A Leisurely Tour of NE Spain: Catalonia, Aragon and Valencia

STE’s Holiday Editor, Tony Taylor, reports on his experiences on a leisurely tour of NE Spain.

The Basilica at Montserrat
The Monastery at Montserrat

We flew from Manchester to Barcelona with Jet2, and collected our hire car at the airport. The car was booked through Holiday Autos and all went very smoothly when picking up the car, which we used throughout our leisurely 19 day tour of NE Spain. Our tour covered the Catalonia, Aragon and Valencia regions.

Initially we stayed four nights at the Holiday Inn Express Molins de Rei which proved very convenient for exploring Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia.

The hotel has breakfast included (as in all Holiday Inn Expresses), free parking and very pleasant helpful staff, who gave clear directions to Barcelona and Montserrat. The only negative was that we were woken at 2 am on a Friday night by a noisy disco from an adjacent building. However the reception desk was able to move us to a quiet room and make certain, with the help of the local police force, that it was not so noisy the following night.

Gaudi art work in Barcelona
Gaudi art work in Barcelona

The hotel is a ten minute stroll to a station, which has frequent trains to Plaça de Catalunya in the centre of Barcelona. A book of ten single train tickets cost just €14.90 for seniors. We purchased a two-day pass for the Red hop-on hop-off tourist bus, which has two routes, each taking  approximately two hours, covering the West and East of Barcelona.

We found this a very useful, convenient and rapid way to get a feel of the city, and its important/famous sites including Las Ramblas, Gaudi’s buildings and the beach area. After spending the first day travelling the whole of both routes, we then chose several places to explore further on the second day.

Rack and pinion train in Montserrat
Rack and pinion train to Montserrat Monastery

Visiting Montserrat involved taking the RENFE train to Martorell and then the FGC train to Monistrol de Montserrat, followed by the rack and pinion train (the Cremallera meaning zipper) to the spectacularly sited Monastery. The return tickets totalled €19.90.

We visited the impressive monastery interior, before strolling around and enjoying the marvellous views from the site. Apparently there are a number of very interesting mountain walks – which we did not attempt!

From Barcelona we drove 180 miles to Zaragoza, the capital of the Aragon region. We broke the journey at Lleida where we parked in the centre by the river and then walked up to the Sen Vella (old cathedral) in La Suda (the old castle). Unfortunately both are closed on a Monday, the day we visited! However we could walk around the castle battlements with excellent views over the town, river and plain.

Superb carvings in La Aljaferia
Elaborate carvings in La Aljaferia

Our hotel in Zaragoza was the Pilar Plaza, ideally situated in the central Plaza de Pilar. We found Zaragoza to be delightful. Many of the attractions are within ten minutes’ walk from the hotel, including the Basilica del Pilar, the Plaza, Central Market, Roman wall and the stunning Catedral del Salvador (La Seo).

La Aljaferia (the Moorish Palace) was 25 minutes’ walk, which could be along the banks of the River Ebro. This palace has undergone restoration and the elaborate carvings and architecture are superb.

From Zaragoza to Valencia is about 200 miles. We had a relaxing drive taking the whole day.

The author in the centre of Daroza
The author in the Daroza

Our first break in the journey at Cannena, a quiet town, famed for its wines, with a long wide avenue lined with trees. Our next stop was at Daroza, an attractive town with old walls, towers, cobbled streets and fine churches. Our final break was at the high altitude town of Teruel with interesting buildings combining Gothic and Islamic elements. We could happily have spent much more time exploring all three towns.

In Valencia, the capital of the Valencia region, we stayed two nights at the Holiday Inn Express in Ciudad las Ciencias. We spent our one full day there using the tourist bus (which has a stop near the hotel) to get a feel for Valencia. Unfortunately we did not have time to visit the Ciudad de les Artes y las Las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences). That will be included in our next visit.

Coastal town of Peniscola
Coastal town of Peniscola

Our next stop was for a week in a timeshare apartment in Marina d’Or, Oropesa del Mar, 50 miles north of Valencia. This is a purpose built resort, with lovely sea front gardens and many entertainment features including a water park.

At the time we were there just before Easter, it was pleasant and quiet. However, we were informed that it would be extremely busy the following week! We had a relaxing week, walking, reading and driving to see local villages/towns, including:

• Peniscola – An attractive coastal town. The castle/monastery is well worth visiting (€3.50 for pensioners). It has magnificent views and interesting information about the Knights Templar and Pope Benedict XIII. It is a steep walk up to the castle, and then many steps within the castle.

Small hill town of Villafames

• Villafames – A small hill town with easy parking. There is a steep walk up to the interesting church with its small museum (there is some parking there), and then a further walk up to the remains of a castle. It has excellent views over the surrounding countryside.

• Calla – A small village 30 miles inland in a mountainous region. It has well restored buildings and streets with a ‘do-it-yourself’ tour consisting of numbered information boards. The village was almost deserted – we were the only tourists at this National Heritage site. Again there were magnificent panoramic views.

• Sant Mateau – A small town about 20 miles inland on a plain. We travelled there by a very narrow, hilly scenic route! The direct return route was much easier but far less attractive.

Sant Mataeu
Main square in Sant Mataeu

The town has signposted (in English) places of interest to see, including the main square, fountains, church and the remains of the Jewish quarter. There are plenty of cafes and eating places.

Our final stay was at Tarragona, 110 miles north of Oropesa, at the Hotel Canada. This hotel is on the Valencia road on the outskirts of Tarragona and was very Spanish and popular with the local pensioners! No English was spoken, but there were friendly staff, free car parking, and a €1.50 bus trip into the city. We had an enjoyable day and a half exploring the city with its Roman remains, including a fine amphitheatre.

From there it was a two hour drive to the Barcelona airport and back to Manchester.

We found our 19 day tour to be relaxing and enjoyable, giving a reasonable amount time to explore many interesting places. Our trip was in March/April when the weather was not too hot – ideal for touring around. However there were two quite cold days and fleeces were required most days!

See also:
Valencia to Bilbao via Zaragoza – Cathedrals, Castles and Modern Architecture
Barcelona, Spain – Top Ten City