Tuesday, 17 July 2012

26 June 2012 – Monasterio de Piedra

A 70 mile drive through the mountains took us to another world.   The 12th century monastery is now a luxury hotel situated in a large park.   After a hectic day spent in Zaragoza this was a welcome change of pace.

The guest rooms are the old cells once used by the Cistercian monks.   They have been converted in a similar way to many of the Parador’s.  The long corridors cover a large area, and it was not easy to find our way around.

We were dropped at reception and given an hour to get lunch and be ready for a guided tour of the ruined church buildings.  Sounds simple, turned out to be easier said than done.   We left our bags in our room and went in search of somewhere for lunch.  The corridors were full of people on a similar mission, all getting more and more agitated.  No staff in sight, and no one had any idea where we might eat.   

Eventually we found a large garden bar just outside the hotel, but we were among the last to find it and the whole coach seemed to be in the queue ahead of us.   The tour of the church had to be postponed for half an hour to allow everyone a hasty lunch.  When it started we found the commentary was only in Spanish, so we all went off on our own to explore.

Our stay included a free tour of the church, free entry to the large park and a falconry display.   The latter started at 4pm, so we only had an hour or so to explore the monastery ruins.

The display was very good, but it was a very hot afternoon and all of the seats were in the open.   So it was not as well attended as it deserved to be.   Most of the coach got no further than the hotel swimming pool or the garden bar where we had our rushed lunch.  Less than ten watched the display.

Next came the most enjoyable part of our short stay,   the park and nature reserve.   It’s a large wooded area full of waterfalls, grottoes, lakes and shaded walk areas.    

There is a signed route around the park, which proved pretty difficult to follow.   As the route was winding it was easy to miss a marker and skip a whole section.  But we took our time and managed to follow the whole route.   We were surprised that it took us a good two hours, and we could easily have spent much longer.

It was great to be able to get away from other people and explore the 30 individual viewing areas.   Despite the high temperatures it was remarkably cool in the park.   Not only was it well shaded, but the many waterfalls cooled the air and damped us down.

We were also grateful for the many seating areas.   The park seemed very quiet, and though there were other people walking around the route, it was easy to avoid them and find a quite spot to sit and enjoy the view.

Most of the route was flat, but there were exceptions.   However these could easily be avoided for the less energetic. 

One section followed a tunnel through the mountain.   Lovely and cool, with water running down the walls and this spectacular view.

We did not have enough time to do this lovely location full justice.   We could happily have spent a whole day exploring the park.   We hardly saw the hotel at all, apart from our room and the dining room.   Well recommended for anyone who would like a weekend away with a difference.

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