The Monasterio de Piedra (Stone Monastery) was a natural park that featured countless waterfalls. In fact, we were so overwhelmed by the sheer number of waterfalls flowing throughout the park that we ended up with waterfall fatigue at the end of our visit. Indeed, we thought of this place like a mini-Plitvice, where we'd encounter one waterfall after another. Some of the waterfalls (like the one you see pictured above) were so impressive that even if the park didn't feature so many waterfalls, we could've been satisfied just with one or two of the major ones. Of course, overdelivering on waterfalls wasn't the only thing this place had going for it. It also featured an extensive garden, a mirror lake flanked by red cliffs, deep and dripping caves, and let's not forget the namesake monastery giving this place some historic credibiilty! It even had some playgrounds for the little ones to be occupied! This place seemingly had it all!
Thanks to the sheer number of waterfall sightings at Monasterio de Piedra, Julie, Tahia, and I wound up spending nearly four hours at the park (much longer than we had anticipated). Unfortunately, we had neither the time nor the energy to keep the visit going with a tour into the monastery here. Probably the biggest reason why we knew so little about this place going into this trip was that none of the major guidebooks adequately covered this place. It wasn't in LP nor Rick Steves, and it only got a generic paragraph or two in DK with neither a photo nor a map. That said, we'll describe how we did the visit (which pretty much followed the tourist map included with the admission, which numbered the sights in the order you should do the self-guided tour) just to give you an idea of what a typical waterfalling visit here might entail.
After paying for our admission tickets, we then followed a paved walkway downhill into a garden area called El Vergel de Juan Federico Muntadas. We passed through this garden and headed right towards our first waterfalls, which were actually a lower tier of something larger. It was the Baño de Diana, which was at the base of a pair of segmented waterfalls. Just upstream from these waterfalls, we could catch a glimpse of a much larger waterfall mostly hidden between trees. As we walked along the stream to our left, we would pass by a bridge that would take us right to the lookout for that larger waterfall called the Cascada La Caprichosa (the waterfall you see pictured at the top of this page).
However, the self-guided tour had us continue walking upstream along the stream past the Lago de los Patos (Lake of the Ducks), then cross before the Cascada Trinidad, which had a graceful characteristic about it. Beyond the Trinity Waterfall, we then passed by a pair of grottos called the Gruta de la Pantera, Gruta de la Bacante, and Gruta del Artista. Just before climbing up the steps nearest to the last cave, we then spent some time at the lookout for the Cascada La Caprichosa, which apparently just about every visitor to this site was compelled to do given the size of this falls.
After climbing up the series of steps alongside the Cascada La Caprichosa and above the grottos, we were then deposited at a lookout at the very brink of the Cascada La Caprichosa. It was difficult to get a clean look at the waterfall from up here given the overgrowth, but the view downstream at the tree-clad garden below was impressive. Then, we followed the stream uphill before crossing the bridge spanning the width of the creek at a series of cascades called Los Vadillos. We then followed the creek downstream on its other side towards Los Fresnos Altos and Los Fresnos Bajos, which were more cascades with grace, but these essentially tumbled and faced the descending path as if one side of the descending steps always featured a waterfall wall.
At the very bottom of the descent was the Cascada Iris. It appeared that the Fresnos and the Cascada Iris might have gotten some help from a little water channeling seeing how the watercourse seemed to be "well-behaved" in that the stream never crossed the footpath unless it was under a bridge or along a water channel. Indeed, speaking of water channels, this rare display of waterflow control seemingly defied Mother Nature's normal unpredictable course of action, which was to sometimes flow right over these adjacent footpaths. Anyways, once we were at the base of Cascada Iris, we were at a junction where it seemed like we had a choice of where to go next, but sticking with the map, we next went to the Gruta Iris, which was a grotto that went behind the uppermost sections of the very tall and gushing Cola de Caballo (Horse's Tail) Waterfall.
The descending travertine steps were along a combination of dark grotto lit up by artificial light and partial alcoves lit up by natural daylight. I have having flashbacks of the descent to the bottom of Mooney Falls in the Havasupai area during this part of the trail given the tunnels and steep descent alongside a tall waterfall. Anyhow, the path would continue to descend deeper into another cave towards the base of the waterfall, where we were quite literally behind the misty base of the Cola de Caballo inside a damp and dripping cave. There was a spur path that went along a ledge deeper into the wet cave, where we were able to look back out towards the base of Cola de Caballo with drippings from the cave's ceiling for a very surreal photo opportunity provided the camera is capable of doing long exposure shots.
