For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Friday, 28 November 2008

San Juan De La Peña

Early on the morning of Thursday 16 October I left Jaca slightly unwillingly and headed west towards Santa Cilia. (The night before the bars in Jaca - there must have been 30 or 40 of them - had taken part in a tapas promotion - all competing to create the most memorable tapas. You could vote for which one you liked the best. Each bar charged exactly the same price - which was €2.40 for a tapa and a glass of quality red wine. Not bad! I lost count of how many I'd had by the end of the evening ...)

After a few km I was faced with a choice of routes - either to carry straight on to Santa Cilia along an easy, level path, or to turn south into the mountains on a long and strenuous semi-circular detour which took in the monastery of San Juan de la Peña. Crazily I went for the difficult option. At first I didn't regret it as the views were terrific ...






But after a few hours I did begin to wonder if I'd done the right thing. The steep, rocky, woodland paths seemed to snake on upwards for ever. It was a hazy, sultry day, and I quickly became very tired. But there was no turning back now. Eventually, after descending into a shallow valley and losing most of the height I'd gained so far, I arrived at the small settlement of Atarés ...







After which it was yet more uphill for several hours. I was now climbing dry, stony gullies in a wilder, more open landscape. By the time I'd reached a small mountain road at the top of a remote pass I felt completely exhausted. Another long hour later and I was walking by the new, inhabited Baroque monastery of San Juan de la Peña. The old Mozarabic and Romanesque monastery had been abandoned centuries ago after several fires. I stumbled my way along a very quiet road which curved down into a deep-cut gorge and led to the old monastery, which was wedged, almost unbelievably, beneath a huge, overhanging rock ...




It was still a good distance from here back to the main route from which I'd deviated that morning. So, on hearing a car approaching behind me, I stuck out my thumb. The car stopped. And its very friendly Belgian occupants took me all the way down this dramatic valley, through the village of Santa Cruz de los Serós with its 2 fine Romanesque churches, and deposited me by the side of the N240 - which I followed for the remaining few km to Santa Cilia. It had been a tiring but wonderful day.

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