You might assume that Spain’s skyscraping villages would be found in Andalusia's spectacular Sierra Nevada mountain range or in the neighboring Alpujarras valley in Almeria province. Or you might think they are in the Picos de Europa in Cantabria, in the Pyrenees, or even nestled on the slopes of Mount Teide in Tenerife. But far from being in any of the locations that spring to mind when talking about altitude in Spain, the highest of the country’s villages are concentrated in the Gúdar-Javalambre and Albarracín mountains in Teruel province, and to the north of the Central Massif in the Sierra de Gredos mountain range in Avila province.
Here, we explore three weekend breaks combining days packed with outdoor adventure and evenings spent contemplating the stars.
Waiting for Galáctica: the star turn in Gúdar-Javalambre (Teruel)
Spain’s highest village, Valdelinares, can be found in the Gúdar and Javalambre mountains where it lauds it over its neighbors at 1,692 meters above sea level. Also up there are the family-sized ski stations of Javalambre and Valdelinares.
The mountains are also home to around 1,000 kilometers of clearly marked hiking trails some of which are sections of longer trails such as the 160 kilometer long stretch of reconditioned railway track known as the La Vía Verde de Ojos Negros, the historically themed El Camino del Cid, La Ruta de los Guerrilleros or the Camino del Santo Grial (The Holy Grail path).
And if you haven’t seen all you want by day, there’s plenty to see at night as well. The lack of light pollution means there are magical opportunities for star-gazing. In fact, 23 villages in the district of Gúdar-Javalambre have now been accredited by Starlight, an international foundation dedicated to the protection and conservation of the night skies.
Stationed on the Pico de Buitre at an altitude of 1,957 meters is the Javalambre Astrophysical Observatory. This belongs to the village of Arcos de las Salinas where the astronomy center Galáctica is expected to open soon. The idea of the center is to make astronomy more accessible to the public by offering semi-professional facilities, according to the Aragón Center for Astrophysics and Cosmology (CEFCA).
Other high-altitude villages in the district are Gúdar, near Valdelinares, crowned by the Peña de la Magdalena – the Mary Magdalene rock – with its shrine at the summit that offers spectacular views over the Alfambra Valley and the Las Moratillas mountains.
Declared a historical heritage village in 1982, Mosqueruela is another must-see. After exploring the narrows streets that twist through its huddle of rural dwellings, there is collection of UNESCO world heritage Levantine cave paintings 10 kilometers down the road that extend as far as the Gibert Gorge. At 1,360 meters above sea level, these are the highest examples of cave art on the Iberian Peninsula.
High-altitude tourism in the Albarracín mountains (Teruel)
The highest village in the Sierra de Albarracín is Griegos and which lies at the foot of the Muela de San Juan and the cross country ski station there, at 1,601 meters above sea level. It is a treasure trove of natural resources and delights, and hikes will take you through a landscape of forests, vast wheat fields, grazing pastures, karst rock formations and rushing rivers. Its museum, the Casa de las Mariposas y los Insectos – the Butterfly and Insect House – is a good place to begin exploring.
The village shares its grazing pastures with Guadalaviar, another high altitude village in the vicinity at 1,521 meters above sea level. This is the source of the River Guadalaviar, which, around Teruel, turns into the River Turia, famous for its floods.
A number of adventure tourism outfits offer a range of activities in the Sierra de Albarracín, such as canoeing, diving, canyoning, hiking, aqua-trekking and other treks with a variety of focuses, including nature, ethnology, photography and astrology. Trail running and snowshoe hikes are also popular.
Meanwhile, the village of Saldón can boast one of Europe’s biggest juniper groves while the high-altitude pine forests of Bronchales are among the densest and best conserved on the peninsula. It is also something of a mecca for wild mushroom pickers in the fall.
Northern Gredos: a Starlight destination (Avila)
A Starlight tourist destination since 2013, the Barco de Avila–Piedrahita-Gredos district of Gredos Norte is sprinkled with villages with an average altitude of more than 1,200 meters, meaning winters are cold and summers are short and fresh. Among the most elevated is Hoyos de Miguel Muñoz, a small medieval hamlet with the distinction of being the highest village in the region of Castilla y León at 1,534 meters. Slightly lower down the mountainside is Navarredonda de Gredos, at 1,523 meters, which is famous for its high quality beef – known as Avileña-Negra Ibérica.
This is perfect terrain for adventure tourism and there’s plenty on offer, including mushrooming, pony trekking, treetop adventure parks, snow sports and mountain biking. But for those who prefer a slightly more leisurely pace, the villages of Navadijos and San Martín de la Vega del Alberche – both at above 1,500 meters – are havens of traditional rustic architecture.
The Gredos Norte area is home to The Casa del Parque Pinos Cimeros nature interpretation center. You can find it in Hoyos del Espino, a village that sits 1,484 meters above sea level. This is where you take the road to the so-called Gredos Platform in San Juan de Gredos. From there you can hike up to Almanzor – the highest peak in the range at 2,591 meters – and the lakes around Gredos’ Central Massif.
English version by Heather Galloway.