The National Park of Ordesa and Monte Perdido
The Ordesa National Park
Established in 1918 the spectacular Ordesa National Park is located in the central Spanish Pyrenees, in the province of Huesca, Aragon.
The park covers an area of more than 156 km² and is among the most important National Parks in Europe, and yet possibly one of the least known.
It is a World Biosphere Reserve, a 'Special Protection Area for Birds' within the Pyrenees, and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The Park encompasses three deep limestone canyons Ordesa, Añisclo and the Garganta de Escuain, as well as the Valley of Pineta.
This is a karstic landscape and one of great geological interest. In fact we live within the Pyrenees Geopark, a Unesco site of particular geological interest. The karstic limestone layer that covers the park was lifted from the sea bed fifty million years ago and was tilted and folded as it rose. Glaciers then carved the landscape creating the dramatic peaks and the steep sided valleys.
Some of the limestone layers are softer than the others, erosion then created ledges high in the cliffs. Some of these are walkable and these paths (called ‘Fajas’) are some of the most dramatic in Europe.
Here in our province of Huesca, Aragon, we have the three highest peaks in the Pyrenees:
Pico de Aneto at 3,404 m (11,168ft) is not only the highest mountain in the Pyrenees but also the third highest mountain in Spain.
Pico Posets is the second highest in the Pyrenees, 3,371 m (11,060 ft) and Monte Perdido (meaning lost mountain) is the third highest, (3355 m 11,007ft).
The three peaks of Las Tres Sorores or Three Sisters -
The Ordesa National Park
Access & Walking in the Ordesa Valley
The Ordesa National Park Visitors Centre is just 150m away from our self-catering cottage in Torla. During peak holiday periods a shuttle bus runs from here to the Ordesa Valley (Pradera de Ordesa), where there is a car park, bus stop, cafe and toilets. The Pradera is the starting point for most of the popular walks further into the park. Outside these times, the park can be reached by car (8km). Alternatively you can walk from the front door of our cottage on the well-marked GR15 path from town. This is beautiful shady walk starting by the river Ara and passing meadows of wild flowers, woods and waterfalls. It eventually links up with the GR11, a right fork of which goes to the Pradera.
There are so many amazing trails for all levels of walkers in and around the National Park. We draw upon our local knowledge to offer varied and interesting options on all our Special Interest and Activity Holidays.
Here we will solely outline the four main routes for day hikers, within the Ordesa Valley, all starting at the Pradera car park.
Through The Ordesa Valley
16 km, 450m ascent, 5-6 hours
This is a long but easy walk in terms of gradient and route finding. The towering canyon rock faces flank either side as you wind through forests of beech and pine. The path passes three beautiful waterfalls before opening into meadows where you reach the Grados de Soaso (Soaso cascades—a natural stairway of waterfalls) .The path ends at the famous Cola de Caballo (Horsetail Falls), a lovely fan of falling water at the head of the Circo de Soaso, a sort of natural amphitheatre.
Faja de Pelay
18 km, 750m ascent, 6-7 hours
Also known as the Sendero de los Cazadores or hunters path.
This is the longest of the faja walks and takes you onto the southern cliffs of the valley. The initial 1½ hour steep climb up to a viewpoint (mirador -1950 m) is well worth the effort. Once here you have a fantastic birds-eye view of the valley and the river 600 metres below. After this the walking is much easier and is arguably one of the best stretches of path in the park. The faja opens up stunning views to the peaks and rock formations on the opposite side of the valley. As the path starts to descend you see spread in front the entire Circo de Soaso and all of the 3,000m peaks. Before you reach the bottom of the valley for the return leg along the valley floor, you will also see the magnificent Cola de Caballo falls.
A HIGHLY RECOMMENDED WALK.
Faja de las Flores
16 km, 1150m ascent, 8-9 hours
Translated as Ledge of Flowers this is the most spectacular of the fajas and is only for those who have a good head for heights. The ascent is over a thousand metres with two short sections of climbing made safe with clavijas (iron stakes). At first there seems to be no place for a path but as you get closer the eroded path shows itself and you can see it winding along the cliff face. At only a metre or so wide with a 400m sheer drop to your right at all times this is not a route for those who suffer from vertigo. The views across the valley are breathtaking. The ascents and descents in the rock basins of Carriata and Cotatuero are spectacular. On the descent of the Circo de Cotatuero there is a short but exposed section of open rock to cross using clavijas and in places chain. This final descent can be scary so alternatively you can turn round and head back down the route you came.
11 km, 750m ascent, 4-5 hours
This faja takes you under the northern cliffs. Magnificent rock walls line the route. Walking on the faja you remain pretty much at the same altitude for the whole way so it is not too taxing. There are superb views to the mountain of Cutas and its highest peak the Punta Cuta. Looking down into the valley, you see the river Arazas and between the trunks of giant pines look out for the mountain of Otal. There is a stark contrast between the bare rock and the lush green woods. We would recommend starting the walk with the ascent through the woods and then returning below the Cotatuero waterfall.
This walk gives you the opportunity to appreciate the scale of the canyon.
The Flora and Fauna of The Ordesa National Park
The Ordesa National Park is classed as a World Biosphere Reserve for good reason, we have more than 1500 species of flowers, 171 species of birds, over 131 species of butterflies, of which 8 are endemic, and 32 different species of mammals.
For lovers of wild flowers this is a perfect place. Known as the flower garden of Europe the alpine flora is spectacular from spring, through summer and often into the autumn. Temperatures and therefore climate are determined by altitude and as a result the variety of wild flowers that we see is incredible.
Of course with an abundance of wild flowers we also have an abundance of butterflies, as well as some rare moths.
We have more information on wild flowers, butterflies and moths on our blog.
We are also spoilt in terms of fauna. We see a huge variety of birds simply from the farmhouse. There are colonies of Griffon Vultures, visiting Eygptian vultures, Bee Eaters, Red Kites, as well as the endangered and spectacular Lammergeier (or bearded vulture).
If we don't see them at the farmhouse we are sure to see these raptors on our walks, as well as a huge variety of other birds.
We also support the Lammergeier Conservation Foundation (FCQ). Our Wildlife Walks and Nature Photography Holidays give you one years membership of this foundation.
The Ordesa valley is also home to Sarrios (Pyrenean Chamois). They growing to just eighty centimetres and have short horns with a distinctive striped faced. Although shy animals we see them on the upper slopes from spring through to autumn. Almost hunted to extinction, Sarrio are now protected and thrive in many Pyrenean valleys.
There are also amphibians endemic to the Pyrenees and nocturnal mammals which we may catch a glimpse of at dusk, or with the camera traps we set.