Aragón

Aragón can be simplistically divided into three regions. The Pyrenees and Pre-Pyrenees, the Ebro Depression, and the mountains of the Sistema Ibérica.

A long walk beginning at the French border down through Aragón would take you through some remarkable landscapes. You’d begin in the Pyrenees, here the highest, wildest and most dramatic in the range, home to dozens of peaks over 3,000 metres, rising to Aneto (3,404m). Dotted here and there are numerous tarns called ibones in Aragonese, which occupy cirques excavated by the calving of glaciers. Descending, you’d pass through the wild limestone massif and deep gorges of the Pre-Pyrenees, the most spectacular part of which is taken up by the Sierra de Guara, and then, barely 100km from the border, in stark contrast, onto the vast semi-arid steppes of the Ebro Depression. Further south, you would again ascend into the rugged mountains of the Sistema Ibérica which reaches its highest point in the Moncayo (2,313m). Driving past Moncayo always gives me a sense of how immense the Spanish landscape can be. The vineyards of the Campo de Borja offer a more intimate scale, behind them wind turbines and the vast mountain, topped in snow for much of the year, a perfect postcard of Iberian essence. Antonio Machado condensed its presence in the Fields of Castile (1912)  “White Moncayo erect in the sky of Aragon!”

Climate of Aragón

Most of the region has a harsh Mediterranean-continental climate far from the tempering effects of the sea with irregular rainfall and some of the most extreme temperatures in Spain. Winters can be freezing with temperatures dropping well below zero most years. Many years ago in Zaragoza I had a student who worked as a travelling lingerie salesman. In a conversational exercise I had set up on “dangerous situations you’ve found yourself in” he told the group that the year before he had broken down in a blizzard on a lonely road to the south of the city. As the temperature plummeted in the car, he only managed to survive by putting on dozens of pairs of tights, before being rescued in the morning. Spring is sweet but short and then wham-bam summer arrives bringing temperatures above 40ºC along the Ebro Valley. Away from the Pyrenees, much of the region is semi-arid, receiving 300-500mm, although rainfall increases again in the mountains of Teruel. Aragón is also famed the Ciezo, the dry and usually cold wind which rips from the northwest along the Ebro Valley, similar in origin to the Mistral over in France. Cato the Elder described the Cierzo in the 2nd century BC as “a wind that fills your mouth and tumbles wagons and armed men.” Although its maximum speed of 160 km/h was recorded in 1956, it’ll top 100 km/h several times a year, and in 1988 knocked the author off his feet, after one too many in Zaragoza’s night. To combat this wind, you’ll see reed windbreaks called bardos all along the Ebro Valley, planted to protect crops from the Cierzo, but the wind can also sweep away agricultural pests.

Aragón has been severely hit by depopulation and is now the most sparsely populated autonomous region in Spain. Considering half of the population live in the capital of Zaragoza, If you avoided the city of Zaragoza you might encounter very few people indeed.