Imagine a city where Romans, Islamic Moors, Catholics and artists have stamped their own styles and created a kaleidoscope of culture and architecture, in the lush valley of the River Ebro.
Welcome to Zaragoza, home of the kings of Aragon and tucked away in north eastern Spain, near to the natural boundary of the Pyrenees.
The rich architectural heritage of the area is present in all corners of the city:
the Caesaraugusta route takes in 4 museums with one joint ticket and transports visitors back to the 1st century BC.
The river port, forum, baths and theatre each have their own museum and portray the days of Zaragoza as a Roman town, encircled by city walls built by the emperor’s army.
Walking around the city, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the abundance of beauty and detail in the buildings and monuments. The Basilica of Our Lady of El Pilar is crowned with a shimmer of coloured roof tiles and this Baroque church is a symbol of Zaragoza, with frescoes by Goya and the famous bronze and silver 2metre pillar.
Ascending one of its towers will bring into view the city, the river and distant glimpses of the snow-covered Pyrenees. In the same plaza, the brick and glazed tile design of Seo Cathedral is typical of the famous Mudejar design, which combines Christian and Moorish traditions. This monument is a Gothic splendour, best viewed in the morning when it is bathed in natural light.
The whole city is great just to walk around and to absorb the myriad of architectural styles; the Aljaferia Palace is another example of these. Appearing as a pale, biscuit-coloured Moorish castle, its arches and turrets become frosted in the sunlight. On the edge of town, it is a 15 minute walk back to the centre along a tree-lined path. The magical Arabic garden at the core of this palace, with lacey arches, the fragrance of orange trees and the tinkling of water is a pleasant spot in which to relax on a hot day.
The patios built by Moorish kings and the beautiful ornate carvings and ceilings surround the visitor in an ambience of medieval and Renaissance styles. Apart from the buildings, the city has plenty of good restaurants and a central market in which Zaragozan products can be bought. Outside of town, about 60km to the west, lies the Monasteria de Piedra Park, a fresh green oasis of shimmering waterfalls, streams, cascades and winding paths, set against the backdrop of the ancient monastery.
Further from the city, but only 90 minutes drive away along a scenic route, is the major ski resort of Formigal. From December until April this area, set amongst the deep snow of the Pyrenees, is popular with Spanish and international skiers and boarders .
Arranged over four valleys, it is renowned for its excellent black runs. However, there is ample provision for beginners upwards, with a moving carpet to take them up the piste, and facilities for terrain park enthusiasts which include their own dedicated black runs. The village of Formigal is set on a hillside opposite the ski stations, connected to them via a complimentary bus service that takes just 10 minutes door-to-door.
There are plenty of bars and restaurants in Formigal itself, and just outside the centre of the village is a great nightclub “Keeper”, located in an old cable car house. For the younger visitors, Formigal has a snow village and snow crèche.
The resort is very popular as it has high specification chairs and lifts, lovely cruising blue slopes and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, combined with classic skiing facilities. Its proximity to Zaragoza is a bonus to visitors, who can enjoy bargain ski deals, merging sport and history in one package.