las Torres 11. Tel. 97 870 03 16. €€
Hospedería El Batán, Ctra Comarcal 1512, km43, Tramacastilla. Tel. 97 870 60 70. Highly rated restaurant serving local dishes and own highly inventive cuisine. €€€
Teruel: Tourist Information Office, Tomas Nogues 1. Tel. 97 860 22 79.
Albarracín: Tourist Information Office, Plaza Mayor 1, Tel. 97 8 71 02 51.
Rubielos de Mora: Tourist information Office. Ayuntamiento, Plaza Hispano América. Tel. 97 880 40 01. Open Apr-Oct daily 10am-2pm and 5-8pm. Nov-Feb Mon-Fri 10am-2pm and 5-7pm.