The Three TaifasGuadalajara - Zaragoza - Teruel
The route of The Three Taifas (petty Kingdoms) by MTB bike. Travel through the lands of the taifas of Zaragoza, Toledo and Albarracín
- Route: From Calatayud to Cella - Teruel
- Provinces: Guadalajara, Zaragoza, Teruel
- Kilometres: Approx. 313 km.
- Days recommended: 6 days (5 nights)
- Difficulty: medium.
Information you can download on this page
- MTB tracks in GPX, KMZ and TRK format.
- The MTB route guide: contains technical and practical information, a description of the route, maps, gradients, difficulty, bicycle repair shops, stamping points and relevant milestones, etc.
- List of accommodation.
- List of points for obtaining and stamping the Letter of safe conduct.
- List of tourist information offices.
- Tourist brochure (this can be obtained at any of the tourist information offices on the route).Only available in Spanish.
- Guides on (Spanish): castles and countryside of the Way of El Cid as he passed through the province of Zaragoza, published by the Provincial Council of Zaragoza.Only available in Spanish.
Remember that you can obtain more information about each route at the tourist information offices on the Way of El Cid, including brochures and the Letter of safe conduct.
Plot: through the lands of the Three Petty Islamic Kingdoms
El Cid fought his first great literary battle (in other words, according to the Poem) in Alcocer, which is today a deserted place near Ateca (Zaragoza) and it is here where travellers start their route, or in Calatayud, 15 km away, to whose gates El Cid chased one of the Moorish generals defeated in his battle with 3000 Moorish knights from Valencia.
The organisation and autonomy of the growing army of El Cid allowed him to travel around the borders of the various Moorish kingdoms without difficulty. Three very different taifas (Toledo, Zaragoza and Albarracín) were used as the literary scenario for El Cid and his people. According to the stanzas of the Poem, victory made it possible for El Cid to impose his law on the various roads and in the many towns of these taifas. Four of the main milestones of the Poem in this section: El Poyo del Cid, in Teruel, where El Cid reinforced a Roman fortress, turning it into his headquarters for Teruel and Zaragoza; Molina de Aragón, in Guadalajara, an area governed by Avengalbón, one of El Cid's Moorish allies, who was to serve him loyally and protect Rodrigo's daughters; Albarracín, in Teruel, a stop-off used by El Cid's followers on their journeys between Castile and the Mediterranean; and Cella, in Teruel, where, according to the Poem, El Cid decided to gather together all the men who wanted to go with him to conquer the city of Valencia.
You have before you 300 intense kilometres of countryside, history, art and adventure across old, wild lands that once formed part of three Moorish kingdoms or Taifas. A physically demanding route (much of the layout runs through mountains), but fascinating at the same time and with milestones that include four important medieval walled towns: Calatayud, Daroca, Molina de Aragón and Albarracín.
Because of its size and age, Calatayud is one of the most important Islamic walled towns in Spain. The Moorish influence can also be seen in its Mudejar heritage, which includes some of the most beautiful towers this art has produced. In Aragón, it has been declared a World Heritage Site. After leaving Ateca and after 60 km of wild countryside in the Pardos Mountain Range, Daroca awaits, founded in the eighth century by Yemeni Arabs. Calatayud and Daroca were located at the important pass through the Valley of El Jiloca, which joined the plateau, the Valley of El Ebro and the East and were two large Islamic fortresses. Daroca has an important wealth of artistic heritage (including good examples of the Romanesque style) as a result of the town's rich history. At dusk, the town walls take on an interesting golden colour.
The third town on the route is Molina de Aragón, full of monuments, with its castle as its symbol (perhaps the most beautiful of those on the Way of El Cid). From Molina, the landscape changes brusquely and we travel into one of the most untouched areas of the entire route. In the next 100 km, up to Albarracín, we will cross five natural areas, one after the other: the Natural Reserve of the Upper Tagus, the Mountains of Picaza, the Bogs of Orihuela, the Juniper Forest of Monterde de Albarracín and the Pine Groves of Ródeno: river gorges and canyons, birds of prey, mixed forests of ilex, juniper and black pine (especially the latter), bogs, mountain goats and all kinds of deer. The entire area is also an impressive outdoor geological museum with all kinds of faults, folds, stone rivers, drop stones and all forms of erosion, some of which are particularly interesting, such as the Towers of Chequilla.
Crossing this countryside takes us to a vantage point over Albarracín, which is the best way of viewing this small town (an ever-present on the lists of the most beautiful in Spain). Albarracín is the fourth largest walled town on the route and was the capital of the small but important Taifa of the Banu Razin. Here, according to history, El Cid was almost killed in a brawl. From Albarracín, after a well-deserved rest, we head for Cella. On this last section of the journey, we can visit one of the most important hydraulic works of Roman times in the area, conserved by the Arabs: the aqueduct that joins together Albarracín and Cella, part of which is dug into the rocks and which travellers can follow along some of the sections. One last surprise awaits in Cella, the end of the Three Taifas section: its artisan well, one of the largest in Europe. In the 12th century, Cella was probably a border town and very 'lively', with a good number of mercenaries. It was the place chosen by the author of the Poem as the place where El Cid waited for all those who wanted to go with him on his conquest of Valencia. Many travellers usually extend the journey one stage further and continue on to Teruel, which, in the 11th century, was more of a communications centre than a village.
