Nestled into a limestone outcropping in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees, adjacent to the dramatic Rio Vero gorge is the impressive Aragonese town of Alquézar. Founded at the beginning of the 9th century, Alquézar's name derives from the Arabic al qacr meaning fort or castle for the hilltop fortress that the city eventually grew up around. The town is idyllic with a labyrinth of streets overlooking plunging cliffs, charming stone & wood constructions, and groves of olive trees hugging the walls. Despite its obvious beauty, the main draw of Alquézar is that it is the canyoning capital of Aragon & Spain as a whole, with many adventure opportunities and hiking available in the surrounding Sierra de Guara National Park.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Santa Maria del Alquézar - Located just at the beginning of town, the Hotel Santa Maria del Alquézar blends modern conveniences with rustic, country-style charm and decor. The rooms boast some of the best views overlooking Alquézar and the surrounding landscape. Breakfast is included with all rooms and the friendly staff is available to help with anything you might need including organizing canyoning and hiking activities in the area.
WHERE TO EAT
La Marmita de Guara | With lovely views overlooking the surrounding town, La Marmita de Guara, is a nice place to take in an afternoon lunch. 3-course lunch menus are offered for approx 19 euros and offer a wide array of choices for appetizers, mains, and desserts. In peak months, the restaurant can get quite busy so try to make a reservation or call ahead if possible.
Restaurante Pena Aman | My mom and I had a surprisingly pleasant meal at this quaint family run restaurant at the entry to town. The 15 euro, 3-course menu includes a choice of appetizer, main, dessert, and a beverage (includes wine!). The homey bean stew was most welcome on a chilly night and the chicken was moist and delicious.
Restaurante Casa Pardina | Likely the most posh restaurant in town with the best reviews, Casa Pardina offers visitors a 3-course menu for 29 euros. The restaurant has indoor seating as well as a terrace with nice views.
THINGS TO DO
Walk the town. The winding streets of Alquézar are compact, but zigzagging through the town gives a good sense of small town life. As you walk, notice small details like the ingenious central drainage system in all the streets or the artistic ornamentation of the overhanging roof eaves.
Climb up to the Colegiata de Santa Maria. At the highest point in town is the castle/monastery known as the Colegiata de Santa Maria. Originally built as an Arab fortress in the 9th century, the town was conquered and the structure replaced by an Augustinian monastery in 1099. Guided tours or self guided tours are available.
For a taste of the Rio Vero Canyon, hike the short Ruta de las Pasarelas (Footbridges of Vero). Start in the Plaza Mayor of town. Take the road that leads toward the Colegiata and branch off to the left when you see the sign for the Pasarelas hike. Here you begin the descent into the canyon using a series of footbridges and staircases with the beautiful canyon walls rising up next to you. Once you reach the river, a pathway suspended to the rock face will take you through the canyon. In warmer months, find a spot and cool off in the refreshing water. Loop back up to town, following the signs for Alquézar. The hike takes 1.5-2hrs depending on your speed and is relatively easy.
Visit adjacent small towns. The Pyrenees and their foothills are littered with interesting and unique small towns, so hop in a car and explore. Some reasonably distanced ones include Aínsa, a medieval stone town at the confluence of the Cinca & Ara rivers with the looming Pena Montanesa serving as its backdrop, and Jaca, the former capital of Aragon that boasts an impressive 16th century fortress. If you do stop in Jaca, don't miss the tini tapas bar, La Tasca de Ana for some delicious small bites.
Try your hand at canyoning or enjoy more longer distance hikes. With offices just at the entrance to town, next to the Hotel Santa Maria, Avalancha run by Javier Cardenas can organize any and all canyoning or adventure activities in the Sierra de Guara area.