Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park

Spain has fourteen national parks and Aigüestortes is the only one in Catalonia. I have heard so much about this national park and when we planned our Pyrenees trip I made sure that we would spend some time here. Its name means ´twisting or winding waters´ and its origin lies in the fact that within the borders of the national park there are almost 200 lakes, most of them of glacial origin which are fed by many rivers and waterfalls. The mountain tops are all close to 3000m height. This was enough for me to know that the scenery will be amazing.

The park has two gateways, Espot and Boí. Espot seems to be a better choice to access more of the park but as we came from Ordesa, Boí seemed to be a better choice as it was closer. We read it somewhere that the village of Taüll is the most picturesque place to stay therefore that´s where we booked our hotel. It´s only three miles from Boí.

After an early start (again!) we drove from Ordesa to Boí. On the map it didn´t seem like a very long drive but wow! I had never been on such a windy road in my life before! It was incredible! We had to drove through a narrow gorge, too.

As it was very close to the Pyrenees the view was amazing. I had my laptop and my book to entertain myself on the way but I didn´t take any of them out, we didn´t even turn the radio on, just marvelled at the view. We stopped sometimes to take photos. This was my favourite viewpoint. This hill looks like a giant picked it up, crushed it from two sides and then dropped it down again. And the colour of the river is just unbelievable!

The view from Boí over the surrounding areas.

We got to Boí just after 11am and went straight to the tourist information office. The guy behind the counter spoke perfect English and was extremely helpful. They really cater well for tourists of all nationalities. We were given a very good map and he showed us the two most popular walks from the area and some other info on the back about the flora and fauna of the park and even about some cultural aspects. The routes basically lead you from one lake to the other and you can make them as long or as short as you want depending on how many lakes you want to visit. He also gave us the average time it would take to go from one lake to the other. I was very impressed at how easy it all was. We just turned up there with absolutely no idea of what to do and we were out within 10 minutes with a 2 day plan for walking. 

We decided to go and check out the Cavallers reservoir. From here we had the option to visit four more lakes but we decided that we would take it easy and decide what to do after every section. We drove up to the dam on the reservoir and left our little red car in the car park. Behind the car park there was a huge dam, and in front of it the view of the valley.

On the dam. To the left, the car park far below and to the right the lake. It´s amazing being in the middle.

And behind the dam was the Cavallers reservoir. It was huge, clear and the mountains around it reflected back in the water. It was beautiful.

The path next to it lead through big rocks. It wasn´t an easy walk and made the going very slow but it was worth it. The view was beautiful. It´s a great family walk, too, and seemed to be very popular.

The lake, looking back from the end.

We had to climb up on a short steep bit.

Behind the lake lay a great meadow full of grass, rocks and many, many rivers. At some point five different rivers were flowing around us.

And the amount of waterfalls! There were three big ones and an uncountable amount of little ones.

There were many possible paths but little cairns popped up here and there to show us the way.

Due to all the water that surrounded us everything seemed to be moving around us. We had to pick our way through rivers by hopping from one rock to the other.

The steep way up ahead of us, the hardest bit of the day.

When we started the walk there were hardly any clouds on the sky but by this time when we looked back we saw a big grey cloud above the hill that alarmingly started to look like a rain cloud.

We walked to the end of the meadow and took stock of our situation. Today we didn´t bring any rain jackets with us as the weather was so clear all morning. Even though we itched to go and see the other lakes we decided to turn back. And we did well as within 10 minutes it started raining.

I wasn´t really worried about getting soaked, I was much more concerned about climbing through all those slippery wet rocks along the lake. By the time we got back to the lake however it was really chucking down. We took shelter under some fir trees. I had a hoody and Paul covered himself with a beach towel. We huddled together and waited for the rain to go away.

After half an hour finally the clouds moved on, the rain stopped and we started to slowly pick our way back to the car park. By the time we got back to the car it was all sunny again. We decided that it was probably enough for us for the day and drove to Taüll to find our hotel.

Monday, 29 July 2013

The Pyrenees - Torla

Torla is a tiny little place with a population of just over 300 people in the Aragon Province, in the heart of the Spanish Pyrenees. It borders France but there is no road connecting with it. The reason for its importance is that this is the gateway to Ordesa Valley which belongs to the National Park of Ordesa and Monte Perdido.

Its name derives from the word ´tower´ as there was an important fortress here to defend the valley from the French incursions. Today instead of the fortress on the highest point of the village stands a lovely Romanesque church. Its silhouette is iconic and can be seen from far away.

As it is common in Aragon, the houses are made of slate as some of the surrounding mountains are slate mountains. The streets are short and narrow and a walk through them feels like stepping into the purest medieval place. Most of the buildings are from the 13th – 14th century.

Another notable point in Torla in the stone buildings is the characteristic chimneys, the chamineras or chimeneras.  I guess the physical function of covering of the openings might be to stop heavy rain or snow from getting in. Their more important function is to scare away the witches! Apparently they were purposely built for this and in other parts of Aragón often there´s even a cross on top.

On the weekend we were there they had a market weekend.

In the stalls amongst all the usual market stuff I found some interesting things. For example these traditional wineskins which are basically water bladders.

On the cheese stall we noted a green cheese! It had an awesome, bright green colour.

These pastries were so mouthwatering to look at!

They even sold beer that was made in the Pyrenees with some bits of very nice chorizo.

As part of the market day there was a little square where lots of birds of prey were displayed tethered to the ground. There were many of them, eagles, owls, even a vulture and baby eagles in a basket.

It was amazing and at the same time horrible to look at these birds. This was obviously not the right way to keep them, to carry them around and display these majestic hunting animals. This however is probably the only way I can have a look at them close up.