6 hikes in the Pyrenees to lace up your walking boots for
Pura co-founder and guide Diego Martín shares his favourite day hikes in the Pyrenees, blending glorious nature with enriching culture on walks to suit all abilities.
Being a native of the Picos de Europa, a national park of high pastures, spring meadows and limestone cliffs to the west of the Pyrenees, Diego is particularly at home high on a mountain, in a shady forest or following a winding trail. He has worn through a good number of walking boots in pursuit of the best vistas in Northern Spain. It was only natural then that his curiosity would lead him, and eventually Pura, to the chain of mountains separating his home nation and France. We really couldn’t think of anyone better, inside or outside of Pura, to share their favourite walks in the Pyrenees.
So grab a Basque cider (or perhaps an English one if you’ve run out), lace up your boots and join us on a sweeping traverse of the Pyrenees, following the scent of fresh grilled fish and warm Mediterranean breezes all the way to the Catalan coast.
Irati Forest, Navarre
Distance: 6.5 km, 380m height gain
If we were to ask you what the second biggest beech-tree forest in Europe is, it would probably first have you wondering what number one is (clue, it’s in Germany). The second biggest is Irati Forest in the Spanish region of Navarre. Of much more significance than its size though is what our walk here will reveal; “this is a wonderful example of the Atlantic Pyrenees, where the humidity from the ocean allows for lush beech forests to grow.”
It comes alive in autumn, offering one of the best symphonies of amber and orange hues on the entire Iberian Peninsula (and we’ve seen a good few to know). The relatively short trails of the San Esteban Chapel circuit allow you to combine a morning hike with a visit to the wonderfully picturesque village of Ochagavía, where you can introduce your taste buds to one of those local ciders that always taste so sweet after a day exploring.
Mallos de Riglos, Aragon
Distance: 6 km, 400m height gain
“The view of the Mallos de Riglos, with the crystal-blue waters of the Gállego river at its feet, the almond orchards and the tiny village under the vertical walls is one of our favourite images of Spain.”
We’ll give you a minute to enjoy the wonderfully vivid image Diego just drew for us. Sounds enticing doesn’t it?
The Mallos are a unique formation of red sedimentary rocks, forming spectacular vertical towers where vultures and eagles nest by the hundreds, enjoying the sunny Mediterranean climate. There is a circular hike here which is evocatively known as Heaven’s Path. It sounds even better in Spanish; Camino de Cielo. Step-by-step the trail reveals a conveyer belt of panoramas of the dramatic vertical walls on a relatively short hike. Better yet, you can choose to extend the path beyond Heaven and into the peaceful agricultural lands between Murillo and Riglos.
The walk can easily be combined with two other Pura favourites in the area; the Loarre castle and its wide views over the plains of Huesca, and the Gracia-Bhadi bakery in Ayerbe, both of which provide memorable cultural experiences.
Ciarracils-Pradera de Ordesa, Ordesa Valley, Aragon
Distance: 19 km, 250m height gain, 1000m height loss
Now that we’ve warmed up with a couple of relatively short walks, how about we stretch our legs a bit and take in the Ordesa Valley in all its natural glory?
“The Ordesa & Monte Perdido National Park is such a diverse area, with so many memorable viewpoints that it deserves a more in-depth exploration than the classic Ordesa Valley walk, if your legs are up to the challenge.”
From the village of Nerín you can take a transfer to the high point of Ciarracils and then walk all the way down to the bottom of the valley, doing a full traverse. Along the way you’ll be stopping frequently to admire the many dramatic viewpoints across the valley floor and back up again to the high pastures below the Monte Perdido Summit. You’ll pass the Horse Tail and Soaso waterfalls and then enter silent fir and beech forests.
“In my opinion, this isn’t just one of the best walks in the Pyrenees, but one of the best walks you can do in the whole of Spain!”
Benasque Valley & Forat de Aigualluts, Aragon
Distance: 6-13 km, 350m height gain, 350m height loss
The cultural insights on this hike begin before you’ve even broken stride. Today Hospital de Benasque is a cosy mountain hotel, but it is also a living example of the shelters which have supported the movement of people along the high mountain passes of the Pyrenees for centuries. It has facilitated commerce and helped save countless lives during times of conflict.
From here we begin a “peaceful hike, whose tranquilitiy is interrupted only by the occasional noise from the region’s marmots.” The path leads you along the wide valley, formed over millennia by glacial erosion, to the karst landscapes of the Forat de Aigualluts. This unique geological feature was shaped, drip-by-drip, from the melt water of the Aneto Glacier, the largest of its kind remaining in the Pyrenees. It sits on the northern shadow of the mountain range’s highest peak. What’s more, you can sink through a crack in the limestone rock to surface again on the French side of the mountain range!
Aigues Tortes to Sant Maurici, Catalonia
Distance: 15 km, 650m height gain, 650m height loss
“You’ll soon notice a dramatic change of landscape as we enter the granite world of Aigues Tortes National Park and meet hundreds of lakes, the black pine forests, the rhododendrons and the towering peaks.”
Now into our third province, we enter Catalonia, a region whose landscape, culture and history have entwined to create a unique personality which sets it apart from the rest of Spain. The names become even more exotic and the Romanesque churches of the Boi Valley extend the interest from the natural beauty to its rural architecture and tales of a fascinating past.
“There are a number of options to hike in the area, ranging from short rambles to multi-day traverses via the network of mountain refuges. But if I had to choose just one walk, it would be the 6km trail from Aigues Tortes to Sant Maurici Lake. It encompasses the very best scenery of the area.”
Cap de Creus Natural Park, Catalonia
With summits of over 2000m in sight, the Pyrenees sink dramatically into (or rise from, depending on your perspective) the Mediterranean Sea at the Cap de Creus National Park.
“There is something so special about the quality of light here and all the hidden coves. It is a wonderful place to say goodbye to the Pyrenees.”
This small peninsula is the most westerly point of the Spanish mainland. Starting at the small lighthouse, a trail leads you along the headland, passing small coves en route to Salvador Dali’s former house at Port Lligat.
Having traversed the Pyrenees from east to west, you’ve earned a refreshing dip in the Mediterranean Sea and a well-deserved grilled fish and crisp white wine in the traditional fishing village of Cadaqués, a personal favourite of ours.
We hope we’ve made this virtual ramble around the Pyrenees enjoyable, but of course there’s no substitute for experiencing these landscapes for yourself. What we’ve described here is only the tip of the iceberg. The highlights set the scene, but the true essence of any trip is in the details, as defined by you and your own curiosity. You might like to have a nose around our Pyrenees holidays and, better yet, get in touch to share your ideas and discuss a tailored itinerary for you.