The Aragonese Pyrenees offers spectacular hiking, with dramatic landscapes characterized by plunging canyons, steep wooded hillsides and glassy rivers. This summer, Rough Guides writer and photographer Marta Bescos spent a weeklong trip traversing the Ordesa Valley. Here, she chronicles her route, with all the details so you can follow in her footsteps. Being out and about in the great outdoors is the perfect way to escape city life post-lockdown, where social distancing couldn’t be easier.
My weeklong summer hiking trip in the Aragonese Pyrenees has been a feast for the mind and body. After weeks of lockdown spent in my flat in Madrid – without even a balcony – I was craving fresh air and being surrounded by nature. While Aragon is sadly experiencing another outbreak of the Covid-19, in the northern part of Huesca it was safe to travel. Luckily, our trip went ahead – we stuck closely to the strict hygiene measures, acting responsibly for others and the environment. Current measures in Spain mean you’ll find antibacterial gel in every restaurant and hotel and QR codes instead of printed menu, while everyone wears facemasks both indoors and outdoors.
My family and I decided on a trip hiking around the Ordesa Valley – one of the most beautiful corners of Northern Spain. This incredible spot in the Aragonese Pyrenees tempts hikers and outdoor lovers alike, with demanding treks that venture into the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, the second oldest in Spain. It has been inscribed variously as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, a Special Protection Area for Birds, a Site of Community Importance, and a Biosphere Reserve.
Which routes you take in the park will be dictated by your physical ability and hunger for summiting the highest peaks. The three main valleys of Ordesa are formed by the Ara, Arazas and Bellos rivers, which herald the most unique landscapes in the national park. Discovering caves and waterfalls or scrambling over rocks is every hiker’s paradise!
Before our hike we met at Broto – the perfect starting point, and our home for the week. Broto is a beautiful village known for its massive waterfall, Cascada de Sorrosal, that gushes down the canyon behind it. To the left of the waterfall, a via ferrata (climbing route) winds its way up. The noise of the water is the soundtrack to the 600m climb – marking a 200m difference in altitude. The centre of Broto is maze-like, with the striking Iglesia de San Pedro in the middle.
Tip: Remember to bring plenty of water with you, as well as mountain boots, adequate clothing, a sleeping bag, trekking poles, sunscreen, sunglasses and a windbreaker/raincoat.
We met at Hotel Sorrosal in Broto, and went by car all the way to Torla, one of the entrance gates to the National Park. For conservation reasons, we were required to leave our cars behind and take the shuttle bus from here. The bus leaves every 15–20 minutes from Torla’s car park (tickets can be purchase in the car park). The bus journey was a delight in itself, giving us our first impression of the thickets of forests we would later walk through, as well as a first glimpse of the limestone walls of the Ordesa Valley. The Valley’s capacity is limited to 1800 people – necessary for protecting the environment, but an added safety advantage during the Covid-19 pandemic; we had to wear our masks at all times.
For the first day of the trip, we hiked along one of the most emblematic trails in the park, the Turieto Bajo route, which runs from Pradera de Ordesa to Torla. We enjoyed seeing the tumbling waterfalls of Tamborrotera and Moncieto, as well as beautiful beech and fir trees.
Our route on Day 2 was extremely tough, compounded by scorching temperatures. During the first part of the climb, starting from Hospital de Tella village, we hiked along a very narrow and bushy trail tracing the river Yaga. Coving a total distance of 13km – representing a 230m ascent and 230m descent – the post-walk beer was most welcome.
Day 3’s route took us through the valleys of Bujaruelo and Ara. The Bujaruelo valley is a Site of Community Importance, both for its ecological value (its precious beech forests providing a refuge for beats, grouse, bearded vultures and the Pyrenean desman) and for its historical importance as a pilgrim trail. We stopped for lunch at the 13th-century Romanesque bridge, emblem of Bujaruelo. My mum and I ate by the river Ara, while others in the group plumped for food at the Bujaruelo hut – where you can also spend the night. This year, hut accommodation and camping next to it are both subject to capacity restrictions because of Covid-19, so it’s worth booking in advance. After lunch we made our way back to the Puente Nuevo o de Santa Elena, at the Otal Valley, where we started the day’s hike.
In the morning, we made an unforgettable trip to the top of the Ordesa Valley by 4x4. After an hour-long rough ride, we reached an altitude of 2000m. We spent three hours walking – well worth it for the spectacular vistas at the top. We were blown away by the views and took plenty of photos. It was amazing to have an overall picture of the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, including the Mondarruego massif, the Tozal del Mayo, the Circo Carriata and the Rolando Brecha, as well as the 3000m summits of the Cilindro, the Monte Perdido, the Añisclo and the Punta de las Olas. We spotted a couple of marmots – but if you’re lucky, you can also encounter bearded vulture, chough and mountain goat, amongst other Pyrenean animals. Flora is no less enchanting, with edelweiss, wild iris and Pyrenean saxifrage. This excursion took us at around 5–6 hours.
