As soon as you set eyes on the snow covered peak of the 7,592 foot (2,314 meter) high Pico de San Miguel in the Moncayo Nature Park of Aragon Spain, you have your first wow moment. There are a few more wow moments to follow when you meet deer, witches and monks during your journey around Spain’s Moncayo Nature Park.
Where is Moncayo Nature Park?
The mountain range is located in the heart of Spain, between the provinces of Aragon and Castilla Leon. The vegetation reaches from the rather bare peek of San Miguel and neighboring Lobardo to dense forests with oak trees and pines to small rivers and lush valleys in the lower regions. Several well marked hiking paths lead you from one beauty of nature to another, all easy to reach as we discovered on our three-day trip to the region.
But, it’s not only nature that provides the wow moments of the Moncayo, it’s history, legends, witches and monks that make up a one of a kind experience.
Begin Your Moncayo Nature Park Adventure in Zaragoza
We packed comfortable hiking shoes and a small rucksack for provisions while walking and started our adventure in the city of Zaragoza. The city is very well connected by train, bus, road—and has an airport.
Fans of history and art like us should dedicate a day to Zaragoza. Located at the shores of the mighty river Ebro, walk across the ancient Roman stone bridge. Then proceed to visit the biggest baroque cathedral of Spain, the Basilica of the Virgin of Pilar and the adjoining Lonja, a building which, in the Middle Ages, was the stock exchange.
Modern history is no less interesting in Zaragoza as it was the site of EXPO 2008 and a splendid futuristic suspension bridge crosses the river to the EXPO pavilions. Go on a boat trip along the river, which starts right below the cathedral and turns around at the EXPO complex. Finish the day with a walk around the town center and tapas of the famous jamon serano, goat and sheep cheeses and other little delicacies in one of the many bars.
Making Your Way to Tarazona and the Edge of Moncayo Nature Park
The next day we made our way to the town of Tarazona, which brings us right to the northern edge of the Moncayo. Tarazona is located about 50 miles (80 km) north of Zaragoza and we went by bus. For two days we made the quaint Santa Agueda Hostal our home. The owner is a walking encyclopedia of Tarazona and the Moncayo history and legends. He speaks very good English, so talk to him and enjoy the stories.
The Tarazona Tourist Office, which is only steps away from the hotel, will provide you with maps and arrange for the first ‘witchcraft adventure’ in Trasmoz. This tiny village at the foot of the San Miguel mountains is, to this day, the only place in Spain which has been excommunicated because of it history of witchcraft. Once you have made an appointment with Lola Ruiz, the curator of the castle and witch of the year, take a bus or taxi to Trasmoz and enjoy hair raising tales of the Inquisition, the celebrations of the witches, their incarceration and everything else related to witchcraft.
Exploring the Witchcraft Festivals of Trasmoz
Every year in June, a colorful witchcraft festival is celebrated with re-enactments of the story of the castle, dances of witches and sorcerers and many small market stalls selling lotions, potions, amulets and many other things. The highlight is the election of a Witch of the Year, who was Lola Ruiz when we visited. So, you get to talk to a real modern day witch…how is that for a wow moment?
Before reaching Trasmoz you come past the massive and sinister looking Monastery of Veruelo, which plays a great part in the history of Trasmoz. Writers and painters have often been drawn to the monastery, the most famous in Spain. Manuel Becque spent many months as a guest in the monastery trying to recover from tuberculosis in the clean mountain air and composing his Letters from My Cell, which forms an important part of modern Spanish literature.
Hiking Moncayo Nature Park
We were finally in Moncayo proper, so our hike could begin. The best starting point for a hike is the village of San Martin de la Virgen del Moncayo, with a path leading to another village called Agramonte. Along the way you walk through the famous oak forests and, if you are lucky, you will see deer. A small river flows alongside.
From Agramonte you start the ascent to San Miguel in a zigzagging path which changes from woods to rocky but is never neck breaking steep. It takes about three hours to reach the peek and you can have a rest in a little stone hut half way up.
Once you have reached the peek, you not only observe the entire nature park spread out before you, but, on a clear day, you can see as far as the Pyrenees.
There are a few more different hiking paths but we found this to be the most picturesque. Make you way back at a leisurely pace to Trasmoz and Tarazona.
Our last day was dedicated to Tarazona. Although it’s a small town, it is the site of one of the most impressive testimonies of Spain’s Jewish past. Climb up to the Jewish quarter and marvel at the best preserved hanging balconies. Then proceed to the Renaissance cathedral and bishop’s palace with permanent exhibitions of medieval artifacts.
Depending on the time of year you plan to visit, you can either participate in a film festival or the festival of the Cipoteagto. He is a local figure, a sort of harlequin and the logo of Tarazona.
Bear in mind that you are in central Spain where it is very hot in summer and very cold in the winter, but, if at all possible, don’t miss the witchcraft festival. It’s unique and will leave you with a wow experience for life.