The next stop on our European Road Trip was to the rugged mountains in the north of Spain. Even though I’ve been to Andorra and the Pyrenees before, I still find it strange to think of Spain as having large snowy mountains.
So, when we left the plains of Aragon behind, slowly creeping up winding mountain roads, the sight of snowy mountains in the distance still came as a shock. There was no shortage of breathtaking views, of both deep valleys, as well as old robust villages.
We were headed for the Ordesa and Mount Perdido National Park, looking to hike one of the most popular day trails in the region. I had planned to drive all the way into the national park, and camp the night in the car park, however, I was warned that it was forbidden. We were about to pay for a camp site just north of Torla, when we chanced upon a flat-ish spot to park on the outskirts of town – and right under the giant mountains we were going to be hiking amongst tomorrow. It might not have been technically legal, but we weren’t disturbed or asked to move along.
Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido
We had been checking the weather, and it didn’t look like it was going to be a pleasant day for hiking, with a high chance of rain in the afternoon. With that in mind, we set alarms to wake early and hopefully enjoy the views before the rain set in. You’d laugh that it was a struggle to wake at 7:30.
We drove the final few kilometres up to the national park, which would have been arduous had there been any return traffic along some of the narrow switchbacks. It was cold, too! Our weather application said that it was -1c overnight in Torla, and the national park was several hundred meters higher. The sun might have been out, but there was still frost on the valley floor.
There were several hikes in the park, but we opted for one of most popular, following the valley floor up to the Cola de Caballo (horsetail waterfall). The hike started rather gently (to be honest, it never got difficult), following a gentle incline along a river. The woodlands were beautiful, however, it was cold, and we would have welcomed a little more sunshine! It was early spring, but walking through, it felt like autumn, with all the leaves on the floor.
We slowly gained altitude, and through the occasional breaks in the foliage, we were treated some spectacular views back of the other mountains in this park.
There were countless waterfalls and cascades as we followed the river towards the source. The scenery really reminded us both of our hiking in Kyrgyzstan, though sadly there was going to be no hot bath waiting for us at the end of the walk.
The woodlands eventually ended, and we cleared the tree line. We were now well and truly walking in the shadow of giants, including the 3355m Monte Perdido, who was occasionally peeking out from his hat of clouds. As we ascended further, we also got a better view of the glacial valley that we’d been walking up – and for lack of vocabulary, it was stunning.
When we left this morning, we more-or-less had the trails to ourselves, passing the occasional group. We stopped a few times for photos (and to play with the drone), and by the time we reached the waterfalls, there was a steady stream of hikers behind us. By the time we finished lunch, beside the horsetail falls, the area looked like a park in London on a sunny day – minus the rubbish.
The Cola de Caballo falls (yes, I’m sure falls is redundant) were easily the most impressive of the rapids and cascades that we’d walked past. While there wasn’t a lot of volume in the flow, the way it sparkled down the 30ish meters was really elegant.
The return hike was less fun, but we kept putting one tired foot in front of the other. The weather did indeed close in, with high altitude cloud making the skies grey. There were periods of very light rain, but not the terrible weather we’d been anticipating. Still, I’m glad that we got to see the region in sunshine, with bright blue skies.
I think I misread that it was an 18km return hike, as Strava had shown by the time we finally returned to the car park, we’d completed over 25km!
Sadly, our day wasn’t over yet – we still had to drive for another few hours, and find somewhere to buy groceries for dinner (and lunch tomorrow – we’re learning to be prepared for shops being shut on a Sunday here in Spain/France).
We both slept quite well after our exertion yesterday. The weather continued to decline, with winds picking up, and occasional showers as we drove north towards one of the world’s smallest countries.
There was an hour of driving through agricultural plains before the hills began. We navigated through some stunning canyons, and passed a mirror-like dam – sadly, it’s incredibly difficult to find a place to pull over for photos here in Spain.
We crossed the border into Andorra without much fanfare. There was the small EU ‘Andorra’ sign as we passed through customs, but nothing else. Immigration/customs weren’t checking any documents on entering the country, however, I could see that they were stopping cars that were heading back into Spain.
I visited Andorra with a friend back in 2004, and we spent nearly a week there snowboarding (and drinking) in Pas de la Casa. It was going to be interesting to go back. I remembered nothing of the drive, other than the weather was miserable, and there seemed to be nothing other than petrol stations and shopping centres. It seems that my memory was rather accurate, as there truly was little other than petrol stations and shopping centres – though, that is one of the sole reasons people visit, to do tax-free shopping.
We’d been paying on average €1.1/l for diesel in Spain (occasionally getting it much closer to €1), however, the fuel here was around the €0.95/l mark. We knew this, and came with as empty a tank as possible.
We drove through the capital, Andorra La Vella, past the ski resorts and up and over one of the highest road passes in Europe. We were at 2400m, and there was still plenty of snow up here. The ski resort actually looked in better shape than Chamonix when we were there back in February. It was low single digit temperatures, which combined with the frigid winds, made photographing in my shorts and thongs quite uncomfortable!
Descending down into Pas de la Casa, I saw the familiar sight of the giant shopping complexes that I remembered from the last trip. We found a park on the street, and joined the masses searching for bargains on booze, tobacco and all the other products you could conceivably wish to purchase – there were regular supermarkets selling giant tubs of any/everything.
We don’t really drink (and definitely do not smoke), so while the temptation was there to grab a bargain on some cheap spirits, we don’t have the space or the desire. Still, it was amazing to see how cheap it can be – 500ml bottles of absinthe from €3!!
Risa stocked up on discounted beauty products, and we got out of town – or at least attempted to, as the roads down towards France were a solid line of cars doing the same. We were expecting to have passports checked, and be quizzed about our purchases, however, there was no one at the border as we crossed back into France again.