Aragon lies in the northeast of Spain, bordered by France to the north and surrounded by the Spanish regions of Catalonia, Valencia, Castilla La Mancha, Castilla y Leon, Rioja and Navarra. Aragon stretches south almost half the length of Spain, and although it’s a landlocked area, it holds a wealth of topographical contrasts.
The Pyrenees dominate the landscape in the north. The highest peaks of the mountain range that separates France and Spain can be found in Aragon, making it an ideal location for skiing in winter. Then there is the lush Ebro Valley, dotted with pretty villages, and the vibrant city of Zaragoza (known as Saragossa by many in the English-speaking world). Zaragoza is Aragon’s capital and the most densely populated city of the region.
The treeless plateaus of central Aragon contrast vividly with the mountain regions and the fertile Ebro Valley. Here you’ll find some of the most spectacular scenery in the whole of Spain. Everywhere there are castles, although many of them are now, sadly, in ruins. While some of the northern outposts of Aragon are inaccessible in winter because of snow, the region is, on the whole, fairly dry, enjoying a humid, Mediterranean-style climate in many areas.
Like most of Spain, Aragon was under the domination of the Moors from the 8th to the 14th centuries. However, many Muslims decided to remain in Aragon after the Christian Re-conquest, resulting in a style of architecture that is unique to Aragon.
Mudejar – meaning “those who are allowed to stay” – is a form of architecture employing bricks, plaster and the repetitive geometric patterns characteristic of early Islamic art. The buildings are finished off with ceramic tiles. The city of Teruel and the town of Calatayud are home to some of the best examples of Mudejar architecture.
Aragon may be best known for the marriage between Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castilla in 1469, which effectively created modern Spain. Their youngest daughter, Katherine of Aragon, became the first queen of Henry VIII of England.
Ferdinand and Isabella conquered Granada, the last remaining Moorish kingdom in Spain, and funded Christopher Columbus’ expedition to America in 1492. For these accomplishments, they were dubbed “The Catholic Monarchs” by Pope Alexander VI in 1494. Everywhere in Aragon, there are reminders of the long, colorful history of Ferdinand and Isabella’s reign.
Aragon is steeped in tradition, and bull fighting and bull running play a major part in Aragonese culture. Most towns and villages hold some sort of bull festival in September; people who have issues with the ethics of bull fighting may be uncomfortable living in a region where the traditional is such an intrinsic part of local culture.
Aragon is also famous for the Jota, an energetic 17th-century dance particular to the region. While the flamenco, which originated in Andalucia, is now performed all over Spain, the Jota remains the proud possession of Aragonese culture. Both men and women perform the Jota, which involves a lot of noise and leaping around.
Aragon has a population of around 1.3 million, of which over 10%, or about 173,000, are foreigners. These come from all over the world, as there is significant foreign investment in the region. General Motors, Bosch Siemens and Adidas all have major plants in Aragon.
Property prices in Aragon are very competitive. On average, houses in Aragon are 56% cheaper than the national average. Away from the regional capital of Zaragoza, which houses more than half of the region’s population, Aragon is sparsely populated. There are only two other cities– Teruel and Huesca – in all of Aragon. For those who want to get away from it all, Aragon is the place to do it.
The climate is comparable to the Spanish average, though rainfall is significantly lower. The region has two main airports at Zaragoza and Huesca, but given that Aragon shares borders with so many other regions and is close to the French border, there are several other air travel options open.
With more than 1,000 km of motorways and significantly improved rail links, including the high speed train (AVE) linking Zaragoza to Barcelona and Madrid, Aragon is easily accessible from the rest of Spain and most of Europe.
The main language in Aragon is Castilian Spanish, although a local dialect, Aragonese, is still spoken in the mountains. Aragon people are friendly; they enjoy living the simple life, and they are very proud of their heritage and history.
The Gross Domestic Product per capita in Aragon is significantly higher than the Spanish national average, and it’s one of the richest regions of Spain. That said, unemployment in 2010 was around 14%, a bit higher than the national average.
There are more than 500 multinational companies established in Aragon, so the region offers job opportunities for both locals and immigrants. In fact, 9% of Aragon’s total workforce is employed by foreign companies. Foreign investors are attracted by local government incentives and the fact that Aragon is virtually free from workplace conflicts. Workers tend to be loyal; productivity is high, as is the quality of workmanship.
As in many regions of Spain and Europe, the service industries are the largest employers, although there are also job opportunities in agriculture, construction and industry. Salaries in Aragon are slightly lower than the Spanish average, but workers seem happy with this, as their quality of life is excellent.
Living in Aragon
The people of Aragon rank highly among the rest of Europe for satisfaction with their quality of life, and immigrants to the region
can expect to share in this. The contrasting landscape offers a variety of lifestyle choices. The green Ebro Valley is likely to appeal to people who may be looking for the best of both worlds – a warm climate without the arid, featureless landscape that is often associated with areas that have low annual rainfall.
Aragonese cuisine is outstanding and varied. The lush pastures of the Pyrenees and the fertile Ebro Valley contribute to the production of some of the best meats, cheeses, wines and vegetables in the whole of Spain. Snails (caracoles) are a big favorite here, and chick peas, beans and lentils are regular ingredients, making the cuisine of Aragon both adventurous and healthy.
The wide open spaces and mountainous regions of Aragon are particularly appropriate for outdoor living and sports such as skiing, fishing, water sports and golf. Life in Aragon is never going to be all work and no play.
1) The Romanesque 12th-century Loarre Castle, La Hoya.
2) The Citadel of Jaca and Aragon Military Miniatures Museum.
3) The Modernist Canfranc International Station.
4) Ordesa National Park
5) The Mudejar architecture of Teruel.