In the afternoon, we visited the historic, hilltop village of Ainsa, which frequently tops lists of the most beautiful towns in Spain. The village is located between the Cinca and Ara rivers, and its old town, with a clear medieval layout, was declared a Historic-Artistic Site back in 1965. A pleasant walk through its streets took us to the Castle (11th–17th century), where the Torre del Tenente stands out with a pentagonal floor plan, today transformed into an Eco Museum. The tower of the church of Santa María (11th–13th century) is styled in the Aragonese Romanesque, while arcades surround the Plaza Mayor, home to the town hall building. Also unmissable are the Casa de Bielsa and Casa Arnal, built in the 16th century.
The Añisclo Canyon is the result of relentless erosion by the Bellós river, which has created one of the most strikingly beautiful canyons in Spain, incorporated into the Ordesa National Park in 1982. From high on the Añisclo pass (2450m) to San Úrbez bridge (980m), the canyon stretches for 14km, giving rise to a variety of vegetation. The extreme difference in elevation (700 to 2450m) along the canyon’s length means plants can thrive in a range of different conditions; in addition, thermal inversion is common here, which helps flora to thrive.
We started the route at the San Úrbez car park (Ereta de Biés), descending to the vertiginous San Úrbez bridge (980m). Nearby is the Ermita de San Úrbez; saints and shepherds inhabited this cave way back in the 8th century. After a tough stretch hiking under the sun, we crossed the Bellós river over the Sangons bridge. We walked into the canyon, passing countless sparkling pools and waterfalls shaded by holm oaks, gall oaks and boxwoods. As the path climbs higher, a forest of beech, fir, lime, ash, birch, yew, maple, rowan, mostajo and hazelnut rises around you. There’s an enormous diversity of flora carpeting the slopes of this exceptional canyon. The trek continues until it reaches the Espluquetas ravine, 6.5km from the start, where the trail departs from the river and begins a steep ascent to reach the so-called Selva Plana. This section should only be attempted by experienced hikers; we therefore began our descent to complete this unforgettable 13km journey.
Hopping on the bus from Torla again, on Day 6 we started our route in the Pradera de Ordesa. This was by far my favourite route through the Ordesa Valley. Passing the Cotatuero waterfall, we hiked alongside a forest of firs, beech and pine trees, until the road brought us up to the famous Gradas de Sodaso. From here, we were able to see the glorious summits of Monte Perdido, Cilindro and Sound de Ramond, before coming to the most famous of all the Ordesa waterfalls: la Cola de Caballo. Here, we had a lovely break and dipped our feet in the river (note that bathing is not allowed). We continued our ascent up the Gradas de Soaso to finally reach the Goriz Mountain Hut, at an altitude of 2190m, where we had lunch and a rest before starting the descent back to the Pradera. Another option is to continue to Pineta Mountain and from there to Brecha de Ronaldo – this last stage is reserved for intermediate to advanced hikers.
After enjoying so many spectacular hikes, on our last day we made the short journey (about 4km) from Broto to Torla along the banks of the Ara river, enjoying the last views of the Mondarruego with the Torla farmhouse. In the afternoon, my parents and I visited Sarvisé, a small town in the Valle de Broto in the heart of the Pyrenees. The town lies on the Ara river, in a quiet plain surrounded by pastures and lush forests. Here, we had lunch, stayed overnight and visited the cheese farm: Quesería Bal de Broto. All its cheeses are named after former prisoners from the medieval Broto prison, who left their names forever immortalized on its black walls. Their curing process is completely natural, in a cellar that is fine-tuned with the latest advances in the sector, spending time on wooden slats in an effort to preserve the artisan cheese tradition as far as possible. We tried a few cheeses and the tasted local beers, Tensina and Rondadora.
Having walked through the most beautiful trekking circuits in the region, I came away feeling rewarded and fortunate. I was lucky enough to enjoy local products and meet warm and friendly people. It has been an unforgettable trip under the gaze of Monte Perdido – one that I highly recommend this to everyone!
For camping near Broto, try Camping Oto or Camping Ordesa. Both sites are surrounded by magical landscapes. If camping’s not your thing, plump for a family hotel experience at Hotel Sorrosal in Broto. We stayed here and loved the facilities and helpful staff.
In the nearby village of Sarvisé, you’ll find the cosy family hotel of Viña Olivan, where we spent our last night. The hotel’s excellent location means you can enjoy gorgeous mountain views from its balcony. If you value your privacy – or feel safer this way – the hotel also has independent rural apartments, perfect for anyone seeking a truly relaxing escape. And don’t miss the hearty breakfast!
La Tea pizzeria (Broto). Popular and friendly, this restaurant by the river Ara can get super busy, so booking in advance is recommended. The tasty menu had a great selection of pasta, wood-fired pizzas and scrummy desserts.
Hotel restaurant Casa Frauca (Sarvisé). A family-run restaurant in the small village of Sarvisé. This cosy restaurant is one of the best well known in the Ara valley. Expect dishes packed with flavour, made with local and seasonal ingredients. The hearty portions are spot on after a full day’s hiking.
Bujaruelo Hut (En-route). This restaurant serves a wide range of food for mountaineers who come to spend the day in the great outdoors.