We then left the cave along a long tunnel that ultimately deposited us in a calm garden area. Keeping right along the stream, we then crossed a bridge where just on the other side of it was a mirador peering back at the entirety of the Cola de Caballo (which might be at least 60m or taller in height). Since the canyon at the base of the falls was confined, the waterfall's mist had nowhere to go but back out towards the mirador so it could still get a little bit misty even though the mirador was a fair distance downstream from the waterfall itself.
Next, we followed the stream downhill towards what appeared to be trout ponds at Las Pesqueras Centro de Piscicultura. There were numerous trouts in these ponds, and we wondered if they were there to be raised and cultivated for food, or if they were just for show or education. Just beyond the ponds, we then followed the stream some more as we found ourselves at the Lago de Espejo (Mirror Lake), which was an incredibly calm and reflective lake surrounded by tall red cliffs (one side of the cliffs was actually a tall mountain called Peña del Diablo) providing a colorful contrast to the clear green water below. This part was definitely a photographer's dream for those reflection shots, but it was also very quiet and calm here as most of our visit up to this point was full of the sound of rushing water.
The Lago de Espejo stretch then started to give way to a garden area as it curved back around towards the trail we had walked earlier near the exit of the cave at the foot of the Cola de Caballo. Along the way, there was an old house that was said to be from the 1870s that was still in the process of being restored. There was also the Fuente del Señor, which was a spring. The next part of the trail involved some uphill walking, but before we had to do that, there was a Zona de Descanso (Rest Area) where there was a playground that thrilled our daughter while Julie and I got to relax for a little bit.
Then, we ascended alongside more cascades weaving through dense vegetation until we would eventually get up to the Cascada de los Chorreaderos, which seemed like an extensive fern-fringed waterfall stopping short of spilling onto the trail. Actually, it was tumbling towards the trail before flowing alongside it then under it in what appeared to be another act of water engineering for the trail to coexist with the falls (similar to what we saw at Los Fresnos Altos and Los Fresnos Bajos earlier on). Once we passed across this waterfall, we then passed through a long tunnel that eventually deposited us back to the base of the Cascada Iris and the entrance to the Gruta Iris again.
Finally, we passed before the Cascada Iris and followed the path past the Gruta de la Carmela then the lone Cascada Sombria before climbing back up past the Cuatro Calles area (where we could partially see the hotel and monastery exterior) before coming back to the park exit and quad area. Once in the quad area, we then paid more attention to the cafes and restaurants (for that well-earned lunch) across from the ticket office as well as the entrance to the monastery part of the park.
Since we didn't do the monastery, we can't comment more on it. But just the fact that we took four hours to visit just the natural part of the Monasterio de Piedra, and the map showed there was still a bit more to explore in the monastery part of the complex, we very easily could've spent an entire day here. In fact, this could be the reason why there was a hotel and spa here so it would be possible to experience this place at a more leisurely pace. We saw something similar to this at the Alhambra in Granada since that complex was so extensive that it probably made sense to spend the night just to more fully appreciate the place under more peaceful conditions.
Speaking of peaceful conditions, while the Monasterio de Piedra park was busy, it didn't feel like an overwhelming crush like other popular tourist spots in Spain. In fact, it seemed like we were one of the few non-Spanish foreigners in the park, and I suspect this might have something to do with the relative lack of coverage from the major guidebooks of this place. Still, it was well known amongst the Spanish and tour bus routes so certainly this place was not like a hidden secret.