Gastronomy in these areas has one common denominator, especially in the mountains: heavy stews and game, ranging from stewed beans with game to pickled partridges, including vegetable stews. However, the unquestionable king of the table is ternasco (young lamb), which shares its throne with stewed kid goat in Molina de Aragón. Don't leave Calatayud without trying its wonderful chickpeas with conger eel or fardeles and don't leave the province of Teruel without trying its famous ham, with Calamocha as the most important place in the local ham world. Fish dishes include traditional cod and trout. Besides the delicious peaches in wine, all along the route you will find different deserts of Mudejar origin, gastronomic evidence of its Islamic past: Daroca is famous for this type of confectionery and you can try the Mudejar trenzas or almojábanas, the most famous of which are to be found in Albarracín, which is also well known for its excellent cheeses.
- In general, the BTT route follows the hiking route, which is why BTT users mainly follow the same signposts as hikers. However, when the hiking route becomes very difficult or technical, alternatives appear signposted specifically for BTT. These BTT-MTB alternatives run along country roads or tracks and, when that is not possible, along minor roads.
- Signposting for hikers. When cycling along the hiking route, the signs are: (a) two red lines (in sections where the Way of El Cid is not certified as a GR, in other words, a long distance track); and (b) a red and white line in sections where it is certified as GR 160 Way of El Cid or coincides with another GR (long distance track). Both the maps and the route guides indicate the type of signposts you will find.
- BTT-MTB signposts: the BTT alternatives (those that are separate from the hiking route) are signposted according to international IMBA standards. At the beginning of each BTT stage, you will find a panel showing the alternatives for that day (if any) and then, at the beginning of each alternative, another information panel.
Tips and recommendations
- Length of the stages: it is best for each one to decide their own stages according to their strengths and personal preferences. Some people place the emphasis on doing exercise, others on the cultural side of the route and others on the simple pleasure of taking in the countryside and locations. The stages we suggest are a combination of all three and have been designed for average tourists cycling under stable weather conditions to enjoy the route without too much stress. Especially as from Molina de Aragón, we recommend not extending the stages too much and sticking to the distances we suggest.
- The route for BTT cyclists. This is a very varied route: from Calatayud to Daroca the countryside alternates between river plains and fruit orchards with mountain areas. The plains of the River Jiloca, with its crop fields, pine groves and scrubland accompany us until we reach Molina de Aragón and, from there on, we have the exuberance of the Upper Tagus. As far as the climate is concerned, the area of the River Jalón has a gentle climate with very hot summers. However, the triangle formed by Calamocha, Molina de Aragón and Albarracín is famous for its very cold winters. This second part of the route crosses rugged natural areas, but the only difficulty in the tracks is the physical effort required with so many ups and downs and short sections with steep slopes. If you are on your own, make sure you charge your mobile phone before setting off and remember to read the other tips we give you here.
- Travel safely and unhurriedly: take the tracks and route guide with you. The route is signposted and we do maintenance on the signs every year; however, signs can also disappear (by accident, the weather, vandalism) and, in that case, especially when you are in the mountains, the track and route guide become very important. The route guide also indicates the levels of difficulty of each section and it is a good idea to check it out before starting each stage. The main problem as far as getting lost is concerned comes in the villages: although we have placed signposts in many of them, we have not covered all of them and, even in those with signposts, you might not see the marks and not find the exit easily. Of course, it is best to ask a local and take the tracks and route guide with you, since they contain the indications you need to follow the route.
- On your way, you will come across fences with gates and the occasional electric fence. They are there to stop cattle escaping. If you see any cattle, don't worry; there are no fighting bulls! Simply go past the animals without frightening them and please remember to leave the gates as you found them!
- Food and spares. One of the main advantages of the Way of El Cid is that it runs through very attractive places with few inhabitants: many of the villages are very small and they do not have food stores. Unless you have planned to eat in a bar or restaurant, it is very important to take some food with you (sandwiches, nuts, energy bars, etc.) in case you can't find anywhere to eat or buy food. Also remember to take water with you. In most of the villages, there are drinking fountains: remember to refill your water bottles before setting off again. The same applies for spare parts: remember to take a repair kit with you and the more complete it is, the greater your peace of mind will be. Welcome to the Middle Ages.
- Book your accommodation in advance. You are about to travel through one of the areas with the lowest population density in Europe. Some villages are very small and have limited infrastructures. Book your accommodation at the end of the stage in advance and if you change where you plan to finish the route, check that there is accommodation available there.
- Don't forget your helmet: it is compulsory for adults to wear helmets on roads outside cities and for under 16s it is compulsory at all times.
- Get your Letter of safe conduct. The Letter of Safe Conduct is a personalised 'passport' you can have stamped at many towns and villages on the Way of El Cid. You can use it to get discounts of at least 10% in more than 200 places of accommodation and benefit from special offers. It is free and you can apply for it at any of the more than 70 tourist information offices on the route or at the Way of El Cid Consortium.
- Your literary guide. You might think it's unnecessary weight, but for many it is essential: don't forget to take with you a copy of the Poem of The Cid; you will be able to recreate some of its passages on site. If your old Spanish is not so good, take a modern version!
- And, of course, respect the signs you come across: damaging, knocking down or changing a sign means that those behind you might get lost.
How to get there… and get back
Normally, you will start the route in Calatayud, an important communications centre 8 km from Ateca. The Provincial Council of Zaragoza has set up a hiking route between both towns. For more information about the transport options in Calatayud, click on the information about the municipality. You can also start from Ateca, 9 km away: for more information on how to do that, click on the information about the municipality.
For more information about the transport options in Cella, click on the information about the municipality. Some travellers extend their journey one stage further and continue until they reach Teruel, 27 km away and an important communications centre. For more information about the transport options in Teruel, click on the information about the municipality.