• The lakes known as Estany dels Barbs and Estany Gran d'Amitges, Aigues Tortes National Park, Spanish Pyrenees
  • Ibon de Batisielles (lake), Estos Valley, Pyrenees of Spain
  • Estany Obago (lake), Aigues Tortes National Park, Pyrenees of Spain

Hiking the Spanish Pyrenees

Mountain Trails of Catalonia and Andorra

Printable version of trip itinerary

The summer of 2017 marks the twentieth anniversary of our first hiking tour through the Pyrenees, the mountain range that stretches for three hundred miles along the border of France and Spain. To celebrate this milestone, we have designed a brand new Pyrenees trip focusing on the Spanish side of the range and featuring the national parks and protected areas at the eastern end of this great mountain chain. You’ll enjoy mountain hikes in the sunny Spanish regions of Catalunya (Catalonia) and Aragon as well as in the tiny, mountain-ringed independent principality of Andorra. Spectacular lake-studded high country basins abound in places like the Aigues Tortes National Park and the Posets-Maladeta Nature Reserve. Here are classic mountain landscapes offering abundant, soul-lifting experiences for those of us who love the mountains. On this tour there will be some new hikes that we’ve never offered previously. We will also “resurrect” some hikes that haven’t made an appearance on our Pyrenees trips since 1999. Start and end your Pyrenees hiking adventure in vibrant and sophisticated Barcelona, one of our favorite cities in Europe. Come join us on the trail and help us celebrate twenty years of hiking in the Pyrenees. We hope to have the pleasure of your company in 2017!

Pinnacles at Montserrat (Photo credit)

Day 1
Overnight in Andorra
Lunch and dinner included
Depart Barcelona this morning bound for the Benedictine Monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat established originally in the ninth century and built on the site of an earlier Roman temple to Venus. Montserrat is today the most important pilgrimage site in Catalunya (Catalonia). The monastery is nestled among the knobby crags of Montserrat (“serrated mountain”) which since 1987 has been protected in a nature reserve established by the regional government of Catalunya. For the hiker, Montserrat is a visually striking introduction to the mountains of northeastern Spain. Its rugged contours call to mind the rocky spires of California’s Pinnacles National Park. From the monastery, a funicular provides access to a trailhead at the Pla de les Taràntules from where a trail will lead you to the summit of the peak of Saint Jerome (Sant Jeroni), the highest point in the Montserrat massif at 4,050 feet above sea level. From here on a clear day, you can see both the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean Sea. As usual, a choice of hikes will be offered on this day. Following the hikes at Montserrat, continue by vehicle into the Pyrenees. Spend your first night in the mountains in the independent principality of Andorra, a tiny, 180-square mile, land-locked country in the midst of the Pyrenees. It’s bounded by France to the north and Spain to the south. Though chartered in the tenth century, the principality of Andorra was established in the thirteenth century. Today it is under the leadership of two “co-princes” those being the President of France and the Catholic Bishop of Urgell (Spain). Andorra’s economy once revolved around tobacco growing and smuggling but today, the tourism and ski industries have taken center stage. In the high valleys of the country, some of the old Andorra still remains. Here you’ll find mountain hamlets, a treasury of humpbacked stone bridges that once linked isolated settlements, and sprawling high country flower fields accented by sparkling lakes.

The Riu Valira d’Ordino in Andorra.

The Pont de l’Estarell, Andorra.

Meadow-ringed Estany Querol, Val d’Incles (Photo credit).

Day 2
Overnight in Andorra
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
After breakfast, a short transfer by vehicle brings you to a trailhead in the Val d’Incles, one of Andorra’s relatively untouched mountain valleys. From the broad, open valley floor at the upper reaches of the Val d’Incles, a trail ascends through scattered groves of conifers to bring you to the alpine lake known as Estany de Cabana Sorda surrounded on three sides by mountain ramparts. (“Estany” is the Catalan word for “lake.”) Enjoy the peace of the Andorran high country before retracing your steps to the starting point. For a more challenging option, you can embark on a loop hike that will lead you past several high country lakes in the upper Val d’Incles including the meadow-ringed Lake Querol, the shallow tarns of the Balsas de Salamandras, the Estany Cabana Sorda, and the gem-like Lac d’Anrodat.

