Andalucía to Aragón – Baeza to Albarracín
The end of September 2019 and it was time for another trip across Spain. This time Ted and I were accompanied by our friend Ken – the plan was to cross Spain by a different route, explore some new places and show Ken a couple we had previously enjoyed. We set off by coach from Málaga on Sunday, reached Valencia by Thursday and returned by train to Málaga on Friday. As usual the account of the journey is followed by the practicalities and, while this trip was mainly by coach, there is a little unexpected railway buffery. For the places we’ve been before we’ve updated the information on the site and provided the links.
Málaga to Baeza
The first stage took us from Málaga to Baeza. The coach journey takes 3.5 hours, which includes time for a beer stop at Granada bus station. As far as Granada the journey was familiar, beyond there we were in (almost) new territory. In 1992 Colin and I visited Úbeda and we must have travelled the same route, though the old roads have been superceded by autovías (motorways). Baeza is in the Andalucían province of Jaén, though for some reason our coach skirts the capital city and follows a recently completed and largely empty autovía towards Baeza. My memory of our earlier trip is of endless olive groves and nothing has changed. Much of the economy revolves around olive oil – there are 60 million olive trees in the province, which produces 20% of the world’s olive oil – we pass oil co-operatives and presses and signs directing tourists to an olive oil museum.
We arrived in Baeza and eventually found the Hotel Fuentenueva. It didn’t help that the bus station had recently been relocated and on the Rough Guide town map I had circled restaurant no. 2 rather than hotel no. 2, so we headed for the wrong place. There’s always one cock-up on a trip and it is better to get it out of the way early on. The old town is compact so we weren’t too far adrift, though walking round with backpacks in a temperature of over 30 degrees wasn’t comfortable. The hotel was in a nineteenth century townhouse and it was attractive and inexpensive. Strangely, the bathroom had only a partial door, Wild West saloon style, which gave little privacy and no protection against sounds or smells.
Baeza was a rich town and religious centre which prospered from the local agriculture, textile production and the patronage of the local nobility. The result is a plethora of sixteenth century Renaissance architecture. Baeza, together with the similar neighbouring town of Úbeda has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2003. We explored the monumental area of the town around the cathedral and old university until it was time for food and beer.
Wedding photographs being organised, in front of Baeza cathedral.
Everywhere we went provided a tapa with each beer and some of them were quite substantial which avoided having to choose a restaurant. Baeza even has a craft beer pub, La Abadia, in a back street but not difficult to find – sometimes it brews its own beer though when we visited they were selling DouGall’s beers from Cantábrica. Near the hotel we sat on the terrace of El Torreón, which offered a choice of tapa – we had the house special, a filled ciabatta roll. Full of beer and food Ted led us back to the hotel.
Baeza to Cuenca
The following day we set off by coach (pictured) to Albacete then onwards by train to Cuenca for a couple of nights. It is a 4.5 hour journey to Albacete, the coach was comfortable, there was an on-board toilet and a couple of coffee stops. The 220 km journey crosses a remote area of Spain which was totally new to us and we kept awake looking at the passing scenery (not only to count the olive trees). The first stop was Úbeda, 9km from Baeza. There is not much of the town to see on the route to and from the bus station. However, from our 1992 visit I remember an old town with historic buildings similar to Baeza, a Parador in the main square (we treated ourselves) and some decent tapas bars. A couple of days visit combining Baeza and Úbeda would be a pleasant trip.
Cuenca 1992 – the parador and Capilla del Salvador and a street scene
The autovía is gradually being extended towards Albacete (despite there being very little traffic on the later stretches) and there were endless road works until we reached Villanueva del Arzobispo where we have a short coffee stop. It is another town that seems to depend totally on olive oil production. On the edge of town we passed a biomass plant which generates energy from olive waste and skins. It is a substantial town but there is very little recent building and the streets were virtually deserted. Rural depopulation is a major issue in Spain – many people have moved to the cities but keep their old pueblo home to visit occasionally and to retire. In rural towns and villages it is difficult to estimate how many homes are permanently occupied.
We continued along the road diverting into villages and small towns such as Beas de Segura and Puente de Génave. We began to see the remains of an old railway line and stations. This turned out to be the railway that would have linked Andalucía with the French border via Baeza and Albacete. For more details see the Railway Buffery section, at the end of this account, after the practicalities.
