Day 6 | San Juan de la Peńa and Loarra
Last night as Gerry looked at my blog and photos he said that he felt a but left out because he never saw the things i saw… he never walked with me. Today the plan has been for more of the same, in that I walk a bit and he join me along the trail for a cuppa but whilst that was a great plan for me it wasn’t such fun for my walking buddy. So we needed a Plan B. His ankle is better. Although I have to say he’s not the best patient… but when I tell him that he says I’m a stroppy nurse. But apart from this the ankle is improving, not enough for a day of walking but enough for a day of visiting.
In our schedule we’d allowed 2 days for the walk from Jaca to San Juan de la Pena and onwards but we could make up a day by visiting in the car instead. It would give Gerry a gentle day and we’d have lots of time to explore these two amazing buildings.
We drove for 30 minutes, half of which was on the narrow windy road leading up the site of the new monastery. Work began on a new baroque monastery in the 17th century, and is located in an environment of great beauty which has been declared a Protected Landscape. It’s about 1.5km higher than the older monastery and you can walk between the two.
Following a terrible fire in 1675 in the old Monastery of San Juan de la Peña , the decision was made to start anew. A nearby location was chosen in a beautiful meadow, set high on the hill; ideal conditions for the order to start a new life. Construction began in 1676 and unbelievably works continued as late as the early years of the 1800’s. The layout of the building is considered one of the most perfect and evolved examples of monastic architecture in the Modern Age. Sadly the buildings were abandoned in 1835 and the site was left to deteriorate. In recent years it was renovated to it’s former glory and as well as the visitor/tourist centres, there is also a hotel.
We meandered the site, gingerly walking over the glass floor that provided a birds eye view of the former monastery but was a little disconcerting to walk over. I was a little surprised to see a map of the Aragones camino route offering two different ways to Puenta la Reina on the Camino Frances. It has been majestically restored and it’s easy to see the craftsmanship.
After our visit we decided to take the path higher up the hill to the Mirador. The sign said an hour and we hoped Gerry’s ankle was up to the trip. In the event it was a fairly easy stroll. Partway up Gerry spotted a bench. We’d skipped breakfast and he was peckish. After complaining the bench was too low he search the rucksack for food and drink. He was out of luck as it had been emptied the night before… no emergency apple, no flask of tea. He was horrified… he blamed me and said one day of walking alone and it all fell apart. I left him on his bench and continued up the hill… I can walk faster than him now so I reached the top first and the views from the top were simply breath taking. It was a clear day and we could easily trace the mountains we’d walked and travelled through over the last week. What a glorious view!
After making the most of our visit we decided to head back down the hill to the even older, original monastery. This building really has to be seen to be appreciated; I’ve seen photos but they just can’t prepare you for wandering the site for real.
Covered by the huge rock that gives the site its name, work began on the lower church in 920 AD. The building appears perfectly camouflaged within its natural environment. Within the interior is contained a pre Romanesque church, 12th century paintings of San Cosme and San Damián, the designated Pantheon of Nobles , the superior church, consecrated in 1094, and the Gothic chapel of San Victorián, but above all stands out the magnificent Romanesque cloister. The authentic origins of the monastery are lost in the darkness medieval times, it is thought that it started life as a sheltered hermitage which led to the foundation of a small monastic centre devoted to San Juan Bautist in the 10th century, of which some elements survive. This really is a magical place that combines history, culture and nature like no other. Indeed it was hard for us to pull ourselves away but hunger and thirst got the better of us and we headed off in search of lunch.
Below the monestaries is the small village of Santa Cruz de la Serós, a pretty little village, on the camino, complete with two ancient churches and a sprinkling of restaurants. We had a simple lunch that was marred by the flies, there were so many they spoilt the meal and we ate quickly just so we could leave.
Back in the car we decided it was too early to return to our casa so we searched Trip Advisor and found a castle, far enough away to not be part of the Camino Aragones but close enough to reach that afternoon. The drive in itself was pretty amazing. 45 minutes over mountains and forest covered hills, driving along a river gorge and passing a huge embalse. After an hour we reached the village of Loarre and parked beside another ancient chuch; it’s steeple reminded me a little of the church in Iria Flavia. We wandered up the main square and ordered cold drinks… I had been amazed to spot yellow arrows en route and blow me if we hadn’t stumbled onto the Catalan Camino! I think Spain must be covered in these little yellow markers!
After our drink we made the 7km journey up to the castle, driving through miles and miles of almond orchards. The Castle of Loarre is a Romanesque Castle and Abbey located near the town of the same name in Huesca Province and is one of the oldest castles in Spain. Built largely during the 11th and 12th centuries, when its position on the frontier between Christian and Muslim lands gave it strategic importance; the first major building began around 1020.
The castle’s location on a rocky outcrop affected the layout; it was not possible to have one unified structure, and like many castles, Loarre was a collection of buildings bounded by thick stone curtain walls. The outermost walls of the castle and their eight towers were erected in the 13th or 14th century. The church and castle have been the subject of numerous restorations, a major one in 1913 and anther during the 1970s. The exterior of the castle reminded us both of Beynac Castle, one of my favourite places at home in the Dordogne and the former home of Richard the Lionheart. This complex though seems much bigger and it’s location afforded views that stretched for miles and miles and miles.
By the time we returned to the car we had walked almost 10 kilometres… not exactly a quite rest day after all but we both agreed it had been pretty spectacular! On the drive home we stopped at a pharmacy and bought a strap for Gerry’s ankle and some Arnica… he’s confident he can walk again tomorrow… so we’ll go home and plan a route!