A road trip from Barcelona to Zaragoza is a fun way to see Spain. You get to sit back and watch the new world go by while listening to music and talking about random topics, or in our case trying to practice our Spanish, “a la dereche en dos cientos kilometros”. Let me take you on one of my favourite drives from Barcelona to Zaragoza. It’s 325km of hills, desert, bulls, and hilltop monasteries.
Monastery of Poblet
Our first stop on our road trip from Barcelona to Zaragoza was the Monastery of Poblet. It’s so huge it’s like a castle with walls and turrets and a complex of pale sandstone buildings. It was built in 1151, and you can still see the old building marks on the weathered stones. To add extra incentive they’re also a winery and make some very highly rated wines. It’s still an operating monastery, so you’re only allowed in at certain times, and must be on a tour. The cost is 8 euros per adult, or a little extra for a guided tour. Luckily, or maybe not so luckily for us, the tours were only in Catalan or Spanish so the tour guide would just give us a map in English and then let us roam around on our own while everyone else followed him around. We didn’t learn a huge amount about the Monastery, but we did get some great photos with no one in them, which was the main reason we were there.
Montblanc is a castle town an hour and twenty minutes outside of Barcelona, and seven minutes from Monastery of Poblet. Not to be confused with the famous French mountain, which is what I first did when I first moved to Spain. The centre of the town is still encircled by the old walls, which are well preserved. We wandered around the tiny cobbled streets, and explored up stairways, and through plazas. There’s a cathedral with intricate carvings towards the top, and if you continue going up you get to a hill within the walls that has panoramic views of the old town. When we were there it was one of the windiest days I’ve had in Catalonia, I was almost blown off the lookout.
There’s a number of great places to eat here, and the town square is a great place to sit in the sun and watch the local life go by. We tried to have lunch at El Moli del Mallol, but it was booked out, so I’d recommend making a reservation if you want one of the best rated in Montblanc. We ended wandering to Plaza Major and eating at El Comerc del Mallol. The main plates with calamari, chips and salad were cheap and good, simple food. I don’t recommend the Patatas Bravas though, the sauce was weird.
The Osborne Bulls
The Osborne bulls are one of my favourite parts of a road trip from Barcelona to Zaragoza. I’ve done it three times and it’s still exciting when you see them looming over the landscape. They actually started as an advertising campaign by the Osborne company who sold brandy. They’re huge, black silhouettes of bulls, and there are three of them on the way to Zaragoza.
- Number one can be found next to the Castillo de Alfajarín, which is a ruined castle on a hill above the town of Alfajarín. It makes for great photos when you have the both of them in frame. Exit from the main highway to Zaragoza when you see the exit for Alfajarín.
- Number two is on the old highway NII. If you’re avoiding tolls or looking for bulls, this is the best road to be on. There’s no town near this one, so all I can give you are coordinates. 41.512589,-0.452318
- Number 3 is on the outskirts of Peñalba, which is on the NII old highway. It’s probably the easiest to get to if you want photos right in front. It’s just a quick walk up from a parking lot on the edge of town.
If you get to Zaragoza you can’t miss the Zaragoza Basilica. It’s huge with multiple towers and is on the edge of the river. Go to the Lion Bridge for the best views across the river and for photo opportunities. One of my favourite stories of the Basilica is the reason why they have two warheads on the walls. Apparently back in the Spanish civil war Franco dropped bombs on Zaragoza and two of them fell through the roof of the Basilica, but didn’t explode. It’s free to go inside, but no photos are allowed.
The Aljafería Palace was one of my favourite parts of Zaragoza. It’s a beautiful Arabic palace built back in the 11th century. It’s definitely worth a visit to just wander, and think, and dream of hot, sunny days eating oranges and drinking sweet mint tea. There’s a serene orange garden when you first go inside, and I just wish I could go back in time and be a lady of leisure and have it all to myself. There’s a museum in Spanish with intermittent English to learn more about it. Go early if you can, as it’s popular, because it’s so photogenic. There’s lots of pretty scroll work, and delicate arches, and even the ceilings have been painted. Also, a happy coincidence for us, is that it’s free the first Sunday of the month.