My first trip to Albarracin was back in September 2009 where we flew in to Valencia and rented a car. The drive took us two hours, although that said, the scenery was like no other I have witnessed before or since. I’m sure it’s not out of this world or particularly unique but it does stand as the only desert I have been through and I finally made an eagerly-anticipated return in June 2014. The difference in those five years was phenomenal: two climbing shops, a dedicated bouldering guide, more lines and much better facilities, although the last could be down to our incompetencies but never mind.
By February 2020, the town had started to adapt to it’s place in the upper echelons of European destinations. Multiple guidebooks now slowly spread away from the town, just as we predicted some eleven years earlier. A camper van site now sits on the road up to the boulders on a small plateau, Sofa Boulder still thrives and now there is a popular climbers hangout just out of town called La Zahora; a bar that serves a mean burger and plays climbing films on the TV.
Albarrain is often touted as the Spanish Fontainebleau and I would kind of concur, although not entirely. The rock type is similar, both sandstone and this comes across in the types of problem you are likely to encounter, especially in the topouts – slopey and knacky, they can often be the crux of any grade problem at either venue. The major difference you’ll find is the abundance of roofs in Albarracin and this is likely it’s most stand out feature. The area Techos is actually the Spanish word for roofing and it’s not alone, although there are more there than in other spots. Still, the opportunity to crank hard on the horizontal and often tick off hard climbs without crimping like a beast is there for all and great photos are easily found here.
There are a growing number of areas and lines although I mentioned in a blog post while there that I suspect the best lines have fallen already and I would stand by that statement. Still, at time of writing there were at least eight areas without access restrictions and some half a dozen with, so there is plenty here. A lot of the climbs are stunning too, with striking lines and great holds without the inevitable polish that longevity brings to a crag. Albarracin was only really found and developed at the turn of the century and despite the large traffic it now undeniably received, you’re still likely to find good friction on many of the holds, especially in the harder grades. That said, at the other end of the spectrum, when I was first here in 2009, I witnessed a new friend Super Paolo pull a hold off an 8a while stood on his girlfriend’s shoulders and I think that has probably subsided now too.
Of course the friction requires good conditions and I was unlucky (or foolish) enough to be there in the midst of a Spanish summer on those first two trips. While climbing was evidently possible, we were restricted to morning and evening sessions on both occasions and I would probably not suggest it if you had the choice. At an altitude of around 1300m, the depths of winter wouldn’t be that wise either, as i’ve heard of heavy snow in the area and even in September, warm jackets are advised if camping, for the evenings. The February trip yielded by far the best conditions, with two layer daytimes and down jacket evenings being perfectly comfortable. The obvious suggestion is the usual: Spring or Autumn are the times to go.
The sandstone blocks sit atop the Iberian mountains, mid-way between Madrid and Valencia, with the well-signposted town of Teruel being your nearest civilisation. The village does have cultural heritage too, declared a Monumento Nacional 1961, and is a UNESCO heritage site due to the pre-historic cave art you can go and see (also relevant to boulderers, as this can restrict your climbing slightly). The town proper will have helped with this: i’m not sure why it has large castle walls and a cathedral but that it does, running around the small winding ancient stone buildings that seem to pre-date a spirit level…. It truly is a fantastic village, even if it doesn’t have much in the way of shops. It does have some though, crucially including two supermarkets (one much larger than the other), a good butchers and bakers. Be warned though: rural Spain is not noted for it’s long opening hours, and you’re best to get this stuff either first thing at around 9-10am or evenings 5-8pm and this can encroach on your optimum climbing conditions. I think there is also a small shop on the campsite too.
Finally a note on access. When I first visited, Albarracin was still fairly new and not hugely frequented, although it was made abundantly clear in all literature I found to avoid climbing on or around the cave art mentioned above. From what I can gather, this was not heeded by all who went, and I have sadly heard of issues in the past couple of years. PLEASE check access agreements before going; as usual, this could mean the difference between the venue being closed permanently. What is perhaps more saddening is that it wasn’t just problems with where people were climbing: people camping near the cap parks, leaving litter and excrement, things that we all should know better than have put Spain’s Fontainebleau in jeopardy. Again, check before you go. It seems these pleas have made a difference and Albarracin is now settling into a more sustainable venue. Please do your part to keep it that way.
As I mentioned, new areas are now appearing and new editions of the guidebook are still coming. These are the older, more established areas, based on three separate trips over ten years of visits. My advice would be to start with the more established areas and progress to others after. As usual, i’ve only commented on the crags that i’ve actually been to.
- Arrastradero. Albarracin’s answer to Stanage or Bas Curvier, Arrastradero is by far the largest area with enough problems to accommodate your entire trip. There is almost too much here to make recommendations on problems to try but a couple of personal favourites would be La Grima 6b (with the neighbouring La Lagrima 6c with a 7a sit start supposedly excellent), Seiscerraro 6b and Grasshopper 7b+ all worthy of closer attention.
