Within its borders the Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido combines all the most dramatic elements of Spain’s Pyrenean scenery. At the heart of the park are four glacial canyons – the Ordesa, Añisclo, Pineta and Escuain valleys – which carve the great upland limestone massifs into spectacular cliffs and chasms. Most of the park is accessible only on foot: even then, snow during autumn and winter makes it inaccessible to all, except those with specialist climbing equipment. In high summer, however, the crowds testify to the park’s well-earned reputation as a paradise for walkers and nature lovers alike.
Visitors’ centre (open all year), Torla, Tel: 974 48 64 72 .
Change at Sabiñánigo for Torla.
Cañon or Garganta de Añisclo
A wide path leads along this beautiful, steep-sided gorge, following the wooded course of the turbulent Río Vellos through dramatic limestone scenery.
This village, at the gateway to the park, huddles beneath the forbidding slopes of Mondarruego. With its core of cobbled streets and slate-roofed houses around the church, Torla is a popular base for visitors to Ordesa.
Several well-marked trails follow the valleys and can be easily tackled by anyone reasonably fit, though walking boots are a must. The mountain routes may require climbing gear so check first with the visitors’ centre and get a detailed map. Pyrenean weather changes rapidly – beware of ice and snow early and late in the season. Overnight camping is permitted, but only for a single night above certain altitudes.
View from Parador de Bielsa
The parador, at the foot of Monte Perdido, looks out at stunning sheer rock faces streaked by waterfalls.
Ordesa is a spectacle of flora and fauna, with many of its species unique to the region. Trout streams rush along the valley floor, where slopes provide a mantle of various woodland harbouring creatures such as otters, marmots and capercaillies (large grouse). On the slopes, flowers burst out before the snow melts, with gentians and orchids sheltering in crevices and edelweiss braving the most hostile crags. Higher up, the Pyrenean chamois is still fairly common; but the Ordesa ibex, or mountain goat, became extinct in 2000. Attempts to resurrect it by cloning have had little success so far. The rocky pinnacles above the valley are the domain of birds of prey, among them the huge bearded vulture, itself now almost extinct.