Ironically the single, best individual day of our road trip in France was in Spain, when we travelled through the Pyrenees from France’s glitzy seaside city of Biarritz to our next destination of Alquezar, a medieval village in the mountainous regions of Huesca Province. And the journey followed a number of fascinating and unexpected contrasts along pristine and empty roads, where we passed landscapes of towering dry rock karsts and bright blue lakes. It was dry and almost desert-like for much of the journey, and, when we stopped to explore sights along the way, we were always met by the deafening siren of cicadas. “Are we in Mexico?”. And while it is 30’c outside through the entire journey, there’s still the unlikely sight of snow on the further peaks of the Pyrenees backdrop.
Alquezar Huesca Province
I was in no way involved in planning this part of the road trip. So, to me, it was unexpected and a somewhat surreal surprise. As I honestly didn’t think landscapes like this existed in Europe. And to find it so close to where we started this journey just made it all that more fascinating. Because my previous experiences of Spain (many years ago) were otherwise by flight, dropping into overdeveloped beach resorts on the southern Costas, and, because of these experiences, Spain had really never appealed to me in more recent years. At least until Alquezar Huesca. Which has now put a proper Spanish road trip on the cards.
Welcome to Alquézar
The drive through Huesca brings us to winding roads and olive groves before opening out to the limestone cliffs that look down on Alquezar from above. As the medieval village sits out on an outcrop of the Sierra de Guara mountains and over deep canyon caverns. Vultures are circling from above. So we continue through ups-and-downs and twists-and-turns, before finally reaching the cobbled paths of Alquezar Huesca. Where, on our arrival, we are greeted by church bells ringing through the streets, which apparently happens every half hour through the day, and we step out onto streets so cobbly they’ll make your feet hurt.
Parking in Alquezar?
Alquezar has a free car park on entering the village, although most hotels will also offer on-site or nearby parking in the village. And while I often find that the centres of similar medieval settlements are pedestrianized these days, and through previous weeks in France, we had visited many medieval citadels and communes like Carcassonne, Les Baux-de-Provence and Rocamadour, which included extortionate parking fees outside and little more than tourist tack within. In contrast, it is possible to drive right through the village, which is likely due to the lack of tourist traffic in these far-flung parts of Spain. So it really feels quite odd to drive on the cobbled roads of the old medieval centre.
Hotels in Alquezar?
Spain tends to be cheaper than France, and so we make the most of our one night in Alquezar when we could actually afford a nice hotel, and a proper slap-up meal. (Both came to around 100 quid (130 Euros), which, in France, is similar to a stay in a basic Ibis along with your standard steak-frites for two). So the hotels in Alquezar are less generic than what we’ve been used to on this road trip, where instead they are mostly independent boutique hotels and guesthouses, with the same terracotta village character and charm (check here for a full list of hotels). So we opted for a night at the Hotel Villa de Alquezar which comes with a nice swimming pool area, and whatnot, but really we just picked it for the balcony views.
A Room with Views
I actually wrote most of this post from the balcony of our hotel, while looking over terracotta tiled roofs, and further ahead to the valleys and canyons. Fortunately it’s an idyllic spot, as Fanfan managed to lock me out on the balcony for 40 minutes, while she had a bath. Which gave me plenty of time to watch the swallows glide between roof tiles and the 10-20 vultures circle above the canyon. I also bought two beers for lunch, an Estrella Damm and a San Miguel from the local tobacconist. I hear on the streets below the conversation of elderly folks and kids shouting in what I’m guessing is Spanish (I don’t know Spanish).
Dining at Casa Pardina
Casa Pardina would be one of the highest rated restaurants in Alquezar, a remote village of no more than 400 people, but it no doubt feels swank, and the windows frame the perfect view of Saint Michael’s church. The restaurant also offers fixed price 3-course menus which share lots of locally sourced game meats such as rabbit, deer and wild boar. Anyway, Fanfan goes for pepper stuffed with codfish, grilled rib of beef, and a gin and tonic sorbet. While I go with hearts of artichoke with garlic and ham, traditional Somontano style wild boar, and a chocolate and almond crepe. Included in the price is a bottle of local Somontano wine (Alquezar is in Somontano one of Spain’s prominent DO wine regions) as well as sampling of locally produced olive oils. Which all round was an exciting experience.
Local Tourist Attractions
From Casa Pardina we walk down towards Saint Michael’s church, which is beautifully lit at night, beneath the lights of the medieval castle and Collegiate church of Santa Maria. So these two backdrops would be the main tourist attractions of the village, as local tourism otherwise focuses more on canyoning, rock climbing and bird nerds (at least going by shopfronts and tourist information). But we do spend less than 24 hours in Alquezar, so we are happy with Al Fresco dining (or Al Fuera as it would be in Spanish) with olives and Sangria along the main street/central square found next to Saint Michael’s church. And while it is a weekend in early summer, Alquezar is pretty much empty of tourists, and it feels almost like a medieval village to our own.
Travel to Alquezar
I will forever recommend visiting Alquezar Huesca on a road trip, through the surrounding region of the Spanish Pyrenees, and maybe further in the Catalonia region (we travelled back through Andorra). Otherwise, Alquezar can be reached relatively easy by car from either Barcelona (2 hours 45 mins) or Zaragoza (1 hour 30 mins). But it is a bit tricky to reach without private transport, and the closest train station would be at Huesca Train Station (45-minute taxi ride) and the nearest bus station would be at Barbastro (20-minute taxi ride). Full routes can be found here. So Alquezar is hard to reach, and of course this works to its advantage, where it’s still miles away from any mass tourist route. And you can easily just escape any crowds. I know we will definitely be back.