In our final week of our wonderful adventure, we turn in land leaving the coast behind and heading into the hills. The temperatures have dropped and the sky is grey, we start climbing soon and the views are wonderful across the valleys to the mountains beyond. We head higher and realised that what looked like wild flowers from a distance turned out to be snow! Thankfully leaving that behind we arrived at Morella to see its castle which is located in a spectacular position high on a rocky outcrop between three strategic towns.
The walk up to it was tiring as it was steep but to follow was even more exhausting as we gained height through the town itself and up as far as the huge 13th-14th century Basilica of St Mary the Major. It has two massive gothic doors and the main entrance has a large Moorish wooden door studded with nails. The elaborate interior has a high arched, vaulted ceiling supported by massive columns, in front of the main alter are sculptures and paintings all glistening with gold. There is a wonderfully decorated ‘snail staircase’ to the pulpit depicting various scenes of people, animals and vegetation.
The castle itself has origins from 714 AD and was used for military purposes up until 1920’s before becoming a National Monument in 1931. It is located in a valley between many peaks ranging from 1,400 – 2,100 metres, it used to control over 1,000 square kilometres along the Bergantes River which was a main passage between the Ebre’s valley and the coast. We walked further uphill to the ruins of the castle itself with 16 towers set into the castle’s main outer walls. The castle is now having restoration works to preserve it and you can see many of the old rooms, cellars and central courtyard. They are just stone rooms and not very interesting as a photograph. However, the views from the top are breath taking, no words can describe just how far you can see or the details around it.
Driving on through hills the wind turbines had their heads in clouds, passing rocks and olive groves again and admiring the changing scenery.
Finally reaching Valderrobres, a beautiful old town with a medieval bridge, Gothic church and castle, we found a convenient free riverside Aire to stay at. The town opened up with lots of narrow streets, shuttered windows, small shops, and the castle which looked more like a stately home. We didn’t go inside but walked around the outside admiring the views from the large paved area in front, then back down the hill to a small pub restaurant where we enjoyed some tapas for our evening meal with beer and wine.
The following day we travelled on to Vera de Moncayo to a small campsite overlooking fields and hills in front with wind turbines showing white against the dark clouds. Behind the campsite was a range of mountains all of which had snow on top.
Temperatures had dropped to 3C which was a considerable change from the coast, but we had a pleasant walk along dedicated wide footpaths to the Veruela Monastery. There was a surrounding wall of nearly a kilometre in length, with two entrances to an interior of nearly five hectares enclosing the remains of the original orchard, gardens, monastic cemetery and all the buildings connected with the Monastery.
The central Cloisters had to be reconstructed after they were destroyed in a war by Castillian troops in 1366. They were beautiful with a lovely arched roof supported by columns with gargoyles and a central garden complete with a smaller hexagonal building which used to have a fountain, and in the centre were two large trees.
There were several rooms to look at mostly large, bare empty spaces, a large kitchen had an opening which may have held a bread oven, also the blackened roof although there was nothing else to be seen. Next to it was a huge refectory with a elaborate ceiling where the monks dined together. The most stunning room was the ‘new’ vestry built between 1664 and 1668 and decorated in a baroque style with a really wonderful ceiling.
The abbot’s Church of Santa Maria De Veruela is really the size of a cathedral and work while building it took over 250 years. Inside there are few ornaments but the craftsmanship of the stonework is evident and apparently shows how many financial resources were available to the monastery. The vaulted nave was a work of art and while simple to look at, it was amazing to think how they constructed it all those years ago with the tools available at the time.
On the next leg of our journey the scenery quickly changed, much more cultivation, winter crops of wheat and barley, artichokes, broad beans, many fruit trees now in leaf with most of the blossom blown away in the wind. The roadside verges are multi coloured, mauve, purple, white , yellow and the citric lime of the wild spurge, all this beauty is provided by ‘weeds’.
We had a one night stay at Ayegui near the town of Estella, it was a cheap night at 4 euros which gave access past the secure barrier and we parked overlooking a hillside opposite. It is a stopping point on the Comino de Santiago which is a pilgrim’s route from many points in Europe to Santiago de Compostella in Galicia. The small village held nothing remarkable, however, we found a small bar just so we could put something back into the community and practice our limited Spanish! We also visited the Bodega and Monastery Irache, shut at the time of our visit, however, there were two free taps, one with water and one with red wine for pilgrims. It would be rude not to indulge so we had thoughtfully prepared in advance and taken a bottle with us!
Continuing our journey we followed the pilgrim’s route and we saw many walkers getting their exercise and taking in the views. The scenery again held lots of flat plateaus growing many crops, the colours are striking from vivid emerald greens of the corn crops some with sickly lime coloured patches where the crops were not doing so well. One bright yellow field of rape we saw which was in flower already, its March and it flowers in April/May at home. The earth on the vast expanses varied between pale chestnut colour to the pale chalky soils at home in Wiltshire. Overall, the land is extremely flat and windswept, no trees or hedges to break the scenery, acre upon acre of food production, empty roads and huge skies. In the far distance we can again see mountain ranges with snow on top, thankfully I don’t have to drive through them again.
Enroute to our Haro campsite we stopped off for a walk around a Nature Reserve and a lake backed by a mountain range. There was an attractive Bodega with its vineyards surrounding it with the vines trained horizontally. It was a beautiful day, the birds were singing and everything seemed to be flowering including two lovely trees, a cherry and an apple.
Our final destination was Haro, where we had stopped for our first night in Spain. We walked up into the town again and noticed how many more cafes and bars were open and now had chairs outside. The trees along the streets had leaves on and it was much warmer than February when we were last here. With the sun out the following day it was over 23C, there was a lovely opportunity to have a last BBQ lunch.
So far I have driven safely over 2,000 miles and enjoyed the amazing open roads with guidance from Satnav and Chris to negotiate routes between destinations. However, yesterday afternoon one of the vicious trees on this site jumped out and bit Della on her back end as she passed by. The result is a small ‘plaster’ on her top and work for a fibreglass guy when we get back! No trip goes unscathed and so we have learned another lesson, avoid trees.
We chose the scenic route back to Bilbao and it was certainly pretty. Going uphill for miles inevitably meant we had to come down again. It was a hair-raising, steep decent with at least 8 hairpin bends one after the other. This was the time that a warning alarm sounded telling us that we had dangerously low brake fluid and to stop immediately. As we were still a long way from the valley floor, we proceeded with extra care and realised the alarm only sounded on right hand bends and started to wonder if the guage was faulty. Eventually getting down to level ground, the alarm stopped completely and we carried on to Bilbao. Finally on the ferry, we set off for Portsmouth, so that’s all folks for this trip. Join us when we go on our travels again, soon we hope …….