In the ancient mountains around Teruel sits a tiny medieval village beautifully unafraid to show its age.
Polished and prettified medieval villages are a dime a dozen in Spain. Clinging along a craggy thrust of rock wrapped by the clear waters of the Río Guadalaviar, Albarracín is much less lovingly preserved than it is romantically neglected. Cobbled streets meander past rust-coloured buildings that seem to heave from their ancient frames. Stone arches lead to crumbling stairwells woven through with flowering vines. Alleys barely wide enough for one, open suddenly onto tiny plazas boasting enormous views over the gorge below. It is not difficult to evoke the past here. Albarracín is the past, wrought beautifully in ancient stone.
Albarracín owes part of its neglect to the Moors who built the great rambling walls that still loom over the town today. In the 10th century, they founded Ibn Razin as a fortified base precisely because of its inaccessibility. High in the Montes Universales, the landscape hasn’t changed much since then. Albarracín is surrounded by rocky crests, valleys thick with red loam, and forests of juniper and pine. After the Christian reconquista, it enjoyed a medieval heyday as a market town ruled by a wealthy aristocratic class. The stone mansions bearing oversized crests and elaborate forged-iron windowsills hail from this era.
Albarracín has long-since drifted into relative obscurity, both for its imposing location and simply for being a part of Teruel. For various reasons, this southernmost province of Aragón has been neglected by both the Spanish government and the Spanish themselves. It got so bad that recently the provincial government launched a marketing campaign with the motto, Teruel Existe. The unexpected—and delightful—result of these centuries of isolation and neglect is a village truly and anciently medieval: bowing walls, crumbling alleys, and all. Except for a few forward-thinking hoteliers–Albarracín is as authentic as it gets.
Only in the height of summer does Albarracín get crowded—usually with day-tripping Spaniards. Go in spring or fall to have it to yourself. If you visit in winter, pack snow boots and tire chains—you’ll need them. The best way to enjoy this medieval wonderland is to just lose yourself in the tangle of twisting streets. For a more in-depth look, take a walk with Guías El Andador. For just 3 euros, a friendly guide will take you to all the hidden corners of the town, even telling a ghost story or two along the way.
The cuisine of Albarracín is that of Aragón—hearty dishes based on game, wild mushrooms, and pulses. Local favourites include estofado de ciervo (stewed venison), cordero asado (roasted lamb), and migas con uva (fried bread crumbs with grapes). Dozens of restaurants in town offer this solid fare including El Bodegón which has an excellent value lunch menu and amazing views from its upstairs dining room. The rowdy La Taberna opens up early for breakfast and boasts delicious homemade cakes. Tiempo de Ensueño is a den of modernity in the midst of the medieval jumble. Dishes employ local fare in sophisticated, inventive ways that would not be out of place on a Michelin-starred menu in Madrid. In the basement is an ultra-sleek wine bar (go for a Somontano from northern Aragón). The set menu is 35 euros, lunch or dinner, and reservations are suggested. After dinner, head to El Molino del Gato, Albarracín’s own little bit of bohemia. Located in an 16th century mill, this coffee shop/bar doubles as a gallery for local artists.
The best value is the family-run Hostal Los Palacios. Rooms are small and the furnishings outdated, but for under 50 euros, you get a stunning view of the river valley. For about 20 euros more, get double the charm at the lovely Posada del Adarve which offers five romantic rooms in a house built right in Albarracín’s walls. La Casa del Tío Americano offers colourful rooms and expansive views for just under 100 euros. Hotel Albarracín is the best-rated in town, starting at 125 euros. Located in a dramatic 16th century stone mansion, it also offers a pool set in a lovely garden. (Prices given are for the high summer season, rates drop considerably off-season). When reserving, get directions to the parking lot nearest your hotel. The medieval centre is closed to all but local traffic; you’ll have to haul your luggage in by hand.
Around and About:
Just outside of Albarracín are impressive pinturas rupestres (pre-historic cave paintings) dating back 6,000 years. Arrange a visit at the Centro de Interpretación del Rodeno, 11 kilometres from Albarracín on the road to Bezas.
Nearby Teruel is famous for its Mudejar towers and its ill-fated amantes. Aragón’s very own version of Romeo and Juliet, the 13th century pair, Isabel and Diego, died tragically over their unconsummated love. Today, Teruel preserves the legacy of the lovers in the Mausoleo de los Amantes. It’s not for the squeamish; under the elaborate sarcophagi the mummified bodies of the lovers are visible.
Albarracín sits on the winding local road, A-1512, most easily accessed from Teruel which is 38 kilometres away. From Madrid, Albarracín is a four hour drive; from Valencia, two; from Barcelona, five. By public transport, you have one option—the bus from Teruel which leaves daily at 15:30 and returns the next morning at 8:55. To get to Teruel, catch a daily bus from most major cities. By train, you have to get to Zaragoza first. Teruel is not connected directly via rail to other cities.
Albarracín Tourist Office, C/Diputación, 4, tel. 978 710 251, www.albarracin.org , closed Sun. eve. and Mon.
El Andador, C/Diputación, 4, tel. 617 666 050 or 667 260 601, www.elandador.es
El Bodegón, C/Azagra, 2, 978 700 355, daily
La Taberna, Pl. Mayor, 6, tel. 978 700 317, daily
Tiempo de Ensueño, C/Los Palacios, 1, tel. 978 704 070, www.tiempodeensuenyo.com , closed Tues.
El Molino del Gato, C/San Antonio, 4, tel. 978 700 426, www.elgato.arrakis.es, evenings only
Hostal Los Palacios, C/Los Palacios, 24, tel. 978 700 327, www.montepalacios.com
Posada del Adarve, C/Portal de Molina, 23, tel. 978 700 304, www.posada-adarve.com
Hotel La Casa del Tío Americano, C/Los Palacios 9, tel. 978 710 125, www.lacasadeltioamericano.com
Hotel Albarracín, C/Azagra, s/n, tel. 978 710 011, www.gargallo-hotels.com
Centro de Interpretación del Rodeno, tel. 978 681 072 or 606 638 046, weekends only
Mausoleo de los Amantes, C/Matías Abad, 3, Teruel, tel. 978 618 398, daily