September 18th, 2011
Visiting the more obvious cities of Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia, most people tend to overlook another city placed between them – the gem that is Zaragoza.
Located in Aragon, a former kingdom of Spain, this city is vibrant and alive with culture overload, as much as you can possibly take! The best time to visit? Actually, next month…October sees the main fiesta, so along with shopping, eating and seeing the sights, come and party in Zaragoza!
Getting to the party
Air: Fly into Barcelona or Madrid is often the best option for cheaper flights.
Train: A 1hr 30min ride from Atocha station will get you there from Madrid, a little more than that from Barcelona Sants station. Top tip: Book on the web and save at east 60% off the regular price.
Bus: A cheaper alternative, but longer, just short of 4 hrs from the same cities. The Spanish bus company is called ALSA.
Drive: Use the toll roads and it’s about a three hour trip from Madrid and Barcelona (where La Mercé starts on the 22nd) or an hour from Huesca, when you reach Zaragoza centre keep an eye out for the underground car parks, if you want to explore the city first or head straight to your accommodation.
Carry the card
Once you are here, visit a kiosk or newsagent, and pick up a Zaragoza Card. This is about €7 for 24 hrs, and will save you a fortune. You can use it to hop on and off the tourist bus, one of the best ways to see the sights.
You will also have free access to:
All public transport
Entry to all museums and monuments
Hefty discounts in restaurants and cafés
It even includes a free drink and a Tapa in one of the city bars!
So, what’s to see?
Well, you might like to exercise….the credit card. Shopping here in Spain is a wonderful pastime!
Whether you want handmade crafts, souvenirs, upmarket and exclusive or just window shopping then head to the main shopping area located between the Plaza España and Residencial Paraiso.
The traditional market down at Mercado Central is the venue for just about everything and the Bull Ring on Sundays is the location for the flea market…a good rummage!
A Cultural walk
Shopping not your thing? If you prefer to see something of the cultural heart of Zaragoza, then these are some ‘must-see’ spots:
The Cathedral – Catedral de la Seo
Las Murallas– bits of the ancient wall that once surrounded the city.
Caesaraugusta route, which is made up of Roman monuments including:
- The baths and the port
- The Roman theatre
- The Forum
- The Moorish castle of Alijaferia
- The site of the upcoming fiesta, the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Pilar…
A ‘Pilar’ of society
Of course, that fiesta...
The two best times to visit are undeniably Spring, when the Easter festivities provide you with spectacular processions and parades. October is the other, when next month on the 8th Zaragoza celebrates the Festival of El Pilar.
Fireworks, spectacular street theatre, concerts and performances day and night on the bustling city streets.
The actual feast day is on the 12th but the whole fiesta takes place between the 8th and the 16th.
Fruit and flowers are traditionally brought and offered to the Saint where in 40AD, legend dictates that she appeared to Saint James the Greater as he prayed on the banks of the River Ebro. She gave him a statue of herself and a small pillar, with the instructions to go build! He did indeed build a small church, the first in history dedicated to the Virgin Mary – later versions were then built on the same spot, today you can visit the impressive 17th century edition, the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar.
It’s now an important pilgrimage location, visitors include Saint Teresa of Avila, and Pope John Paul in the 1980′s – as well as thousands of pilgrims from around the world…and maybe you next month?
All that shopping, walking and praying…you must be starving!
So, what are the local dishes of Zaragoza?
Well, if you like fine dining you won’t be disappointed – there are hundreds of places to choose from on all sides of the wallet-scale. Upmarket restaurants jostle with trendy wine bars, small café’s tapas bars and international food restaurants. But do try some traditional Aragonese dishes too – go and explore the old town for places with atmosphere.
Local dishes include:
Recao – rice, beans and potatoes
Tenaco – Roasted veal
Bacalao al Ajoaniero – salt cod cooked with garlic and served with eggs
Food from here is described as wholesome and honest, so enshew the international pizzas and such-lie, take the local route instead!
Truffles are another famous export from Aragon, nearby Teruel is the main centre, and pigs and dogs are still used to locate the best ones in secret woodland areas, take some home as a gift!
Remember, not long now to the festival, better get searching for those flights!