A typical view of a few olive trees in Jaén province
The countryside is still dominated by olive trees until we begin to climb then leave Jaén province (and Andalucía) and enter the region of Castilla – la Mancha and the province of Albacete. We have an extended stop at a roadside venta near Alcaraz – the castle and village are on the hill above. After the break the area becomes mountainous and the road (and old railway line) climbs to a low pass, the Puerto be los Pocicos. It then twists and turns its way through a river valley (the Río de Jardín which is virtually dry at this time of year). After a while we emerge on the arid plains of La Mancha and the road heads straight as a die to Albacete. We travelled round the ring road and enter the city from the North, to the bus station where we left the coach to continue its journey to Valencia and Barcelona.
Albacete railway station (and shopping centre)
Historically, Albacete, became prosperous through the agricultural wealth of the surrounding plains. More recently, during the Spanish Civil War it was the national headquarters of the International Brigades. By coincidence, a few weeks after our visit I read Laurie Lee’s book about his Civil War experiences ‘A Moment of War’ when he was based in Albacete for much of the time. However, we saw little of the city as the bus and railway stations are situated adjacent to one another on the outskirts of the city. To kill the time we managed to find a bar which sold substantial bocadillos (sandwiches) washed down by a couple of beers. Then we caught a high-speed train for the 40 minute, 133 km journey across the plains to Cuenca where we would spend the next two nights.
Ted and I have been to Cuenca twice before. It is a lively small city, with a spectacular old town on the hill above the modern centre. We enjoyed it and were keen to show Ken around. During our visit this time we explored the city further. Our previous visits are written up here – Alicante and Cuenca – and I’ve added some additional details following this visit. Cuenca is easily accessible by high-speed train from Madrid, Valencia and Alicante and we can recommend a visit.
Cuenca to Teruel and Albarracín
On Wednesday morning, after a small but tasty breakfast of coffee and churros or tostada de tomate in the bus station cafeteria, we set off on the 0830 bus to Teruel, two and a half hours through the hills east of Cuenca. We passed through sleepy (comatose would be a better description) villages such as Fuentes, Reillo and Carboneras, where the weekly open air market was in full swing with about three shoppers. The road runs up and downhill crossing a series of small valleys separated by forested hills. We call at Cañete (which Wikipedia reveals has 13 bars and a disco-pub for the 774 inhabitants, all of whom must be nursing a hangover as none of them are on the streets) and Salinas (near where Bobby slipped away or is that another Salinas) then leave Castilla-La Mancha and enter the Rincón de Ademuz, a small exclave of the Communitat Valenciana, with seven villages and a total population of 2403. The 20km of road through the Rincón is the most modern and well-maintained of the journey, with long viaducts taking us down from the mountains. Soon we’re in the region of Aragón and the province of Teruel where we wound our way through a series of small villages until we reached the provincial capital. Teruel is built on a hill above the Río Turia, with bridges and lifts between districts on different levels. The bus station is on the side of a hill and our coach disappears down the entry road, we alight and find our way back to the surface.
Teruel (pictured) is the smallest provincial capital in Spain with a population of 35,000 and is the only one without a direct railway link to Madrid. It is known for its architecture – the Moorish influenced Mudéjar style of the city’s towers and churches, including the cathedral. Another claim to fame is the legend (or is it a true story?) of Los Amantes de Teruel (the lovers of Teruel), a thirteenth century tragic love story – the mummified bodies of the pair concerned are now in a mausoleum within the San Pedro church. Teruel was also the sight of a major battle in the Spanish Civil War when it changed hands several times during the winter of 1937-38. Much of the city was destroyed and there were up to 140,000 casualties – this was where Laurie Lee had his ‘moment of war’. To combat its remoteness the organisation Teruel Existe was founded in 1999 to secure more recognition and investment in the city and province. It now has its own political party of the same name, which contested the November 2019 Spanish election and gained seats in the Spanish Congress and Senate.
We have 2.5 hours in Teruel over lunchtime so there was time for a wander round. After a traipse through the city centre and a look at the cathedral it was time for a couple of beers and some food. The highlight was La Barrica, which was empty when we arrived (it was not quite Spanish lunchtime yet) and looked like a backstreet bar in an area of late night places. It turned out to be listed in Michelin and the tapas were original and excellent and not outrageously expensive given the quality.
