Our first destination in Spain was Parque Nacional Ordesa Y Monte Perdido (National Park Ordesa and Monte Perdido) which was famous for its great scenery. We stayed two days in Torla Ordesa, a town nearest to the National Park. On the first day we focused on getting from Montrejeau to Torla Ordesa and it was on the 2nd day that we went on a hike in the national park. On the third day we left to our next destination.
Getting from Montrejeau to Torla Ordessa
A straight drive between Montrejeau to Torla Ordesa would take about 3 hours for a distance of 164 km. It was definitely a long drive so rather than to race into Torla Ordesa we broke our journey into many parts; frequently stopping on roadside for some scenic “picture taking”, stopping for a coffee break and stopping for a short walk to an interesting waterfall. By the time we reached our “stay” in the outskirt of Torla Ordesa it was close to 3.30 pm which was about 5 and a half hours since we started out in the morning.
It was a scenic drive from Montrejeau southward toward Spain. Along the way we passed several small French towns, spotted a couple of waterfalls from the road and saw a huge snow mountain in a distance.
After about an hour of driving we reached a tunnel. It was the Aragnouet – Bielsa tunnel that crossed under the Pyrenees range that divided France and Spain. The tunnel was about 3 km long and one-way. We stopped before a red light and waited. Soon we saw some cars coming through the tunnel. Then it was our turn to drive through. Surprisingly there was no toll charges for using the tunnel.
The tunnel journey was a gentle downslope drive, it was pleasant and bright even though we were driving deep below tons of earth above. After the tunnel we went on for about 9 km and came to a roadside supermarket cum restaurant. It was just outside the town of Bielsa. Good we needed a break and a stretch of legs. At the supermarket we bought biscuits and chips to nibble for the rest of the drive.
Forty five minutes after Bielsa we came upon a interesting scenic sight near Mirador de Janovas (co-ordinates 42.466460, 0.003234). The mountain side was made up of many spikey “veins” that ran from the top to the bottom. What could have caused this sort of ground formation? Was it errosion, or earthquake folding the earth that caused the spikey “veins”?
As the end of our journey came closer we estimated that we would reached our hotel in Torla Ordersa by about 3 pm. Which meant we had many “hours” to kill before sun down. That time would not be sufficient to start a trekking in the National Park but would be too long to stay doing nothing in our hotel room. So rather than to hurry to our final destination for the day we quickly searched on google map for a scenic stop that would not take up not too many hours to explore.
We found a waterfall, “Cascada de Sorrosal” in the town of Broto that looked interesting. It would not require much trekking to get to the falls and conveniently Broto was a town along the route to Torla Ordesa. Fantastic!
We parked our car at a carpark just outside a “closed” restaurant near the start of a path that led to the falls. We looked around for a parking meter but there was none which meant there was no charges for parking. It was a short walk of 200 metres from the carpark to the falls. The path was pretty easy to walk with some steps. Along the path was an information board describing the geological formation of the area.
Cascada del Sorrosal was a tall falls, it would have been a pretty normal looking falls if not for the cliffs around it. The cliffs were so unique, they looked like stack of broken plates piling up high. The cliff on the right side of the falls was even more fascinating. These plates were not lying flat horizontally they were “bent”, “turned” and compressed into a “U” flow.
Apparently the layered cliffs were part of an ancient sea floor which were subsequently folded during the formation of the Pyrenees. The valley of Broto (the part at the base of the falls) was carved by glaciers during the ice age whereas a smaller valley at the top of the falls was carved out by the Sorrosal river.
After some 30 minutes we left the falls/Broto and drove toward Torla Ordesa. Torla Ordesa was 5 km north of Broto on a higher elevation. From far we looked back and saw Broto in the valley it was a stunning view.
Torla Ordesa was a very quaint and quiet town. Though our “stay” was about a km outside the town we visited the town twice. Once on the day of arrival; when we went into town to explore and to search for dinner. The second time was when we were leaving the place. On our way out we passed the town and dropped in to the morning farmer market. Both times we parked our car at a free parking place just at the north edge of town.
It was a short walk from the carpark into town. The houses in the the town were mainly made of stones and were two or three storey tall. They looked “old” in the traditional sense, not in the “dirty” sense. The paths/roads were made of cobble stones and were clean and neat. The road through the town was narrow and there were yellow lines drawn on the both sides which meant “no parking”. The town center was a square with some white parking lots. The town was pretty small and walking from one end to the other was about 500m in length.