Estany de Cabana Sorda, Andorra (Photo credit).

Estany Rodo in the Circ dels Pessons, Andorra (Photo credit).

Day 3
Overnight in Andorra
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
Enjoy a second day of hiking in the mountains of Andorra. Shuttle by vehicle to the valley of Grau Roig. In the winter season, this is a popular location for skiing, but it’s quiet in the summer. Most of the valleys surrounding Grau Roig have been developed for skiing, but one of the valleys, known as the Circ dels Pessons, is a rocky basin spangled with alpine lakes. It’s well-suited for high country rambles in the summertime. You can complete a loop-hike past no less than eleven lakes. Those seeking a longer day on the trail can ascend the headwall of the cirque to reach the pass known as the Collado dels Pessons which offers expansive views over the entire Circ dels Pessons to the northeast and over the Ensagents Cirque to the west. In the afternoon, you can join an optional excursion to Andorra la Vella (Andorra’s capital city) to take a peek at the beautiful sixteenth-century Casa de la Vall— the seat of the Consell General (Andorra’s parliament) from 1701 to 2011—and the twelfth century Romanesque church of Sant Miquel d’Engolasters built in the Lombard style with a three-storied bell tower featuring elongated twin windows on each story. Spend a second evening in the mountains of Andorra.

The 12th century church of Sant Miquel d’Engolasters, Andorra.

Here we are in our younger days reveling in the glory of the Pyrenees. Love at first sight!

Falling in Love with the Pyrenees

Our love affair with the Pyrenees began over a quarter century ago. We were young and enamored with the mountains (and we still are)! Over the years, we’ve journeyed across this three hundred mile long chain of peaks that serves as the gateway to the Iberian Peninsula. From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, we explored the nooks and crannies of the range ascending twisting mountain roads to isolated high country villages. We once gave a ride to an old woman heading back to her village after a day with her goats in the high pastures. She filled our car with the aroma of goat’s milk, but that just added to our sense-surround experience of these wonderful mountains. We lounged in luxuriant meadows and toasted the peaks with a bottle of wine from lesser known appellations like Jurançon and Somontano. We lunched on fromage de brebis bought from a local farmer and enhanced with a slice of gâteau à la broche–a cake “baked” on a spit over a fire. Bliss! And, of course, the trails called. There are more than enough of them in the Pyrenees to last a lifetime of wandering. Here we discovered paths that led us through beech forests, along tumbling streams, and through rocky lake basins studded with sapphire-hued tarns. High on vertical canyon walls we picked our way along ledges (fajas) lined with edelweiss (flor de nieve) that led us into grand, wild mountain cirques where we saw no other human. Though the Pyrenees may not be as well known, or as well loved, as the Alps there is no doubt that these are mountains of the first order. They offer all the enchantments and joys that those of us who love the mountains seek. Come and fall in love with the Pyrenees!

Estany Gerber in the upper reaches of the Val d’Aran (Photo credit).

Day 4
Overnight in the Val d’Aran
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
Depart Andorra this morning bound for the Val d’Aran. Travel by vehicle down the valley of the Gran Valira River. Virtually all the waters of Andorra drain into this river which exits the country at its southwestern corner. Just past Andorra’s capital of Andorra la Vella, you’ll enter Spain and six miles later you’ll pass through the Spanish town of Le Seu d’Urgell (“the seat of Urgell”) at the confluence of the Gran Valira and Segre Rivers. Continue by vehicle to the Port de la Bonaigua where you’ll stop to enjoy a hike in the Gerber Valley to the rock-ringed Estany de Gerber, or farther to the Estany Llong and the Refugio Mataró. After the hike, cross the Port de la Bonaigua and enter the Val d’Aran, your base for the next two nights. Though the Val d’Aran lies on the French side of the Pyrenean watershed, it has long been under Spanish influence. The inhabitants of the Val d’Aran speak a separate language known as Aranès which exhibits elements of Gascon, Catalan, and Basque. The name “Aran” comes from the Basque word “haran” which means “valley” making the term “Val d’Aran” a bit redundant!