We would happily have stayed longer but there’s only one daily bus to our destination, Albarracín. The twelve of us (plus one bear) on board the comfortable minibus pootled out of town, past the strip of industrial estates and car showrooms and on to the Albarracín road. We repeatedly saw signs for the airport and we assumed it would be a small affair built to promote regional development. The next thing we saw were umpteen large planes including jumbo jets from various airlines. When we checked, there are no passenger flights (or even a terminal). Teruel airport opened in 2013 on the site of a former military airfield and is used for aircraft maintenance and storage – it has a capacity of 250 planes. After a long straight stretch of road (possibly Roman – we see signs for a Roman aqueduct nearby) we reached the hills and dropped off a couple of people at the village of Gea. The road meandered through the hills, following the Río Guadalaviar, until we reached Albarracín and the bus stop by a car park at the foot of a cliff. The bus then wanders off to the local school to collect children and take them home to remote hamlets in the hills.
According to Google Maps our hotel was adjacent to the bus stop. This is true longitudinally, but not vertically – it was on top of the cliff above the bus stop. The road continues through a tunnel well beneath the old town. Had we been smart we would have retraced the route into town then followed the old road, which climbs relatively gently from the main road. But we weren’t and decided instead to climb a long flight of steps nearby which took us over the tunnel entrance and into a back lane which eventually led to the hotel, with our luggage (admittedly light backpacks) in the heat of the day. Second cock-up of the trip. However, the Hotel Albarracín was worth the climb. It is in a fine old building and we were given a room with a tremendous view over the town and the surrounding countryside.
The view of Albarracín from our hotel room, and several of the town streets
Once we had settled in we set off to explore Albarracín and it is stunning. It is built of local pink sandstone and the jumble of medieval buildings on the steep hillside is impressive. Much of the town is traffic-free as most of the streets have steps. We reached the Plaza Mayor then walked along to the cathedral and beyond to the ruins of the castle. Along the way are several spots with views of the village, over the valley and up to the surrounding walls. We realised that we had been climbing when we discovered we were looking down on a viewpoint across the river, which we had spotted when we looked upwards from our hotel balcony. We climbed further uphill to take a look at the Murallas de Albarracín (walls of Albarracín) which are unusual – they march up the hillside and enclose a much larger area than the town ever covered – we decided they were built by someone with delusions of grandeur.
The Plaza Mayor (above) and Albarracín cathedral (below)
Today Albarracín has a population of just over 1000, half of what it was in the nineteenth century. It occupies a superb defensive position in a loop of the Río Guadalaviar. In the thirteenth century it was the capital of the small independent Kingdom of the Azagras. The walls mainly date from the fourteenth century and are built on earlier Moorish foundations. Quite why they cover such a large area is unclear, though the tower at the highest point, the Torre del Andador, would have been a good lookout point for any approaching danger from that direction.
During the afternoon break from about 1600 to 1930 there was nowhere open to drink or eat in the old town. The day-trippers have gone, there is not a huge permanent population and a couple of bars seemed to have closed permanently. We were too busy exploring the old town to realise that there were several options in the newer part of town, at the foot of the ridge, by the road from Teruel, which is where the bulk of the population live. In the evening, as soon as it opened, we established ourselves in La Despensa for a couple of beers and some excellent inexpensive raciones, all served by a woman who switched effortlessly between Spanish, English and French. Within fifteen minutes the place was full. We also called in to Bar Parroquia, with a friendly owner who made me to practice my Spanish by reading out the menu board he was just writing (maybe to check that his writing was legible). After dark the temperature dropped rapidly and it was cold as we hurried back to the hotel.
Albarracín to Valencia
The morning was cold but the morning light on the sandstone gave an excellent view from our balcony (pictured). We set off for Teruel by taking the easy route down the hill to the bus stop and called in for coffee in a small shop-cum-café-bar nearby which we hadn’t noticed when we arrived. The minibus arrived busy with schoolkids. It took them and us across the river to the school, dropped them off, then set off for Teruel. The photo shows our hotel and how easy it would have been to abseil from our room to the bus stop.
In Teruel, we had time for a late breakfast before taking the lift down the side of the old town hill to the station to catch the train. Except it wasn’t a train – the line was due to reopen two days later after several months of closure for modernisation work. The line is being upgraded for use by more freight trains from the north of Spain to the Mediterranean ports – the local paper was not impressed that, after three months of closure, the passenger trains were going to be neither more frequent nor faster. So, ten or so of us piled on to the coach and set off for Valencia. Ted and I have travelled on the railway line before and it is described in Alicante and Cuenca .
