The Baroque, the Gothic and the Renaissance
There are veritable artistic and natural treasures tucked away in the Matarraña (also spelled Matarranya). The towns and villages have retained their medieval and Renaissance atmosphere and you’ll feel like you’ve been whisked away to another era as you walk down their streets.
The Matarraña region, in Teruel, has all the attributes we usually associate with the bucolic life of the countryside: peace and quiet, rolling hills, flocks of sheep, the smell of herbs, olive trees in blossom, charming villages, rivers with crystal-clear waters and excellent traditional dishes. There are plenty of good reasons why the Matarraña is known as ‘the Tuscany of Spain’.
One of the Matarraña’s greatest tourist attractions is its beautiful towns and villages. Two of them, Valderrobres and Calaceite, are members of the Pueblos más bonitos de España association (Prettiest Towns in Spain), and five have been declared sites of historical interest by Spain’s Ministry of Culture.
Places to visit
Valderrobres is the main town in the Matarraña. Its charming old quarter is criss-crossed by streets that wend their way up a small hill. At the foot of the hill is the River Matarraña (from which the region takes its name) and at the top the architectural heritage complex consisting of the Castle and Church of Santa María La Mayor, which make for a fascinating visit and include the town’s museum. Other interesting sights are the Town Hall and the Stone Bridge, dating from the fourteenth century.
Another of the towns representative of the Matarrañais Calaceite, the second largest in the region and, like Valderrobres, listed as one of the Pueblos más bonitos de España and also as a Site of Historical and Artistic Interest since 1973.
The town has a very pretty old quarter, the haunt of many artists and scholars such as Antonio Mari and Juan Cabré, and a number of impressive monuments including its Plaza Mayor, the Town Hall, Plaza de los Artistas and the Church of La Asunción. In addition, thanks to the natural beauty spots and landscapes around it, the town makes the perfect base for keen walkers and nature lovers.
Nestling at the foot of the Puertos de Beceite mountains is the municipality of the same name. Beceite has a large old quarter of Arab origin that was declared a Site of Cultural Interest by the Government of Aragon. The town has a number of fascinating sights, in particular its Plaza Mayor, the impressive arches of the Town Hall, the gate on Calle Llanacuenta, the San Roque gate and shrine, the Santa Ana shrine and the Villanueva entrance gate, among others.
In addition, this town has a very varied ecosystem that is one of the most pristine in Europe. Special mention must be made of ztrong>El Parrisal, a beautiful gorge, and the area known as La Pesquera on the Ulldemó River.
La Fresneda is off the beaten track but it closely resembles the previously mentioned towns, with its steep streets lined with medieval houses that climb up to the top of the town , where the seventeenth-century Church of Santa María la Mayor /strong> stands.
The old quarter of the village was declared a Site of Historical and Artistic Interest . Other fascinating places include Calle Mayor, the Palacio de la Encomienda (residence of the commander of the Calatrava Order), the Town Hall and the beautiful arcades and porches below the houses. The church is very close to the remains of the village’s old castle, a strategic spot that offers outstanding views of the entire area.
The streets of Cretas retain their medieval feel and are lined with well-preserved buildings from the Renaissance era. Take a slow, leisurely stroll round the village and discover its impressive sights, among them the Church of La Asunción, Casa Turull, the Chapel of San Roque and the Chapel of San Antonio de Padua.
Other places well worth visiting are the archway of Casa Sapera, the village’s former olive oil mill, Calle Mayor, Plaza Mayor, the Town Hall, the old prison cells, the Portal de Vall de Roures gate, the Gran Casa (sixteenth century) and the Casa Castillo del Diexmo (tithe house and castle dating from the thirteenth century). And if you go outside the village, you can see the beautiful Shrine of La Misericordia, (built between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries).
Between Cretas and Calaceite is the Iberian settlement of Els Castellans, with its spectacular defensive structures and fortifications still standing.
El Parrizal Route
This is possibly the most famous trail in the Matarraña. The path is easy to access and takes you up along the River Matarraña, presenting you with a remarkable landscape of rock walls, gorges, rock paintings and pools of crystal-clear waters.
The path, occasionally in the form of wooden walkways out over the water, ends at an imposing gorge known as the Estrechos del Parrizal. The total route there and back is six kilometres.
La Pesquera pools
La Pesquera is the name given to an area of pools of different sizes excavated by nature in the Ulldemó River in Beceite. Natural swimming holes in the middle of the countryside for your enjoyment, made all the more remarkable by the turquoise colour and warmth of the waters.
If you follow a stretch of the route on foot, you can visit some of the fantastic vantage points set up in the Racó de Sant Antoni, a dry gulley, so you can admire the landscape and learn more about the Ulldemó River and the local flora and fauna thanks to the information panels installed there.
Salt de la Portellada
The Salt de La Portellada is a unique spot of incalculable beauty, a spectacular waterfall twenty metres high that drops into the course of the Tastavins River, a tributary of the River Matarraña.
The high rock walls and the turquoise pool make this cascade a unique beauty spot, one that is, moreover, easy to get to.
Embalse de Pena
Situated at the foot of the Puertos de Beceite mountains, the Pena Reservoir is one of the oldest in the province of Teruel. Construction work on the dam began in 1909 but was not completed until well into 1930. A number of farmhouses in the area disappeared under the waters of the reservoir as it was built.
The reservoir takes its name from the River Pena, which is itself named after the mountain that it circles, known during the reconquest from the Moors as the Peña Aznar Lagaia in tribute to the founder of the county, as it was then, of Aragon, Count Aznar Galindo. This mountain is today known as La Caixa and many people believe it looks like a ‘caixa de cabals’ (safe or strongbox).
From here, visitors can walk to the dam, which offers a panoramic view of the gulley and of the reservoir itself. Nearby is a recreational area with a small river beach and a number of tables.
Los Roques del Masmut
Les Roques del Masmut rock formation is one of the symbols of Peñarroya de Tastavins, as well as the source of countless poems, legends and other references. The formation is an impressive monolith with vertical walls over a hundred metres high, with different shapes and perspectives on the north side and on the south. Its peak reaches at an altitude of 1058 metres. It formed during the Paleogene period from the early materials eroded from the mountainous massif, based on conglomerates, sandstone and clays.
Its name could derive from the place name ‘Masmuda’, a Berber tribe from Morocco that settled in this area at the time of the Arab occupation. On the north-west side of the rocks is a large colony of vultures. From the top of the formation you can see the spectacular beauty of the surrounding area. On the south face, there are a number of climbing routes more than 150 metres long.
Visit Calaceite and walk its streets!