Not somewhere I’d thought about visiting, Zaragoza never featured on any must-see list I had stashed away. Husband had been a few times on business, when he needed to make a trip the week before Easter and we realised Son was off school we decided to join him. Husband had often declared how much he liked Zaragoza, and that, together with the fact our time there would coincide with the Holy Week or Santa Semana processions meant I was getting keener by the minute.
I do admit to having to look up exactly where we were headed on the map – I knew Zaragoza was somewhere vaguely north in Spain, lesson learnt I found it in the north east of Spain mid-way between Barcelona and Madrid in the ancient land of Aragon. It tends not to be on the main tourist trail but having been there now, I can safely say I do not understand why that should be. It is cosmopolitan and buzzing but with history galore – Catherine of Aragon and her father Ferdinand both came from this area and it was Ferdinand’s marriage to Isabella, the Queen of Castille and Leon that led to the unification of Spain.
We flew budget airline into Barcelona and drove 190 miles west for 3 hours to Zaragoza. Not a particularly interesting journey but it did give us a feel for this flat, dry province. Zaragoza though straddles the Ebro – supposedly Spain’s greatest river – in a fertile plain.
Founded by the Romans in 14 BC, the Roman street plan still defines the heart of the city and we saw remains of the forum, baths and theatre. It is not all about them though, the city has been a capital for Moors and Medieval kings and we found a stack of Moorish, Romanesque, Renaissance and Art Nouveau architecture.
The city was bustling and had the most wonderfully wide boulevards. We found not one but two cathedrals – this is still a pilgrimage centre after the legend goes that the Virgin Mary appeared to St James on the banks of the river and ordered a church to be built here.
The whole place felt very contemporary but at the same time had a sense of timelessness. Around the narrow streets of El Tubo is an area filled with tapas bars and it just feels like proper real old Spain. The food was delicious too – the tapas is incredible and the wine equally great. Apparently Aragon has some of the best vineyards in Spain.
We all loved this small and walkable city stuffed to the brim with bars and restaurants. The basilica is drop dead gorgeous and if you want to escape all the hustle and bustle there are walks along the banks of the tranquil river. Our week was spent browsing in the shops, visiting the churches and admiring the architecture, taking in those incredible processions and basically stuffing ourselves with tapas, churros and ice-cream. Low prices and incredibly few tourists made this a gem of a place to spend Easter week.