The Camino Aragonés is a section of the Via Tolosana from Arles, the most southerly of the four French routes, described by Aimery Picaud in his 12th Century guide. The Camino Aragonés proceeds south from the Somport Pass to Jaca, then west to Puente la Reina, where it merges with the Camino Francés. It can serve as a short camino in its own right, or a quieter prelude to the far busier Camino Francés on to Santiago de Compostela.
The Spanish online camino guides suggest six stages/etapas on the Camino Aragonés, but there are well-spaced albergues along the route which allow for shorter daily distances and off-route diversions. www.gronze.com lists the albergues and other accommodation options on each stage. Because there are only two good-sized towns along the way—Jaca and Sanguesa—pilgrims should plan ahead for the lack of ATMS, food shops and coffee stops. Most of the albergues, however, offer evening meals and breakfast—at much-loved Santa Cilia and Arrés, as well as at Artieda and Ruesta. Undués de Lerda, Monreal and Tiebas all have adjacent bar/cafés providing meals. Albergue prices average 10-11 euro, and paper sheets and blankets are generally provided.
The Camino Aragonés remains a relatively quiet and very scenic route. The Pyrenees follow pilgrims for the first two-three days, and the controversial but scenic Yesa reservoir accompanies them for the following two. The route is well way-marked with arrows, mojones and wooden GR posts. (Interestingly, the markings are often placed beyond junctions, rather than leading to them.) From the Somport Pass there is a steep descent on a rocky path for about 5kms; thereafter, the route is largely on paths and gravelled farm roads, with a few stretches along secondary highways/carreteras. The only significant climb (apart from the San Juan de la Peña variant, and reaching the inevitable hilltop village-destinations!) is between Ruesta and Undués de Lerda, and that is described as ‘gradual’. The only 25-30km distance between albergues is from Sanguesa (or Liédena/Lumbier) to Monreal, because unfortunately the former albergue in Izco has been closed for several years.
The Camino Aragonés also provides opportunities for remarkable diversions.
- Canfranc Estación is the second largest train station in Europe. It was opened in 1928 to transfer passengers and freight between the differing gauges of Spanish and French railways. The station was sealed during the Spanish Civil War to prevent arms smuggling, but Franco used it during World War II. There are now tours of the station, and the government of Aragon has major development plans for the site—a hotel, a reopened train line, and perhaps an albergue.
- The Royal Monastery of San Juan de la Peña, in the mountains above jaca, was partially carved in the stone of the great cliff that overhangs the foundation. From the 12th century it was a Benedictine monastery and it became the royal pantheon of the kings of Aragon and Navarra. The 17th century ‘new monastery’ nearby includes an interpretative centre on medieval monastic life. Taxis provide services to the site, with tour buses from Jaca and Santa Cilia during the summer months. The 14km variant camino route, up and down, presents a major challenge to all but the fittest pilgrims.
- Castello Javier lies about 5km from the official camino route, either from Undués de Lerda or Sanguesa. The refurbished castle of the family of St Francis Xavier includes a museum of his life, the church where he was baptised, two hotels and beautiful riverside grounds, as well as a Jesuit Centre of Spirituality and the convent of the Misioneras de Cristo Jesús.
- Monastery of San Salvador of Leyre is another important medieval Benedictine/Cistercian monastery, dating from as early as 842, and rebuilt at various times, especially in the 16th century. The monastery lies on a hill above the small town of Yesa (5km beyond Javier, with an albergue).
- Foz de Lumbier. The Foz is a spectacular nature reserve in a river gorge with a walkway using the tunnels blasted for Spain’s first electric train (the Irati railway, 1911-1955)/ The length of the canyon is about 2.5km, beginning and ending a few kilometres from Lumbier (north) or Liédena (south). There are hotels, but no albergue in either town.
At the end of April—early May 2019 I enjoyed a ten-day walk along the Camino Aragonés, returning to the paths I’d walked with my sister and brother-in-law in 2007. This time I was able to include visits to the special sites mentioned above, making it an especially memorable short camino.
Flying to Biarritz from Ireland, I took the mid-afternoon train from Bayonne to Pau, with 90 minutes to enjoy its funicular and views across to the mountains, before a short train up to Oloron Sainte Marie, where I stayed in the comfortable gite/albergue Relais du Bastet under the auspices of the Amis du Chemin de Saint-Jacques. A 2hr bus early the following morning took me up and through the Somport road tunnel to Canfranc Estación, five kms below the Pass. (An alternative bus takes one up to the Somport Pass itself, where there is an albergue. Or there is a scenic 4hr train from Zaragoza to Canfranc Estación.) Because it was not yet ‘high season’, there was no scheduled bus up to San Juan de la Peña, but I was lucky to meet three other wanna-goes at the Santa Cilia de Jaca albergue, and we shared a taxi—a reasonable €60 for the four of us, and a very memorable visit. None of the albergues was completo, although some can accommodate only 12-20 pilgrims. A New Zealander compañera and I stayed in Undués de Lerda and walked along the back roads to Castello Javier where we shared a festive May Day with local families, and went to Mass in the church beside the castle. From there we walked a few kilometers to Yesa, and were the only pilgrims at Sierra de Leyre albergue. (I didn’t go up to Leyre Monastery, but my friend was glad she had made the climb.) We had expected a local bus to take us to Liédena to shorten our walk to the Foz de Lumbier, but to our chagrin, Yesa was only a set-down stop for the Jaca-Pamplona bus. So we walked 7km along the road to Liédena and on to the Foz. (Liédena appeared to have no bar or shop open, apart from the hotel and petrol station below the town). The canyon walk was spectacular, with vultures and raptors circling above, and (promised but unseen) kingfishers darting along the river below. We spent the night at the **Complejo Latorre hotel, unusual luxury for us pilgrims, at a reasonable €20 each. The following day we had a fairly tiring, but quiet, roadside walk to Monreal . (There may have been a more scenic path, if we had taken the advice of our hotelier). The route is also somewhat shorter from Lumbier, had we kept on north of the Foz/canyon. Because of our route to Javier and Yesa, we didn’t pass through Sanguesa, which has a notable church and good facilities.
From Monreal and Tiebas the upper path along the hillside above the Canal de Navarra is rocky and partially wooded. In wet weather, a lower route would be preferable, but we enjoyed the views and the wildflowers along the way. Beyond Tiebas (which has a municipal albergue), the Camino Aragonés passes through several small villages, by the beautiful Eunate Romanesque church, and to Obanos and Puente la Reina. On the road below Tiebas, I caught a 20-minute bus to Pamplona, where I stayed my final nights before returning to Biarritz Airport and Dublin.
By Mary de Paor.