Ainsa to Benasque, Spain
It’s our travel diaries series of Summer 2022, where we’re leaving the incredible walk of Congost de Mont Rebei Walk behind. Now, we’re heading to Ainsa and Benasque in a spectacular part of Spain through the Pyrenees.
The scenic roads of the N260 and A138 lead us to the hilltop village of Ainsa. Actually, we’re en-route to the National Parks of Ordesa y Monte Perdido and de Banasque and don’t plan to stop here until we see it. It’s then that we realise it’s worth a closer look.
Ainsa to Benasque, Spain – A hilltop village
Our route here takes us through magnificent scenery. Passing vast lakes of bright blue water, these stretch on for miles. Although in many parts, there’s more dry lake bed and cracked mud than glistening water. It’s worth noting that temperatures this time of year are super hot. We’re here in mid August and most days reach 30C or more.
Despite the low lake levels, the rivers running into them are still flowing effortlessly. Overall this drive is beautiful.
The cross-roads town of Ainsa can be seen nestled alongside a wide river bed and is surrounded by mountains. It’s modern town looks like the kind of place where you can buy most things. However, above on a hill is the real reason for visiting.
First of all, we need to find somewhere to park the campervan and luckily Ainsa has a dedicated Aire type stopover.
There’s a fairly narrow but short hill to reach the Aire, where we find a huge parking area. At the far end is a large section for motorhomes with plenty of space to choose from. It’s only 3 Euro to park the night but the dump area is fairly pricey at 6 Euro, although we’re always glad to just have this service provided.
There seems to be so many people this trip, sleeping in any form of vehicle and we’re not sure if we like it. Before long this Aire is virtually full, with people arriving in anything and everything for the night.
For us, it’s time to check out Ainsa and a short walk brings us to the historic walls of this hilltop village. There’s a bustling early evening atmosphere, with the joys of a hot Summer evening in full flow.
Behind the large stone entrance is a warm welcoming approach into a village square. Here lies a labyrinth of narrow streets, many with outdoor dining and people enjoying the clear night sky.
We feel like joining them, so find a bar and order a Sangria, our first here in Spain. Ultimately, this is long overdue. Whilst we sit, watch and wonder, taking in the views from the bar stool, makes for intriguing people-watching.
One thing we can’t help notice, is how almost every Spanish person has a dog and a large one at that. Apparently, these are for security on their property. Certainly, there are some unusual looking breeds here.
A local market
We have a strange nights sleep, where talking into the night in the great outdoors seems more of a theme than sleeping.
Opening the blinds to the bright dawn of a new day brings an eagerness to get on the road. Those without toilets are waking too, a steady stream of campers make their way to the surrounding bushes. How normal this has quickly become, an outdoor loo, now having a whole new meaning.
We leave the waking campers to it and move the campervan back down to the new town below. Our luck is in, because it’s market day and a parking space beside a really handy hardware store, brings a chance to buy a new water container.
It’s strange how sometimes it takes weeks of searching before you find the simple things. Now, we’re super happy and even better for buying the most fabulous old cow bell at the market. I don’t know about you, but the sound of cattle bells is just one of the most glorious sounds and now we have one of our own.
A Gorge Route – Ainsa to Benasque, Spain
It’s time to move on towards Benasque, and the route takes us through a narrow gorge, beside a river. Here we’re close to the French border, it’s home to the National Reserve de Benasque which we’ve high hopes for.
Nestling in the midst of Benasque is the highest mountain in the Pyrenees, Aneto at 3404m, it’s actually Spain’s third highest mountain.
Unfortunately, it’s raining and stormy, so the weather isn’t doing this area justice. A few km before the town of Benasque is Castejon de Sos, a mountain valley town with a free Aire. Not only is the parking space good but the views from it aren’t bad either.
We find a free space, backing on to fields, with the mountains behind. After lunch, we think we’d better move on to check out the larger town of Benasque. Especially important is the parking situation for a walk we want to do tomorrow, so we set off to take a look.
the Aire at Benasque
Although there’s an Aire at Benasque, it’s a barrier one with entry via booking on a website. It’s located at the end of a car park behind the main town centre, but we don’t have enough data to check out the details. In some ways, the technology can be a real pain! By the way, it’s 10 Euro a night if you can get online to pay.
