Albarracin: A Journey Through a Medieval Gem

Some 2 hours drive from Valencia, in the province of Teruel, lies Albarracin, one of the most beautiful villages in all of Spain, a place that will take you back in time

No one disputes the breathtaking beauty of Albarracin, nestled in the middle of the Guadalaviar meander, just over half an hour from the capital of Teruel. Albarracin deserves to be more than just an idyllic postcard; it beckons those who practice slow tourism to rediscover the essence of a place. 

Beyond gazing at nearby destinations with a fresh perspective, it offers the chance to delve into its singularities and relish every moment. In this comprehensive guide, we unveil the secrets of Albarracin, one of the most exquisite rural treasures of Teruel.

To truly appreciate Albarracin, one need not look further than its distinct color palette that adorns most of its buildings. 

Stone and wood form integral components, but what’s striking is the remarkable chromatic coherence – a rarity in the exuberant aesthetics of Spain. 

The secret behind this unique hue is found in the red plaster derived from the surrounding mountains. This blend of regular plaster and iron oxide not only imparts a pale red tint but also enhances durability and solidity, making it a preferred choice for construction.

The Famous Castle of Albarracin

Albarracin’s history traces back to its origins as an Arab castle, a common thread in the Iberian Peninsula’s past. The first inhabitants were from the Banu Razin Berber family, from which the town’s name is derived. 

During the Muslim era, Albarracin evolved into an impregnable fortress thanks to its dramatic topography, nestled within a meandering Guadalaviar River. This unique setting allowed it to establish its taifa (local government) and flourish as a trading hub. 

Streets and houses were built in places that seemed unimaginable. Before exploring these paths, ascend to the highest point to witness the remnants of a castle that once stood larger than its walls and battlements suggest.

A Very Peculiar Cathedral

The view from the Cathedral offers glimpses of both military defenses and the cathedral’s tile-topped tower. While it may not appear as grandiose as other cathedrals due to its size, the Albarracin Cathedral holds a rich heritage that cannot be overlooked. 

Its entrance is not a conventional portico on a wide street or square, in keeping with Albarracin’s challenging terrain. Access to the cathedral is limited and can only be explored through guided tours offered by the Santa María de Albarracin Foundation, an institution dedicated to enhancing the town’s tourist allure while investing in cultural activities and heritage restoration.

Inside the cathedral, guided tours unveil intriguing facts, such as its location on the former site of a mosque, a testament to the city’s conversion in 1170. Frescoes from that era, discovered during restoration work, grace the walls. 

The cathedral, a blend of Gothic and Renaissance styles, is teeming with anecdotes and discoveries. Notable features include the opulent Virgen del Pilar chapel, distinguished by its marble and lantern, the San Pedro altarpiece crafted from local pine wood with a distinctive reddish hue and durability, and the Circumcision Chapel, where recent restoration work revealed grisaille frescoes.

Albarracin – A medieval gem

Descending from the cathedral, one encounters the former Episcopal Palace, an imposing structure whose grand interior staircase is a noteworthy highlight. 

Today, this mansion serves as a hub for cultural and informative activities under the aegis of the foundation. It also houses the diocesan museum, though it’s not a central attraction on this route. The palace’s façade, a testament to the bishop’s power, is worth a pause.

Strolling through Albarracin’s alleys, adorned with charming details, is a delightful experience. The town’s flirtatious charm finds expression in the vintage aesthetics embraced by urbanites, making it one of the most beautiful towns in Teruel. 

With a majority of buildings transformed into charming small hotels, rural houses, restaurants, and hostels, not staying in Albarracin is simply not an option.

Returning to the streets, a visit to the Portal del Agua is a must. Unlike other medieval squares with iconic gates, Albarracin boasts charming openings on its main roads, as its defensive role relied on fortresses and bastions atop the surrounding mountains. 

The Portal del Agua stands out for its luxurious setting and the mesmerizing meandering street. The combination of a low angle shot and abundant stone creates a captivating visual narrative.

Miraculous Constructions

Medieval architects in Albarracin displayed both creativity and ingenuity in addressing the challenge of housing a growing population in the treacherous terrain. The wooden frameworks adorning facades, the gravity-defying galleries and balconies, and the iconic red plaster skyscrapers with small windows redefine architectural limits. 

Among these, the “fan” is the most emblematic – a cluster of houses that overlap and defy logic, resembling a child’s Lego creation more than a prosperous town. Seeing these structures elicits awe and disbelief from curious onlookers.

A photography enthusiast’s dream awaits at the Casa de la Julianeta, viewed from the Arco de Medina. This gate is prized not for its beauty but for the striking scene it frames. Behind it stands the most iconic house in the historic center. Its charm lies not only in its location but also in its unique corner shape, akin to the iconic New York building. 

The overlapping rooms defy conventional logic. Astonishingly, the Blue House, an exception to the town’s reddish palette, stands out in this predominantly red landscape. In the 18th century, the Navarro de Alzuriaga family, wealthy wool businessmen, painted their house entirely blue, setting it apart from its neighbors.

The Plaza Mayor eventually demands attention for three compelling reasons. Firstly, it embodies a harmonious blend of history and modern life with its lively terraces. 

Secondly, its near-perfect rectangular shape, once host to a souk and market, exudes a regal ambiance, thanks to the portals, town hall, and market constructed under Aragon’s influence. 