Estany Redo in the Circ de Colomers, Aigues Tortes National Park.

Day 5
Overnight in the Val d’Aran
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
Set off on your first hike in the high country of the Val d’Aran. After breakfast, a vehicle transfer will bring you to the Banhs de Tredos in the valley of the Aiguamòg River. Follow a trail as it leads you into the lake-filled expanse of the Colomers Cirque (Circ de Colomers), one of the crown jewels of Catalunya’s Aigües Tortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park. Enjoy a loop hike through this alpine wonderland of gem-like tarns, chattering rivulets, boulder-strewn meadows and conifer-clad knolls enclosed by a ring of snow-flecked mountains. Energetic hikers can opt for a one-way hike across the park by first ascending to the pass of Ratèra de Colomers where views of the twin peaks known as Els Encantats (“the enchanted ones”) will delight. Legend says that these peaks are all that remains of two shepherds who decided to skip Mass and go hunting instead! From the pass, the trail winds down past a string of tarns to the large Estany de Sant Maurici (St. Maurice Lake) on the east side of the national park. A shuttle ride at the end of the hike brings you back to your hotel in the Val d’Aran.

Aigues Tortes high country heading to Estany Sant Maurici.

The Noguera Pallaresa River flows by the Sanctuary of Montgarri in its namesake valley (Photo credit).

Day 6
Overnight in the Val d’Aran
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
Enjoy a second day of exploring the mountains of the Val d’Aran. You can choose a hike in the bucolic Vall de Montgarri hemmed in by the surrounding mountains. The sixteenth century Sanctuary of Montgarri provides a visual exclamation point in this sparsely settled valley. If you prefer a more challenging hike, you can set off on a high country ramble among the lakes of the Baciver Cirque and the Altipla de Rosari.

Early summer view of the Estany Baix de Baciver (Photo credit).

The lake and mountain refuge of Restanca (Photo credit).

Day 7
Overnight in Benas (Benasque)
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
After breakfast, travel by vehicle up the Val de Arties where you’ll begin a hike that climbs to a mountain refuge perched on the shores of the Restanca lake. After enjoying the mountain scenery, you can loop back to the trailhead using an alternate descent route. For a longer outing in the mountains, ascend steadily from the trailhead in the Val de Arties to the Port de Rius, a broad mountain pass in which is cradled the large, turquoise Rius Lake (Estany de Rius). From the Port de Rius, continue along the trail as it descends into the Vall de Conangles to trail’s end. At the end of the hikes, travel by vehicle through the valley of the Noguera Ribagorçana, the official dividing line between Aragón and Catalunya, to reach the mountain town of Benás in the Spanish region of Aragón. Sitting at an elevation of 3,750 feet, Benás is the principal settlement in the valley known as Valle de Benasque in Spanish, or Bal de Benás in the local language of Aragonès (spoken by only about fifteen thousand people today). Long ago, Benás was the home of Aragonese nobility. It once boasted a castle and perimeter wall, but both these have been gone for more than a century. Settle in for a three-night stay.

Estany de Rius on the way from the Val de Arties to the Val de Conangles (Photo credit).

Ibon Escarpinosa and Monte Perdiguero.

Day 8
Overnight in Benas (Benasque)
Breakfast and lunch included
Spend the day exploring the trails of the Estos Valley (Bal d’Estos in Aragonès). The hikes today are within the Parque Natural Posets-Maladeta, an 82,000 acre reserve set aside in 1994 by the government of Spain’s autonomous Aragòn region. The Posets massif, which rises to over 11,000 feet in elevation, serves as the core of the western portion of the reserve. Follow the trail that leads up the broad, green Estos Valley bounded to the north by the line of peaks along the French-Spanish border. The route soon begins an ascent of the southern slopes of the valley climbing to the splendid lakes that lie tucked in the high Perramó basin (Bal de Perramó). Pass the pretty pond called the Ibonet de Perramó fringed by wet meadows. A short distance beyond lies the exceptionally beautiful Ibón de Escarpinosa hemmed in by rock buttresses and back-dropped by the mass of the Perdiguero mountain. (“Ibón” means “lake” in Aragonès.) Hardy hikers can continue beyond the Escarpinosa lake climbing into ever more open country to reach the exquisite Ibón de Perramó and the Ibón de Batisielles. From the upper basin, you’ll enjoy a clear view of the Maladeta massif which includes among its several summits the Pico de Aneto, the highest point in the Pyrenees rising to just under 11,200 feet above sea level.

