19th August 2021: A Monastery and a Castle {Spain, summer 2021}

We packed up and in the morning, we continued out trip, heading generally westward towards our next destination, which was about an hour and twenty minutes away. Unfortunately, we got on a slight disagreement with the Sat-Nav again – it sent us through the secondary road and in the end we took two hours going through the curves. Thus, around 10 am we managed to get our tickets to the “royal” monastery Real Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña – which is in the middle of nowhere but technically belongs to Jaca.

The monastery is actually two (or three, depending on how you look at it). The old monastery, Monasterio Viejo de San Juan de la Peña was built in the Romanesque style, and dates back from the tenth century. Its origins, however, seem to be more obscure, related to Iberian and pagan rituals. It is excavated into / built onto the vertical wall of a natural cove occurring in a bare-rock hill or crag in the middle of the forest. It held a convent, a church, and a cloister on the first floor. From the time it was built till the time it was confiscated by the government in the 19th century, it became one of the burial points for the monarchs of the old Kingdom of Aragón and Navarra, thus the “royal” eponym.

One of the many legends regarding the monastery is that it was home to the Holy Grail between the 11th and the 14th century. Later, in the 17th century, there was a fire, and it was decided to build a new monastery. Here is what is weird – there is a building there now, the so-called new monastery Monasterio Nuevo de San Juan de la Peña. Some of the buildings have survived, but most of it is an archaeological museum / excavation of what was there, again until the liberal confiscation.

Issues: You can only visit the old monastery after buying your tickets at the new monastery. And to get from one monastery to the other, you need to take the shuttle, again, awesome during Covid times. Furthermore, there was no control of the number of people there, which resulted in an overcrowding that would have been uncomfortable in normal times, much more during the pandemic. While the bus makes sense due to the fact that there is literally no way to park around the old monastery, some crowd managing would have been necessary.

After visiting both monasteries, we went back to the awful road. I don’t know if it was the curves, the heat, that I had overdone it the day before, or all of the above but I was not feeling well. Thankfully after some food and a stop at the water reservoir Embalse de la Peña, I felt better.

We continued our way and made a stop to look at an interesting geological feature called Mallos de Riglos, which are several almost-detached vertical walls of conglomerate rock left behind by erosive processes that dragged away what used to be around them. They stand up to 275 metres high over the river Río Gállego.

This was a short stop from a viewpoint, but we soon drove on towards the next destination – after one of the most important buildings in religious Romanesque architecture, we were going to see a civil counterpart, the (self-reportedly) best-preserved Romanesque castle in the world: Castillo de Loarre. The truth is that, from afar it looks awesomely cool, though once you are inside, it loses a bit of its appeal as there is no perspective. Besides, it was too hot to hike down the hill for good views.

The keep is built on a rocky hill, and the surrounding buildings are connected to it by a number of doors and haphazard stairs and arcs. Both the main towers and the fortified wall were erected around 1287, in a strategic point between the Muslim and the Christian kingdoms battling over the place. As the Christians expanded their influence, the Muslim tribes retreated towards the Mediterranean, leaving the castle “jobless” in a way, and the castle decayed until it was restored (twice) in the 20th century.

After the castle, we went back to the car, and from there I fought the Sat-Nav (I was not the driver). When I saw that it wanted to send us through another god-forsaken secondary road full of curves for over a hundred kilometres, I advocated for 123 km of main roads and highways. I won (^◇^)y, and around half past seven we arrived in our next destination Sos del Rey Católico, where we would be staying at the Parador for two nights (of course, I got my stamp there). A great improvement from the hotel in Torla-Ordesa, and a welcome one, with awesome sunset views to go with it.

Total driven distance: 272 km. Maybe around five hours and a bit? Some of the roads felt eternal.
Total walked distance: 5.23 km.