Teruel – the steps (known as La Escalinata) from the city down to the station
The coach followed the recently built motorway which climbs from Teruel (915m) to the Puerto de Escandón pass at 1223m then down a valley to the coast (each 100m loss of height is marked by signs). The downside is that the motorway makes the area feel much less remote than the railway does – though it has improved accessibility for the locals. From time to time we diverted along minor roads to serve some of the smaller stations, though no-one boarded or alighted until Segorbe, 105km by train from Teruel. For part of the journey we travelled along the now empty old road – there were closed and derelict ventas and it is clear that some of these villages have lost most of their passing trade. En route we cross a stream signposted as the Arroyo Burro Muerto (dead donkey) – how did it come by that name?
When we reached Valencia it was lunchtime and the temperature had reached 30 degrees (it was 6 degrees when we left Albarracín). We had the rest of the day to explore the city, this time with a focus on craft beer bars. Ted and I have visited Valencia twice in recent years and there is a city guide to Valencia on the site, Guide to Valencia , which we’ve updated to include the new places we found this time. The photo is of the Santa Caterina tower, Valencia.
The following day we headed home to Benalmádena – this time by high speed AVE train. The train took us through Cuenca to Madrid, where there was time for lunch in the atmospheric Café Brillante across from Atocha station before catching the next train to Málaga and home.
Coach fares can vary – sometimes special offers are available as are cheaper fares for over-60s on certain journeys. Train fares vary according to the type of train and cheap advance fares may be available online for off-peak long distance journeys. Note that foreigners booking railway and coach journeys online in Spain will need the passport numbers of everyone in their party.
A map of the journey is below. The outward journey, in black, was by coach over several days and the return journey, in red, was by high-speed train.
Malaga to Baeza
There are 2 direct daily buses from Málaga to Baez at 1400 and 2000, which take about 3.5 hours. Additional journeys are available by changing at Granada and/or Jaén. The service is operated by Alsa, seats can be booked in advance at www.alsa.es and advance booking is recommended. As mentioned in the text, the bus station in Baeza shown in the Rough Guide 2018 has moved a couple of blocks along Avenida Alcalde Puche Pardo (marked ‘to Úbeda and train station’ on their map). Google maps shows the correct location.
Baeza to Cuenca
There are 2 buses per day from Baeza to Albacete currently at 0855 and 1355 taking about 4.5hrs. The service is operated by Bacoma, part of the Alsa group and seats can be booked in advance at www.alsa.es. Our coach was not busy, but the limited service means that advance booking is recommended. From Baeza to Úbeda services are roughly hourly (fewer on Saturday and Sunday).
Onward trains from Albacete to Cuenca Francisco Zobel run 7 times daily Mon-Fri (5 on Sat and Sun). Seats should be reserved at www.renfe.com . These are long distance trains and are fully reservable.
Cuenca to Teruel and Albarracín
The bus from Cuenca to Teruel departs at 0830 (Mon-Sat) or 1130 (Sun) and takes 2.5 hours. It is operated by Samar and seats can be reserved at www.samar.es . Our coach was not busy, but the limited service means that advance booking is recommended.
The bus from Teruel to Albarracín departs at 1410 (Mon-Fri schooldays) or 1530 (Saturday and school holidays). It is operated by Navarro. Check the departure time at Teruel bus station. The journey takes 50 minutes and the current fare is €3.90 single (pay the driver).
Albarracín to Valencia
The morning bus from Albarracín to Teruel leaves from across the road from the arrival stop and arrives full of schoolchildren. It departs at 0855 (Mon to Sat, no Sunday or public holiday service).
The train service from Teruel to Valencia is operating once more. There are 3-4 journeys daily. Advance booking is not necessary as the trains are quiet but can be booked at www.renfe.com .
Valencia to Málaga.
There are trains almost every hour from Valencia to Madrid and similarly from Madrid to Málaga. AVE high-speed trains reach 300km per hour and take from 1.75 hours to Madrid and from 2.5 hrs onwards to Málaga. There is a limited direct service which takes 4.5 hours for the 900km journey. It currently departs Valencia Joaquin Sorolla at 1715 on Monday, Friday and Sunday. These trains should be reserved in advance at www.renfe.com .
In Baeza we stayed at the Hotel Fuentenueva, C/Carmen 15, booked via booking.com. A twin room at the end of Sept 2019 was €52.64, including continental breakfast.
In Cuenca we stayed at the Hotel NH Ciudad de Cuenca, Ronda de San José 1, which Steve and Ted have used before. It was booked via www.nh-hotels.com and was €55.10 per room per night, room only.
In Albarracín we stayed at the Hotel Albarracín, c/Azagra, 2, booked via www.hotelalbarracinteruel.com which has a page in clear English. In early October a twin room (room only) cost €58.50. We were given a room with a view though this may be because the hotel was quiet.