Ibon Batisielles back-dropped by the Maladeta massif.

Refugio Renclusa (Photo credit).

Day 9
Overnight in Benas (Benasque)
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
Travel by vehicle from Benas following the route of the Rio Ésera to the area of La Besurta in the upper reaches of the Benas valley. From here, a trail ascends to the meadows of Aigualluts before climbing to the Renclusa mountain pass. From the pass, descend to the mountain refuge of Renclusa with the bulk of the Pico de la Maladeta rising above it. If you desire, carry on beyond the refuge to the small Renclusa Lake cupped behind the terminal moraine of the Maladeta Glacier which now only survives as a fragment high above on the upper slopes of Maladeta. Descend from the Renclusa refuge to La Besurta to complete this loop hike. For a more challenging option, you can choose the hike that ascends along the tumbling Cregüeña stream to the lofty Ibon de Cregüeña, a deep blue lake set in a rocky basin surrounded by craggy peaks far above the timberline. Soak in the views before heading back down. Enjoy a farewell dinner tonight in Benas and cap off your Spanish Pyrenees adventure!

Ibón de Cregüeña, lofty and austere (Photo credit).

Departure day
Transfer to Barcelona, Spain
Breakfast included
After breakfast, travel by vehicle back to Barcelona. The journey will take approximately three and a half to four hours. Estimated arrival time in Barcelona is 2:00 PM. We suggest you plan your departure from Barcelona for no earlier than 4:00 PM on September 18. Better yet, plan to stay a few extra days after the tour to enjoy this fascinating city! Barcelona is Catalunya’s largest city with a population of about two million squeezed into thirty-five square miles between mountains and the Mediterranean. Its noteworthy attractions include architect Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia church, and the houses of La Pedrera and Casa Battlo. In the old quarter, visit the city’s cathedral built in the “Catalan Gothic” style. And don’t forget to take a stroll on the famous, tree-lined pedestrian mall called “La Rambla” that stretches from the Plaça de Catalunya to the waterfront.

The.facade of Casa Battlo, Barcelona.

Estany dels Barbs (right) and Estany Gran d’Amitges (left), Aigues Tortes National Park.

Other Resources

Enjoy a virtual visit to the Casa de la Vall, seat of the Consell General, Andorra’s parliament.

Reflections in the Ibonet de Batisielles, Parque Natural Posets-Maladeta.

Estany Cabidornats, Circ de Colomers, Aigues Tortes National Park.

Printable version of trip itinerary

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Photos on this page are by John Osaki except as otherwise credited.

Trip Dates
September 9-17, 2017

Price
$4,795

Single supplement
$400. Single accommodations are subject to availability and may be limited.

Meeting Point
Barcelona, Spain. We suggest you plan your arrival in Barcelona for September 8. Non-stop service to Barcelona (airport code BCN) is available from New York, Newark, Miami and seasonally from Atlanta and Philadelphia. These flights may not operate everyday.

Departure Point
Tour services conclude with your transfer to Barcelona (airport or downtown hotel) on the morning of September 18. Estimated arrival time in Barcelona is 2:00 PM, so please plan your onward connections accordingly.

Accommodations
Nine nights total at hotels in Andorra, the Val d’Aran, and Benas (Benasque). All rooms with private bath. Nine breakfasts, nine lunches, and eight dinners are included. Please note that lodging in Barcelona for the evening of September 8 is not included in the trip price. However, we are happy to assist you with hotel bookings for this evening.

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