Jaca is in the Pyrenees mountains of northeast Spain – a pretty spot with easy access to hiking, biking, and skiing. It’s known for the 16th-century Ciudadela de Jaca, a pentagonal fortress that houses the Museum of Military Miniatures. The city is a stop along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route – you see signs for it everywhere, and large numbers of people in hiking gear. This is a region that requires a car and would be otherwise quite difficult to deal with.

We spent two nights just outside of town in Barós – our hotel, **Hotel Barosse, is an excellent choice. It’s quiet, the hosts are lovely, you have great views of the mountains, and the food was by far the best we ate in the area. 

Jaca itself I wouldn’t make a major point to visit. The **Ciudadela de Jaca is more interesting in concept than reality (most impressive from overhead). The miniatures are fairly extensive, if you like that sort of thing. We had very average meals, at *El Rincon de la Cathedral and *Rosa Rosae at Parque Sanlure – not good enough to return to or recommend.

Outside of town we did find the Monasterio San Juan de la Peña worthwhile. The ticket covers three buildings, scattered about 7 km apart. At the lowest elevation, **Iglesia de Santa Maria is a small, elegant church from the 11th century, with very thin stone for windows (we saw this throughout Jaca, it’s very pretty, allowing light in but without the ornateness of stained glass). The **Monasterio Nuevo has the appearance of the original structure (17th century), but is instead a rather clever re-creation over the limited architectural ruins. Very modern. The big draw is the **Monasterio Viejo, built into the rock. It’s impressive, with some elements dating back to the 10th century. There’s a very good audio guide to explain the building and stages of evolution. Expect big crowds.

We took the A-1205 back to Jaca, completing a small circle road from the Monasteries. It’s worthwhile – nearly empty, great views, very bumpy and poorly maintained roads.

We made a point to head into the backcountry for (moderate) hiking and to check out the more popular towns around Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park. It’s very pretty and dramatic scenery, with waterfalls, a lot of greenery, and impressive rock formations. We took the relatively easy **Ruta por el Cañon de Añisclo, a 45-minute walk that included the historic Hermitage of San Úrbez, multiple bridges over the gorge, great views of people learning how to canyon, and a fair amount of shade (important on a 90 degree day). The water levels were quite low, but it was August and it’s likely more impressive at other times of the year. Getting there was half the fun, via a narrow, not particularly smooth, mountain road.

Continuing east, we had a great lunch at **Casa Lisa, in tiny Buerba.

Our final stop in the area was Aínsa – a hilltop town at the confluence of several (mostly-dry) rivers. Besides the surrounding mountain landscape, the 12th-century Iglesia parroquial de Santa María church and the 11th-century castle are the main sights of the town. It was a total skip in my book – the surrounding area is either quarried or under construction, the town exists entirely for tourists, and the food was fairly universally terrible. We stayed at *Hotel Los Siete Reyes, which at least had big rooms (uneven service, a bit tired). *Bar Tapas L’alfil had the best reviews, and good service – greasy, bland food. We did like the small bird sanctuary in the castle walls; otherwise there’s not much of the castle left.

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