7 reasons to visit the Pyrenees: #1 The best day hike in Spain?
This article is part of our seven-part series which showcases how we'd love to share the Spanish Pyrenees with you. You can find an overview of all seven reasons here, or read on using the links after the article below. We hope you enjoy reading. Number one sets us off in our walking boots on one of our favorite day hikes on the Iberian Peninsula.
#1. The best day hike in Spain?
"The manmade confines of our everyday fade away and for once it’s us who are the guests of nature, not the other way around. Our impact is reduced to a few primitive trails, some humble signposts and a few simple refuges."
Let’s start with something special. If you enjoy walking, this might be the most compelling reason to visit the Spanish Pyrenees. Frankly, if this doesn’t have you looking out your window longing for some far off mountains, we’ve got an uphill battle to convince you.
Our Ordesa Valley hike was described by Pura co-founder Diego Martin as “probably my favourite day hike in the whole of Spain”. That’s quite the seal of approval for someone who says he “dreams in trails” and who has walked every inch of our Inn to Inn holidays across the Iberian Peninsula.
What makes the walk so special? Maybe the fresh mountain air, which both relaxes and galvanises with every breath. Or the peaceful birdsong which accompanies each step through the thick forests. It certainly has a lot to do with the sheer drama of the high mountains and the raw power of nature, so precious in a world increasingly tamed by us humans. The manmade confines and resolute order of our everyday all fade away out here and for once it’s us who are the guests of nature, not the other way around. Our impact is reduced to a few primitive trails, some humble signposts and a few simple refuges. The mountains make life feel refreshingly simple again.
So, where are we? The Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park butts up against the French border in the alpine heart of the Spanish Pyrenees. We’re 200 kilometres from the nearest big city (Zaragoza). Between here and there, the high mountains will slope down into thick forests and high pastures, before the great central plains level the terrain out.
65,000 years ago, a great icefall spilled down from the summit of Monte Perdido, an unstoppable force which drove and twisted its way between sheer limestone cliffs, creating the U-shaped Ordesa Valley through which we walk today. The ice is long gone. In its stead, great fir and mountain pine forests spill down the valley walls. Open wildflower meadows and hushed beech forests - particularly striking in autumn - spread along the valley floor. The hurried waters of the Arazas River bump and tumble down a series of noisy cascades. Look closely and you can make out compacted marine fossils, a legacy from the tropical sea which once submerged the entire region.
At the head of the valley, the Soaso Cirque forms a vast mountain amphitheatre, crowned by the high glaciated summit of Monte Perdido - one of Europe’s highest limestone peaks. In this cirque is the park’s most photographed feature; the Cola de Caballo (Horsetail Waterfall), which rushes from a karstic groundwater spring on Monte Perdido and fans its way out down the stepped rockface.
The waterfall can get fairly busy because there’s a flat path which winds its way from the car park, between the beech trees and out into the open meadows at the end of the valley. It makes the cirque and the waterfall quite accessible, but the path is a linear ‘there and back' and misses much of the drama which unfolds higher up, where you look down on the canyon and get a true sense of its scale. It would be a shame for you to miss this. So we take a slightly different approach, creating our own route to share it all with you.
"Our walk is designed to showcase the national park’s glorious natural beauty and the day ends with a feeling of achievement as you enjoy your well-earned dinner and glass of wine or beer."
You start at a viewpoint high on the edge of the canyon, and from there walk along the plateau, admiring the views down into the bottom of the valley and up towards the summits. You can stop for a coffee at the Goriz mountain hut before dropping down to meet the aforementioned Horsetail waterfall in the Soaso Cirque. From here you then follow the water as it rolls down the valley, waterfall to waterfall, and then pick up the trail through the beech forest all the way down to the village of Torla.
At 18.5 kilometres, we’ve designed the walk to showcase the national park’s glorious natural beauty. But it’s also long enough to challenge you and thus end the day with a feeling of achievement as you enjoy your well-earned dinner and glass of wine or beer. If you’re walking fit, you can certainly do it - we don’t create holidays for specialist mountaineers - and the next day can be a lighter one if you wish.
That’s a walk you can do as part of our self-guided Inn to Inn walking holiday in the high central Pyrenees. If you want to explore further afield in the Pyrenees, you can do a variation of the walk which follows the mountain skirt trail to the waterfall, as part of a self-drive trip which we will tailor to you. Either way, let us know what takes your fancy - we’d love to share more details and have a chat about it.