SPAIN’s northern mountains are never more beautiful than at the end of summer. Here is the Olive Press pick of enchanting mountain villages from east to west that make a great locations for drives, hikes and cycle rides.
One of the world’s most demanding cycle races, the Tour of Spain, sends competitors up and down many of the slopes of the Pyrenees and Cantabrian mountains in late August and September every year – the helicopter aerial views of the race online and on sports channels provide an alluring preview.
Obviously, these regions are magnets for those in search of stretching their legs after months sheltering from the Spanish summer sun or the Northern European drizzle. But the lush green valleys and rippling streams are also beautiful to look at through the window of a well-located hotel. And the mountains are full of historic architecture and signs of different cultures, from the Indiano houses of wealthy new world traders, to Roman roads and cave art.
Pola de Allende, Asturias
Unless you have walked the Camino Primitivo, the tough original pilgrims’ route to to Santiago de Compostela, the chances are you may not have visited the cluster of small communities that make up Allende. Located up high and 100 km from Oviedo, the area is (quietly) famous for the fantastic San Chuis Hill Fort, and Cienfuegos, a grand house built in medieval days, and endless green valleys and rolling hills. Stay in one of the rustic hotels in and around Pola de Allende itself (especially if you want to see the race, which starts from here on September 14) or at the Parador de Corias, set in an 11th century monastery in nearby Cangas del Narcea.
Squeezed between different sets of sierras in the north of Soria, Vinuesa is set in pine forests and surrounded by rivers and lakes. The Embalse de la Cuerda del Pozo is manmade, but beautiful, and much photographed because of the church tower protruding from the water and, after periods without rain, the ruins of houses – the remnants of a village that was flooded to create the reservoir. Laguna Negra, however, is a magical glacial lake perched at 2000 metres. If you want to emulate the tour cyclists, you can cycle to the lake from Loma, but there are more restful ways to spend your break– perhaps meandering along the trails of the pine forests in the Valle de Revinuesa.
Morella, Castellon (Valencia)
A Moorish castle and fortress, blue-domed basilica, narrow streets and tiers of terracotta roofs, all surrounded by peaks and lush farmland, rivers and waterfalls, make this a picturesque choice for a getaway.
High in the mountains of Els Ports, in the north of the province, Morella feels like a place that time has forgot. There is no shortage of contemporary creature comforts and attractive accommodation, but also a heap of history. The site of the castle has been a strategic defence point for two thousand years (the risk of invaders is pretty small nowadays), and the lovely Franciscan convent dates back to the 13th century. Most houses are very old, and the handmade rugs and honey and truffles have been sought out by many centuries of visitors.
If you’re after something even more historic, book a a trip through the tourist office to see the ancient cave paintings at Morella la Vella.
The most outstanding feature of this village is its Romanesque-style architecture. Two of its churches, San Clemente and Santa Maria, have been declared World Heritage Sites and attract thousands of tourists every year. The apse of San Clemente de Tahull is one of the main jewels of the Bohi valley, a place with the highest concentration of Romanesque art in Europe.
The city that saw the birth of Pope Luna ( Benedict XIII) in 1328 – considered an antipope by the Catholic Church – is brimming with art in every corner. It is dominated by its most famous monument: the castle-palace of Pope Luna. This enormous building, which was begun in the 14th century, is a renaissance palace of Italian influence with its interior a masterpiece of Baroque-Mudejar plasterwork. The village is an excellent destination as it has beautiful natural surroundings for hiking, both along the banks of the river Aranda and around the Sierra de la Virgen, a beautiful mountain range that forms part of the iberian system.
It may not be well-known amongst foreign tourists but Candelario is justly famous among Spaniards. Perched at an altitude of 1,100 metres above sea level its sandstone buildings are characteristic of the region, with wide stone walls, large wooden balconies and the famous batipuertas – an extra half door that protects the house. The town was named after the Sierra de Candelario, a protected natural area located around the municipality. It was declared a Biosphere Reserve by Unesco in 2006
This small Extremaduran hamlet is surrounded by towering mountains, with agricultural terraces many hundreds of years old. It attracts hikers for long walks through the spectacular scenery. One of the most famous routes is the path of Maja Robledo, which is a perfect walk to discover the stunning vistas of the landscape and views of the village itself.
This is a mountain village with a difference – it actually lies on the coast! Traditionally it was – and remains – one of the most important fishing ports on the Cantabrian Sea, but despite its nearly sea-level altitude, we think it qualifies as a mountain pueblo. The houses cascade down steep slopes giving a real mountain feel to the municipality, with the Asturian architecture reinforcing the mountain vibe. The result is a landscape with great sea views in one direction, while the Asturian mountains provide a scenic backdrop.
Founded in the 9th century, Alquezar is considered one of Huesca’s most beautiful towns. It is located on the right bank of the Vero river and part of its municipal area is occupied by the Sierra y Cañones de Guara natural park. It owes its name to the castle built to defend the access to the Barbitania – a district of al-Andalus that extended over the northwest area of the current province of Huesca – al-qasr.
In the heart of the Salazar valley, in the Pyrenees, this small village has the Arduña river flowing through it. Its historic stone bridge is emblematic and its streets filled with mediaeval palaces and coat-of-arms emblazoned facades. The architecture is typical of the Spanish Pyrenees, although it is not far to the French border.
Buitrago de Lozoya, Madrid
Located in the Sierra de Guadarrama – an hour’s drive from Madrid – this village has several points of interest that gave it the status of historic-artistic site and cultural interest in 1993. From the ancient walls to the Mendoza castle and from the clock tower to the church of Santa Maria del Castillo there are many enchanting and striking nooks and crannies to explore.
Update of original post by Elena Gucmen Rueda.
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