Lastly, from its balconies, one can admire the splendid cathedral and its bell tower once more.

Strolling alongside river

The heart of the old town can be complemented by two short excursions through the Albarracin mountain range. The first reveals alternative views of the town along the course of the Guadalaviar. 

A guided path leads along its banks, weaving past old dams and mills. Multiple walkways allow adventurous crossings of the river. Accessing these points is straightforward, akin to the ease with which one explores the town.

Albarracin offers a magical sunset as the day’s last rays adorn the already vibrant hues. To savor this spectacle, follow the path of the walls, which explores the defensive fortifications guarding the town for centuries. 

One need not venture to the Torre del Andador, the farthest point, to behold this panoramic view. Nonetheless, ascending to higher ground offers a perspective of the town shrinking into the landscape, a poignant metaphor for a once-mighty medieval city now transformed into a rural gem.


What to See in Albarracín: Essential Places to Visit

If you’re wondering what to see in Albarracin, you’re in the right place. Albarracin, one of the most beautiful towns in Spain, offers an array of activities and sights to explore, whether you have one day, two, or a week.

Stroll through the Historic Center or Join a Guided Tour

Walking through Albarracín’s historic center is like stepping back into the Middle Ages. Its narrow streets unveil the secrets of its past, but be sure to wear comfortable shoes as you navigate the steep slopes. 

Along the way, you’ll encounter historical landmarks such as the Cathedral of El Salvador, the Church of Santa María, the Episcopal Palace, the Casa de la Julianeta, Azagra Street, the White Tower, and the Diocesan Museum. Don’t miss the Albarracín Museum, offering insights into the town’s history. 

If you’re visiting with children, the Toy Museum is a fun stop. Consider a guided tour, with two options available: El Andador and Fundación Santa María, each offering unique insights into Albarracín.

Walk the Path of the Paseo Fluvial del Guadalaviar

For a leisurely outdoor experience, embark on the low-difficulty Paseo Fluvial del Guadalaviar, a 1- to 2-hour route through a lesser-known part of town that’s no less enchanting. Our recommendation is to walk the route in reverse, ending at the gardens in the lower part of town, complete with picnic tables and a refreshing dip in the Guadalaviar River.

Explore La Hoz Ravine and Calomarde Waterfall

Venture into the picturesque La Hoz Ravine, located between the towns of Calomarde and Frías. The route takes you across footbridges that make the otherwise impassable path accessible. 

Covering about 8 kilometers round trip, follow the signs for PR-TE 2. Starting in Frías allows you to visit the Fuente del Berro, a natural oasis with pine trees and a picnic area halfway along the route. If you begin in Calomarde, the path is well-marked, leading to the first metal walkways. 

Along this journey, you’ll encounter the drowned dam (frozen in winter with 20 centimeters of ice) and the Toba bridge. 

Continue through pine forests and farmland to reach the Molino de las Pisadas Mill, noted for its fascinating Cretaceous fossilized remains resembling horse hooves. Although the mill itself is now in disuse and demolished, the pool where water was once collected remains an intriguing relic.

Visit the Source of the Tagus

A short 38 kilometers from Albarracín, you’ll find the source of the Tagus, an area complete with picnic spots and a monument. From here, numerous hiking trails begin, allowing you to explore nearby towns like Royuela, Calomarde, and Frías. 

Don’t miss the striking Batida Waterfall in Calomarde, easily accessible with parking.

Discover the Pine Forests of Rodeno and Cave Paintings

Albarracín’s vicinity hosts the Protected Landscape of the Rodeno Pine Forests, a mesmerizing locale enveloped by pine trees and distinctive reddish sandstone rocks. 

Take a scenic walk amidst this protected landscape, where you’ll find hiking trails leading to Levantine rock art caves. If you’re visiting with children, the circular S2 trail is a recommended choice, starting near the Navazo recreational area with a picnic zone and free parking. 

Along these trails, you’ll encounter various caves with cave paintings, including Prado del Navazo, Doña Clotilde, and Cocinilla del Obispo. These paths are well-marked, offering access to observe the paintings, each accompanied by explanatory texts.

Enjoy the Molino de San Pedro Waterfall and the Ojos del Cabriel

Cool waters and a spectacular waterfall formed by the Cabriel River await in a picnic area in El Vallecillo. The nearby mill, once active from 1505 until the mid-20th century, is now in ruins but adds historical intrigue to the setting. 

The path to the mill isn’t extensively marked, so be cautious with the detour, located 300 meters toward Quince, as it’s not immediately apparent. A 2-kilometer hiking route leads to Ojos del Cabriel, or you can access it directly from the town. 

As recommended by locals, the Ojos del Cabriel Hotel Restaurant in Frías de Albarracín is a great choice for regional cuisine, offering dishes like “arroz con setas y pato” and “frito” or “orza.”

Climb Up to the Walls of Albarracín

A visit to the walls of Albarracín is an essential part of your journey. These well-preserved Arab-era fortifications offer breathtaking views from the town’s highest point. Accessible on foot, please exercise caution with young children due to the rocky terrain.

Property in Albaracin: Average square meter price September 2023 – €1.122

This article is brought to you by Expat Hub Valencia, a property buying agent  in Valencia. Using the Expat Hub’s services, you will be able to successfully navigate Valencia’s complicated property market in no time.

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