A serendipitous encounter in Spain’s smallest city

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.

The scenery was very rugged on the road to Frias
There were many overhangs and rugged cliffs

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.

This escarpment was very dramatic

There were lots of tunnels drilled through the rocks

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.

The road stretched straight for 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. 

Our first glimpse of Frias

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.

The castle perched on the highest point with hanging houses below
The castle tower seemed to be balanced precariously
The road up to the top was extremely steep!
Not sure what happened to the house that used to fill this space.

We were completely alone in the very comfortable space made available for camper vans, right at the very bottom of the hill.

Looking down on the campervan site

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.

The road to the campsite had a few obstacles to avoid

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.

Just a few of the steps we toiled up
The Main Street of Frias

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

One of the two churches in Frias

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.

The views were stunning

Look carefully and might see the dusting of snow on the mountain peaks

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 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.

The castle was largely still 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.

It was great fun exploring the castle
I loved this view from the 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!

Jonathan enjoying the view
The internal walls of the castle

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.

The view of the Castle from our walk through the village at the bottom of the hill

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.

The gushing mill stream

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.

The band and singers walking past

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).

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After this serendipitous encounter we left Frias with big smiles on our faces. This is what travelling is all about!

This video doesn’t exist

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.

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Salty tales from Bali Hai

In 2015, after a break from cruising of almost 30 years, my husband and I sailed off into the sunset - this time to the wonderful Islands of Indonesia and beyond. Three years passed and we swapped sails for wheels driving through Scandinavia and Europe in a motor home. Now we are on the brink of another adventure - buying a Lagoon 420 Catamaran in Athens. This is our story.

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