Calatayud, located on the crossroads between the two plains of Spain, is an enclave where visitors can breathe in the history and enjoy an active life at the same time. Celts, Romans, Arabs and Christians have left their mark on this city full of small squares and large gardens that, with its historic buildings, make it a must-see visit in Aragon. The city walls, 2,250 metres of fortifications, have borne witness to the passing of time for eleven centuries, bringing special charm to Calatayud even today.
Calatayud is also a prime destination for lovers of gastronomy. Meats, cured sausages, pastries and sweets are the leading products, without forgetting the local wines, which have their own Designation of Origin.
BACK TO THE MEDIAEVAL CITY
On 1 June, Calatayud becomes a mediaeval city once more to commemorate the conquest of the Mozarabs by Alfonso I “The Battler”. The celebration is known as the Alfonsadas, and coincides with the feast day of the patron saint, Saint Íñigo. On 15 and 16 August, on Saint Roque’s Day, the fiesta of the Peñas Recreativas is held. Declared of tourist interest in Aragon, there are charanga bands, vaquillas (young bulls), bull-running and the night-time pilgrimage to the hermitage of the saint.
In early September, the celebrations to honour the patron, the Virgin of La Peña, are held, with concerts, exhibitions, bullfights and the magnificent procession of the Crystal Rosary, the oldest in Aragon.
Calatayud, declared a Historical and Monumental City in 1967, and its Mudejar architecture, declared a World Heritage Site in 2001, offers agreeable walks full of beauty waiting to be discovered.
The Collegiate Church of Santa Maria is the most important monument in Calatayud. Its vertiginous octagonal Mudejar tower, 68 metres in height, dominates the urban landscape. Built on the site of a mosque, it still conserves the Mudejar cloister, the only one remaining of what some have called the ‘city of Mudejar cloisters’, and the chapter house.
The Castillo Mayor, Great Castle, or Ayyub –which gives the name to the city-, is at the highest point and is the ideal spot to contemplate the walls and the city. It is also the best preserved part of the old fortress, with its two towers and the path along the wall which joins them.
We can also enjoy the magnificent landscape from the Bilbilis archaeological site, with Calatayud to the right, the Great Castle presiding it, the Vicort mountains to the left and, behind them, the Armantes mountains, with the meandering River Jalon as it passes by the foot of the site.
To learn more about the city, cross the monumental area of Calatayud, the Jewish Quarter, the Islamic Fortified Complex and the Moorish Quarter. The complex created by the Company of Jesus is also outstanding, especially the Church of San Juan el Real, with its pendentives painted by Francisco de Goya.
Today, Calatayud is a very well-connected city. Just 15 minutes from Zaragoza, 55 minutes from Madrid and two hours from Barcelona, the high-speed train allows fast, easy travel to the most relevant places in the area.
Calatayud has taxis and city buses, with multi-journey tickets, which communicate the different parts of the city. There is also a network of intercity buses which connect with local towns, Zaragoza, Madrid and Barcelona.
For ‘green’ visitors, Calatayud has two asphalted paths for walking within the city, parallel to the River Jalon and the surrounding fertile land. But there are also numerous rural footpaths, in the La Charluca area, a Special Protection Area for birds and a Site of Community Importance, with protected plant and animal species, and in areas such as Cifuentes, Valdeherrera, Valdearenas and Anchada, among others. The city is surrounded by two mountainous zones, the Armantes and the Vicort mountains, which form part of the Iberian System, some 5 kilometres, at most, from the city. Here, visitors can enjoy hiking, mountain biking, horse-riding, etc. The River Jalon offers fishing, canoeing and, a little further away, other water sports can be enjoyed on the Tranquera reservoir, and there is also rock climbing in the mountains. Other routes of interest can take you around the Bilbilis archaeological site or the belvederes of Calatayud.
Another way to get to know Calatayud is at its many fairs, such as the April Fair, called the Tapean D.O., dedicated to tapas and the promotion of the local wines. September sees the garlic festival, a tradition going back over 70 years and the Trade Fair.
In Calatayud, you will also find fun until the small hours. There are several zones with pubs and there are many bars in the city centre where you can enjoy a day of tapas, music and fun.
Wherever there is history, there is also room for fine food and you cannot miss the traditional tapa route in Calatayud in the many bars of the city. There are excellent vegetables from the fertile plains and, among them, the borage, the chickpeas with conger and chickpeas a la bilbilitana are outstanding. Among the meat dishes, the lamb, or ternasco, roast or stewed, deserves special mention. For lovers of cured pork meat, don’t miss the fardeles made with pig liver, the güeñas, spiced pork offal sausage, the longaniza, a pork meat sausage, and the liver or onion blackpuddings. All of these dishes, accompanied by a good wine, are a delight to the senses. To enjoy them, the “Meson de La Dolores” is recommended, an excellent place to taste traditional dishes and also to see the Museum of La Dolores and the Interpretation Centre of Calatayud Designation of Origin wines. In the words of the copla, “If you go to Calatayud, ask for Dolores”, a character born in the 19th century and who has won widespread recognition.
As well as the tapas routes, the shopping area in the city centre also contains many decoration and craft shops. As a souvenir, there is nothing sweeter than to call in on a pastry shop and try the ‘suela’ cakes and the ‘fruits of Aragon’, small pieces of candied fruit covered in chocolate, maraschino cherries and san roquicos (and almond and caramel sweet with chocolate).
For a special memory, don’t miss a visit to the Armantes mountains, from where you can contemplate a lunar landscape, with unending small hills and gullies, dominated by the light colours usually found in gypsum-based materials. The higher land is darker, with reddish colours produced by the clayey soils.