In Valencia we stayed at the Hotel NH Ciudad de Valencia, Avenida del Puerto 214, booked via www.nh-hotels.com, at a cost of €102.42, including breakfast. Valencia is an important tourist and business city and can be expensive.
Bars and beers
The craft beer bar in Baeza was La Abadia, Pl. Candido Elorza 7. El Torreón on Plaza Cánovas del Castillo offered a choice of tapas. We called in at several places around the central Plaza de España and Paseo de la Constitución.
In Albacete we had our lunch break at Cervecería Regio in C/Federico Garcia Lorca, opposite the bus station. There aren’t many other options nearby though both the bus and rail stations have a cafeteria.
For Cuenca see Alicante and Cuenca
In Teruel the gastrobar with interesting tapas is La Barrica at C/Abadía 5. Across the road from the bus station, in an old tower, Bar Torreón (Ronda de Ambles 28) is fine for a drink. There are plenty of places near the central Plaza de Torico. On our onward journey to Valencia we had breakfast (tostadas and coffee) in Boulevard, Paseo del Óvalo 3, across the road from the lift and La Escalinata staircase leading down to the station.
In Albarracín We ate, drank and can recommend Bar La Despensa at C/Chorro 18. Bar Parroquia, C/San Juan 10, was also fine. Be aware of the late afternoon / early evening break when nowhere in the old town was open.
For Valencia see Guide to Valencia
Railway buffery: the Baeza – Utiel railway
A 1948 map of the proposed railway line from Jaen (in the bottom left corner) to Albacete, Utiel, Teruel and Lleida
Following several vague proposals for railway lines in the area, the 366km Baeza – Albacete – Utiel railway line was included in a 1926 Spanish development plan. It was to be part of a route running from Andalucía to the French border and work began in 1927. It stopped during the 1930s economic crisis and the Spanish Civil War and began once more, albeit slowly, in 1943. The main work on the ground was carried out in the early 1960s when the trackbed and station sites were prepared. Tunnels and bridges were completed and rails were laid between Albacete city and the Jaén/Albacete provincial border (108km), and only the signalling remained to be installed and commissioned. A World Bank report in 1962 proposed abandonment – in its view the line would never be useful, due to the development of road transport and rural depopulation. Work on the line ceased in 1964 by decision of the Franco government. There remained a possibility that work would restart and it was not until the 1990s that the project was definitively abandoned and the rails were lifted.
In Jaén province the trackbed and several uncompleted stations remain. On the central section from the provincial border to Albacete the only trains that ever ran were construction trains. This section has now been converted into a via verde (greenway) walking and cycling route. Construction never began on the section from Albacete to Utiel, Teruel and Lleida. However, the section between Lleida and La Pobla de Segur, near the French border, was opened in 1951 and today is operated by the Catalan government railways. See JOURNEYS SPAIN Zaragoza and Tarragona for a journey along this line.
The guidebooks used to help plan the trip were: Geoff Garvey and Mark Ellingham, Rough Guide to Andalucia, 9th edition, Rough Guides, 2018 and Simon Baskett et al, Rough Guide to Spain, 16th edition, Rough Guides, 2018. Map- wise the Michelin Tourist and Motoring Atlas, Spain and Portugal, scale 1:400,000, Michelin, 2018 help to plan the journey and to confirm where we had been. Laurie Lee’s book on his Spanish Civil War experiences is Laurie Lee, A Moment of War, Penguin, 1992.
The main sources of information online were Wikipedia in English https://en.wikipedia.org and in Spanish https://es.wikipedia.org . Information on olive oil in Jaén is from www.esenciadeolivo.es. Details on the Baeza – Utiel railway came from the Linea Baeza – Utiel article in Spanish Wikipedia and from www.viasverdes.com . Any mistakes in translation from Spanish are my own – I cant blame Google Translate for everything. Transport and hotel sites are mentioned in the text.
Acknowledgments: Ken Donald joined Ted and I on the trip and helped to taste the beers.
Photographs: All of the photographs are by Steve Gillon except for the following: The base map for the route of the journey is by National Geographic at https;//mapmaker.nationalgeographic.org . The following were sourced via Google Images: the olive trees from http://www.u3amoraira-teulada.org , Albacete station from http://www.lacerca.com , Teruel Airport from http://www.larazon.es , the Samar coach from http://www.bodas.net, the 1948 railway map from http://www.ferropedia.org and the railway tunnel near Alcaraz from http://www.mapa.gob.es .
Copyright: Text and photographs (except those mentioned above) are Copyright © Steve Gillon, 2020.