The town was not very interesting, it was very quiet and even the supermarket (supermercados) was closed. On our way back to our car we stopped at the base of a restaurant “Bar El Taillon” and walked up the slope and saw that it had a Pizzeria. There was only one couple sitting at the outdoor area drinking wine. I stuck my head into the doorway of the pizzeria and saw a man standing by the bar.
It was 6 pm and we were told that it was too early for the restaurant to serve dinner so we ordered pizza from the pizzeria. We had a pizza, two cups of cafe latte and after that a cheese cake. Pizza was thin and chrispy – pretty standard, cafe latte was very nice and the cheese cake was very different from those we ate at home. The cheese cake texture was like custard. It was topped with sweet syrup and whipped cream. We liked the cheese cake, it had a rich cheesy taste, overall we thought it would taste even better without the syrup.
The pizza costed €9, the cafe latte was €1.50 each (very cheap) and the cheesecake was €5. All in €11 for the dinner for two of us. Not too expensive.
The second time we went into the town center was two days later. It was about 10 am when we checked our of our hotel and drove into town to visit a morning market. We were a bit disappointed because we were expecting a vibrant morning market of many stores, instead there were only two stores selling vegetables and fruits. As for the “crowd” there were just the sellers and a couple of tourists and us.
Though we were disappointed with the “smallness” of the morning market, we did not leave empty handed. We bought about half a kilogram of cherry. It was going for €4 for one kg. We had a hard time explaining to the farmer that we only wanted half a kg because he did not understand a word of English.
Parque Nacional Ordersa de Monte Perdido
On the 2nd day after a good night sleep and a simple/delicious “home cooked” breakfast we were ready to trek the National Park. From our hotel we drove eastward for about 7 km to a carpark/visitor center where the heads of several walking trails into the National Park were located.
We reached the carpark at 10am and there were already many cars, vans and buses parked. Wow, it seemed like many people came in pretty early. We walked into a two storey small stone house which housed the visitor center to get more information about the trails.
Upon checking with a staff we found that Faja Racon trail (the one we had selected for our trekking) was closed due to some snow fall at the upper part of the trail, making it dangerous for trekkers. It was our intention to trek this 9.5 km round route of moderate difficulty with an elevation gain of 1182 meter. The staff suggested we trekked the 9 km valley trail. Yat Thong and I looked at each other in dismay. Though the valley trail seemed less difficult it would be a 18 km return trip. 18 km would take 4.5 hours of non stop walking.
From experience we would need double the amount of time or more to make our trekking enjoyable. Going slow on undulating ground would be kinder on our feet; stopping to rest, to admire and to take photograph would better imprint the beauty of the terrain in our memories. We doubt we had the time to walk 9 km in and another 9 km out before sundown. After some thoughts we decided we would probably do about 2/3 of the trail and return.
Most of the hiking trails start at the same point which was on the far end of the carpark. It was pretty level walking on a wide dirt path and soon we reached a signboard with many “pointings” to different trails.
Left was up a slope and right was continuing on flat ground to the valley trail. We regretfully went right. Our original intended trail Faja Racon (right) would have taken us upward and we would be able to look down into the National Park from a higher view point. Valley trail seemed less exciting, surely looking up would not be as fun as looking down. Hopefully the many waterfalls in the valley trail would add some “colors” to our walk.
The valley trail traced along a river, Rio Arazas. It was on the left side of the river in the upstream direction. Soon we came to a wooden bridge that spanned across the river. On the other side of the river was a flat piece of land leading to nowhere specific. We were wondering why was a bridge built here which did not seem to serve any real purpose until we stood at the middle of the bridge. Looking upstream, the view was stunning! The scene of water flowing over the boulders in the river, the brilliant green color of the forest stretching along the river banks till the far end, the darker coloured mountain ranges that flanked both sides of the valley and the blue slky and white clouds high up in the sky; all came together to form a breathtaking sight.
About one third and more into the valley trail we reached three waterfalls, Cascada de Arripas, Cascadas Estrecho and Cascadas de La Cueva. To reach each of these falls we needed to do some slight detours from the main trail. The detours were marked by signposts, unfortunately they never indicated the distance to the destination and some detours involved going down and up many steps.