- Cabrerizo. Home to the famous Techo don Pepo 7a, a roof that all should try on a visit, this area doesn’t hold too much else to really inspire. It is convenient but the extra trek from the road will warrant a much better experience. Once you’ve done Techo don Pepo mind…
- Entre Aguas. It took us a little while to find this crag, thanks to incompetent map reading, but once we did, it turned out to be very good indeed. Admittedly on the first session we got distracted on Bloc 1, and Dos Mandingas y un Destino 7a+ but once we returned, we ventured further, we found quality in abundance. The unnamed climbs on Bloc 6 are not to be missed and the further you go, the more you’ll find. Needless to say, we never managed to make it too far before getting sidetracked…
- La Fuente. An area i am very fond of, with a great spread of grades for all. It is home to one of my favourite problems in Albarracin, El Orgasmo 7a+, and not just because of it’s name! Typical of the area, a big roof leads into a cruxy slopey topout. With a fairly short walk in, this area is well worth more than a couple of sessions.
- Parking. Undoubtedly the most convenient of places and worthy of a couple of sessions at least. While the quality doesn’t exist in abundance, there are some stand out lines to be ticked, including Zooruyo 7a right next to the car. Surely though, this area is best for it’s low-mid grade problems and that essential warm-up session. No climbing within sight of the road though.
- Peninsula. THIS AREA IS NOW PERMANENTLY CLOSED. I did go on that first trip many years ago where Bloc 23 adorned the cover of the E-Bloc guide, sat atop a cliff top with a stunning vista and it also featured in Dosage IV so it certainly has something going for it! From what i remember, you’re not missing out on much and please do not climb here.
- Psicokillar. THIS AREA IS NOW PERMANENTLY CLOSED. Another sector closed i was lucky enough to experience back in 09 but alas, climbing here is no more.
- Techos. As alluded to above, this is the Spanish word for “roof” and that alone should give an insight into what to expect here. El Chimpance 6b and Gorillaz 7a would be two to check out, albeit with a slightly high topout, and the adjoining boulder housing Quebrantamentes 6c+ among others would make the wander worthwhile. That is not to say this is a spot to avoid if you’re looking for climbs less strenuous as there is plenty of variety here too.
As alluded to, more and more is becoming available and i’m becoming less and less inept at finding it. The places we found on the first trip are still there, and have been joined by more in the interim. Nearby villages are also getting in on the act and can be worthwhile to check out for alternatives.
- Guidebooks. There are two available at time of writing: Albarracin Bouldering and Boulder Albarracin. The former is by far the one to go for, with a 2019 reprint available at time of writing that dwarfs it’s competitor. Plus of course, 27 Crags chronicles all the areas with other advantages too.
- Food. As already mentioned, there are a few to keep you going, all located on the road to the campsite and the boulders. After you cross the bridge, you’ll go through a narrow gap in the road and immediately on your right is the Supermarkedo. Opposite is the butchers and the bakers (a bit harder to find) and a little further down on the left is delicatessen selling local produce. All are more than adequate to supply you for your stay although bear in mind, they are not used to large numbers of tourists coming in and buying all the pastries first thing in the morning…
- Climbing Shops. Two at time of writing, one opposite the bridge and another towards the campsite called Sofa Boulder. As is habit with me, i frequented Sofa Boulder quite a bit and made friends with the owner, finding the staff incredibly friendly and helpful with the stock lacking ever so slightly. The staff in the other shop (whose name, to my shame, i forget) were equally friendly with a marginally better range although their opening times seemed a little more sporadic. Another small store exists on the campsite to the best of my knowledge.
- Accommodation – Campsites. An obvious site exists just outside the village, past the turning up to the boulders. I implore all do not camp in the car park as this has almost jeopordised access to the entire area in recent years. The campsite is good, clean and has excellent facilities, including bungalows for those not wanting to drag tents and stoves through airports.
- Accommodation – Hotels. Plenty. As mentioned in the paragraph above, the campsite has bungalows that i am assured are top quality but with a little online savvy, you’ll easily find plenty more available places to stay. The five of us on the second trip stayed in an apartment near the site and in 2020, AirBnB proved my friend when i stayed in the Don Pepo guesthouse fifteen minutes out of town in Torres de Albarracin, which is well worth checking out, especially with a group of you.
- Cafes and bars. The 2020 trip yielded the best of the bunch: La Zahora, which is where you should go. They even have a house wine with a cartoon of Wolfgang Gullich and Kurt Albert on the label! However if this isn’t your thing, this was written on the previous trip: “Thanks to my friend Rocio from Sofa Boulder, we managed to dispel the common misconception that there are no decent eateries in Albarracin. It is not without some authority, as she exclaimed when we enquired but she pointed out two good options. The first is a pizzeria called Meson des Gallo on the main road by the large tunnel out of town. We frequented there often, finding the food superb. The other is up in the town, just out of the town centre called La Taba but we sadly never made it due to poor timing and knowledge of Spanish eating habits. Finally a bar on the bridge that we’d read about known (i think) as Molino del Gato, that we eventually went into and found the aspect astounding – a must visit.”
- Transport. Sadly this rural village has little in the way of public transport and we drove to Teruel to collect our friend on that second trip from the train station. By far the easiest is to fly and hire a care (or take several months off, convert a van and do the whole #vanlife thing) and for car hire, i’d thoroughly recommend Indigo Car Hire.
- Other handy places. The old norop.es website from the publishers of the Boulder Albarracin guide is now closed, which is a shame but not a surprise. Instead, 27crags has a host of information if you want to read more.
Relevant blog posts: here (if you’re that bored or psyched).