There was a dramatic change of scenery as we travelled towards magical Frias – a “hidden gem” purported to be the world’s third smallest city.
Up through a towering escarpment, driving between forbidding craggy cliffs and in dark tunnels drilled through immovable rock formations – the stark beauty of this road took our breath away.
After the twists and turns of our trip so far, we found ourselves on a flat plain where the road travelled straight as an arrow as far as the eye could see.
Half an hour later we caught our first glimpse of Frias, the smallest city in Spain with a population of only around 260. ￼
Perched high up on a rocky hill, this spectacular but tiny medieval settlement was awarded city status in 1435. On the tallest, most rugged end of the hill, the castle of the Duke of Frías still stands, suspended precariously high above the hanging houses clinging on to the side of the hill.
We were completely alone in the very comfortable space made available for camper vans, right at the very bottom of the hill.
The very narrow road with great jagged boulders looming out seemed a little precarious at first but there was plenty of room to get by as long as there wasn’t anyone coming in the opposite direction.
Once we had found a good spot to park and had the obligatory cup of tea, we started the climb up the steep hill towards the castle.
We toiled up steep and narrow lanes, curving footpaths and huge flights of stairs and before too long we reached the Church of San Vitores
The view from this 13th-14th Century Church was stunning. Green fields and matchstick sized trees interspersed with the terracotta tiles of farmhouses and cottages below. We could even see mountains in the distance with a dusting of snow sparkling in the sunlight.
Less than ten minutes later we had strolled across to the other side of the city to the impressive castle of the Duke of Frias.
The castle which was built between the 11th and 12th centuries and remodelled in the 15th Century is still largely intact.
For a small sum you can walk round inside the walls, climb up and walk in the battlements and clamber up the stairs and explore the main defensive tower.
The view from the top of the tower was amazing and you could easily understand why it was built in this spot as there was no way attackers or raiders could creep up on the city without getting spotted!
We decided to go for a walk around the village at the bottom of Frias before setting off the following day – and we were so glad we did as we had one of those experiences of seeing the “real place” rather than just the tourist sites.
As we strolled along at the edge of the gushing mill stream we heard the strains of a band quite far away but moving towards us.
At first we thought it was a school band rehearsing but soon it came closer and we realised that there were a number of women singing along to an oboe-like instrument, drums and other percussion.
Then they came into a view – a group of about ten women (singing) and three men (playing). The music sounded like folk songs but we guessed it was a religious parade (click on the arrow to hear) because as they turned to climb up the rugged hill to the town above, the Church bells began to clang loudly and tunelessly as if to encourage them as they toiled up the hill (click on the second video link to hear).
After this serendipitous encounter we left Frias with big smiles on our faces. This is what travelling is all about!
As we drove out of town we stopped to take a look at the extraordinary medieval bridge which spans the Ebro River. The bridges dates from the 12th-century and it has a defensive tower in the middle of it that dates from the 14th century.