Huesca, in the foothills of the Aragonese Pyrenees, is our base for exploring the stone villages that populate a rugged landscape in which the highest mountains are permanently topped with snow.
Anso is a charming, grey stone medieval village. Located high in the foothills, it sits by a rushing river, surrounded by lush green forest and shrouded in misting rain. Each turn along the cobblestoned calles presented moss-covered archways or solid timber doors or small windows shuttered against the cold. Essentially deserted during our visit, the taciturn taverna owner grumbled that it gets overrun in the high season.
A trip along narrow, winding country roads led us to another gem: Alquezar. This medieval village is perched atop a high rocky outcrop around which a fast flowing river cuts its path. The face of the gorge is almost sheer to the river far below. Terraces dating back centuries cascade down steep hills, aged olive trees holding the drystone walls together. We decided to take advantage of one of the shorter walking trails (about 2km) which take you down to the valley floor.
The path was steep (note a theme here?), its eroded surface providing ample evidence that, in a rainstorm, runoff would become a torrent. The landscape flattened slightly when we reached an old stone bridge. It led to a path away from the river and provided a splendid view of a pebble-covered river bed. We wanted to get as close to the cliff base as possible, so decided to follow the river downstream. That’s when we discovered a number of stone cottages, still in use but not connected to power. Dense vegetation grew right down to the river’s edge, and several rock piles created small rapids. Eventually the rough path ran out, preventing us from reaching our desired walking point. And then there was the walk back – uphill.
Ainsa, a medieval fortress town, is located at the confluence of two rivers and is home to Restaurant Callizo, renowned for its gastronomic innovation. The degustation ‘Earth Menu’ was a delicious theatrical experience, offering wonderful flavours, fabulous plating, good balance and a dash of humour in the titles (‘Nothing’, ‘Rockpool’, ‘You can even hear the sheep’s bells’). The view of the mountains was pretty good too!