The first falls was Cascada de Arripas, it was a fan-shape waterfalls, narrow at the top and broad at the bottom. Though it was not a tall waterfalls we could still feel the strength and splatters of the falling water from far.
The next waterfalls was absolutely magnificent. Long before the view of the falls came into sight we could already hear the roaring sound of the fall. Cascada del Estrecho was tall, huge and complex. The water was roaring down a huge hole/gap on the upper cliffs. From behind the railing of the viewing platform I could see beams of sunray streaming down and water rushing though a huge hole. I thought it was a hole but Yat Thong thought otherwise, the “hole” was the curve sides of two cliffs facing each other.
The third waterfalls was Cascada de la Cueva (Cave). It was a less forceful waterfalls compared to Cascada del Estrecho. This waterfalls looked like it was falling into a cave of blue water.
After the third waterfalls was another 3 km of walking before we reached the next waterfall, Gradas de Soaso. This 3 km stretch was more strenous than the earlier 3 km. There were some “endless” uphill slope, some boring treking through the dense forest and some very scenic stretches. Near the end was a large meadow beside the same river Arazas which was also wider than before.
Finally at 2.15 pm, some 3 hours 45 minutes since we started trekking this morning we reached Gradas de Soaso (waterfalls) at about 2/3 point (6km) of the trail. Gradas de Soaso was a beautiful falls that cascaded down many levels. We were tired so like many other trekkers we found a place in the meadow to rest and to enjoy the sight of the falls.
Half an hour later we were ready to move on. We were comtemplating if we should go forward to the end of the trail (another 3 km more) or stop here and return to the start of the trail. We decided to do the latter as we felt that if we were to go forward it would be too dark for comfort when we returned.
Supprisingly walking 6 km back to the start of the trail took less than half the time walking in. It was quicker as it was downslope and we did not make any stops along the way. It took us only 1.5 hour to get back the carpark/visitor center located at the start of the trail and before 5 pm we were back to our hotel to rest.
The next day we found out from the hotel receptionist that the final 3 km stretch to waterfalls, Cola de Caballo was the most scenic part of the entire trail and Cola de Caballa was the grandest of all the falls on the valley trail! Besides the daylight in summer lasted till 9.30pm so there was plentiful of time to go all the way in and back! Anyway we felt only slightly regretful because the earlier 2/3 of the trail was already beautiful enough.
Our stay at Torla Ordesa
We usually booked our hotel using booking.com but this time we booked Silken Ordesa Hotel using Agoda.com as we found a lower rate at Agoda.com. Of course it came with a catch, once booked it was non-refundable. The cost for two nights for a double room with ensuite toilet was €105. The cost did not cover any breakfast or meal. There were other hotels/hostels going for cheaper rates but they were further away from the National park. We wanted to stay close to the park so that we could get to the park early without waking up many hours ahead and after a day of hard trekking we could return quickly to our hotel for a good rest.
Silken Ordesa Hotel was a three storey pleasant looking hotel. Checking in was easy and the receptionist spoke English well. Our room was on the highest level (reachable via a lift) and had a view of the garden below. The room was clean and of a good size.
The bathroom was also spacious and clean too. It had all the necessary toiletries, towels and a hairdryer. The room was a “typical” hotel room with no extra frills neither was it too bare. The room had a mini fridge but there was no kitchenette or electric kettle.
The hotel had a common lounge, a restaurant and a cafeteria. Breakfast was going at €11 per person and dinner was double that amount.
On the first day we went into town to explore and ate our dinner in town. On the 2nd day after a hard day of trekking we wanted to have a relaxing dinner at our hotel. We were hungry at 5.30pm but the hotel restaurant was not ready to serve dinner untill 8pm. Rather than to wait, we ordered pizza and coffee at the hotel cafeteria as our dinner.
Thin and crispy pizza with lots of cheese, yummy! The quantity was just good/enough for us (we were not big eaters). The dinner cost only €11.40.
From past trip we realised that many hotels in Europe were removing electric kettles from their rooms. This would meant we would not be able to enjoy a cup of hot tea in the evening and morning in our room. To cater to our indulgence we decided to bring an electrical kettle with us. While shopping for a travelling electric kettle we found this “cute” collapsible cooking pot which provided more functions.
So we used our “new” cooking appliance to prepare hot drinks and breakfast for both the mornings at Silken Ordesa Hotel! First morning we had left over chicken (from our previous meal in Montrejeau), second breakfast we had tuna mayo.