In addition to the Cascada La Caprichosa, I thought the Cola de Caballo was the other waterfall that could've claimed the title of the best waterfall at Monasterio de Piedra
Perhaps the most photogenic part of our visit to the Monasterio de Piedra was the Lago de Espejo (Mirror Lake), which as you can see here was a playful contrast between red cliffs and clear water
The region of Aragon was very long as the Monasterio de Piedra was at its southernmost extreme while the Pyrenees covered its northernmost extreme (including the town Aínsa shown here)
Seems like the reason why they called this graceful falls the Cascada La Trinidad was that it appeared to segment into three parallel drops towards the middle of its drop
Closeup look at a different side of the Cascada La Trinidad, which was one of the first few waterfalls that we saw during our visit to the park
Contextual view of the viewing deck and the Cascada La Caprichosa, which was perhaps vying with the Cola de Caballo as the most attractive waterfalls in the Monasterio de Piedra park
Passing by the series of grottos before going up the steps to ascend to the top of Cascada La Caprichosa
Julie and Tahia climbing up the steps between the grottos and the Cascada La Caprichosa
This small cascade was just upstream of the big drop over Cascada La Caprichosa
Looking over the brink of the Cascada La Caprichosa towards the green depths below
The bridge crossing over one of the cascades comprising Los Vadillos
Looking further upstream from the bridge towards other cascades comprising Los Vadillos
This was the trail descending alongside the face of the cascades of Los Fresnos Altos
Crossing a bridge beneath the drops from Los Fresnos Bajos
Descending alongside Cascada Iris
Descending down into the Gruta Iris, which led us behind the Cola de Caballo in a very Mooney Falls-like experience of descending ladders through grottos and tunnels
Descending deeper into grottos behind the Cola de Caballo
We momentarily left the darkness and artificially-lit confines of the upper part of the Gruta Iris, and now we had to descend this open area by the Cola de Caballo before plunging even further into the dark depths of the caves below
About to descend into another cave, which seemingly passed right beneath the powerful drop of Cola de Caballo
Looking downstream from the Cola de Caballo between the narrow canyon walls
Arriving at the cave right behind the Cola de Caballo
Following the spur trail leading deeper into the cave behind the Cola de Caballo
Looking out from the dead-end of the spur trail where the drip of the cave against the backside of the Cola de Caballo created quite a surreal scene
This was the full view of the Cola de Caballo after leaving the cave at the foot of the falls and crossing the footbridge spanning its stream
Closer look at the school of trout in the pools created for their spawning
Julie and Tahia following alongside the trout pools
Looking across the context of the trout pools
Arriving at the photo haven of the Lago de Espejo (Mirror Lake)
Looking back at the V-shaped valley at the Lago de Espejo
Checking out some kind of cave elevated high up on a cliff around the Lago de Espejo
Julie and Tahia heading towards the head of the Lago de Espejo
Looking back at the Lago de Espejo as we were about to move onto the next phase of the visit to the Monasterio de Piedra
This was the house said to be built in the 1870s but it was closed due to restoration work
The playground at the Zona de Descanso, which let Tahia play and be happy while Julie and I rested a bit before making the climb back out
Julie and Tahia climbing up steps towards the Chorreadero
Looking alongside the spread of El Chorreadero
Following the stream just upstream of the base of Cascada Iris
This waterfall, which kind of sat alone compared to the other ones seen in the park was called Cascada Sombria
Julie and Tahia making the final climb back up to the quad area as we were about to conclude our tour of the Monasterio de Piedra
Although the nearest major city to the Monasterio de Piedra was probably Zaragoza, we actually drove up here from Madrid. In both cases, the key was to first get to the town of Nuévalos before continuing onto this attraction.
We'll start with our route from Madrid since that was how we went here. First, we found our way out of the maze of city streets in Madrid until we got to the A-2 (Autovía del Nordeste). We'd follow the A-2 for about 186km, where we then took the offramp to get onto the N-IIA towards Alhama de Aragón. Once we passed through the town, we then took the A-2502 for the next 8.5km before keeping right to go onto the A-1501 by the Embalsa de la Tranquera (a reservoir). We then followed the A-1501 for about 2km before keeping left to go onto the A-2503 towards Nuévalos.
After about 4.5km, we'd get into the town of Nuévalos, where we'd then follow the A-202 for the last 3km (by now there were signs pointing the way to Monasterio de Piedra) to the car park. Overall, this drive took us about 2.5 hours.
If we were coming from Zaragoza, we would take the A-2 west towards Calatayud (roughly 72km). Once in Calatayud, we'd then take the A-202 for about 26km towards Nuévalos, then keep on the A-202 for the last 3km to the car park for Monasterio de Piedra.
For overall geographical context, Zaragoza was 314km (over 3 hours drive or about 90 minutes by AVE train) northeast of Madrid, 312km (about 3 hours drive or 2 hours by AVE train) west of Barcelona, 303km (about 3 hours drive) southeast of Bilbao, and 308km (3 hours drive) north of Valencia.
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