Then we try the other parking areas in town, but none allow overnight parking. Further along the road out of Benasque are a couple of campsites, which we consider parking at for the night.
The walk we want to do starts in a car park along a narrow lane, off the main road which leads to the Estos Valley. Although the car park is easy to find and fairly large, the signs tell us, no overnight parking is permitted. Unfortunately, this now seems common practice here in Spain.
At least we know where to come ready for the morning. Now though, we decide to drive back to Castejon de Sos, at least we know we can park up there without problems – or so we think!
Well, it turns out to be another pain in the backside night of inconsiderate campers. What is going on with people nowadays?
First of all it’s the “night sliders”. Opening van doors throughout the night for the outdoor loo – otherwise known as the bushes. Next to us are no exception. The van doors are open and canopy sails tied to rocks, which are from a stone wall at the entrance.
Their pals soon rock up, parking next to them, smoking something strong into the night. There’s non-stop chatter under the canopy, even a storm can’t drown the sound. If only we can understand Spanish, at least we could find out what all the fuss is about.
The Valle d’Estos Walk
We give up on sleep and instead move on early to the Valle d’Estos walk, and a return to the day parking area we’d seen yesterday.
This is just a few km beyond Benasque and the parking area leads to various walking trails into the mountains. We take the Ibonet de Batiselles route, taking a gentle up hill path towards grassy banks filled with pines.
In the distance are peaks of craggy rock, towering above the picturesque green grass of the valley. There’s a few people on the walk despite it being early in the morning. At a junction, we follow the uphill path to the lake of Ibonet, but there is an easier walk to a refuge.
It’s a climb alright, up we go through woodland for about 50 minutes before emerging from the forest track. Ahead lies a clearing to a tiny lake – Ibonet de Batiselles.
There’s a few people up here too and more trails leading off further into the mountains. To be honest, it’s not the best walk we’ve done, mainly because it seems a bit of a hard slog for little reward. However, if we hadn’t done it, no doubt we’d be thinking we’d missed something spectacular.
Benasque Valley Views
Overall, I’d describe the walk of Ibonet de Batiselles as a nice one. There’s the smell of pines from the forest and high mountain peaks popping in and out of view, but it’s not one we’d do again.
One thing we did find though was a cute Salamander, just a few inches long, this black and yellow amphibian was walking along a muddy path.
The best part of the Benasque Valley came after lunch. By now, we’d been out walking all morning and had arrived back at the campervan. Oh, the car park is now full by the way, so it pays to get here early in Summer.
Now for the 13km final stretch of road through the Benasque Valley, where we find ourselves at the dead-end head of this dramatic location.
Here, there’s little room for manoeuvre, but we manage to park briefly at the end of the road. By now, the clouds are low, breaking infrequently to reveal the magnificent scenery behind. However, it’s super chilly, in the rolling mist and hanging around outside is not the best option.
In the mist somewhere is the Aneto, its high peaks hidden from view. Despite hanging around inside the campervan for a bit, Spain’s 3rd highest mountain remains unseen.
There’s a flat green valley at the end of the route, down below us, with parking areas and no doubt plenty of walking opportunities. We’re turning back though, towards Benasque where en-route we decide to take a left turn towards a river .
An abanonded hotel
This is a super pretty road, leading passed a small campground and grassy parking areas by the river. We continue on the narrow route, now winding up the mountain side towards a derelict building.
After a short while we arrive at what turns out to be an abandoned hotel. It’s both eerie and intriguing at the same time. There’s more walking routes here and a parking area makes it easy to park up and take a look.
It’s not only the hotel that’s intriguing because the views from here are crazily good. Although it looks like we could spend the night here, we’ll be moving on once we’ve had a coffee and taken a look outside.
The hotel commands a superb position and we wonder how long it’s been empty. As usual with these things, the graffiti and vandals have found it before us and the empty swimming pool, smashed windows and boarded up doors look sorrowful.
Probably, this is the most scenic section of Benasque that we’ve seen, and it gives a taste of what the area offers without the cloud.
For now, we’re leaving the dead-end valley and re-tracing our steps towards Ainsa. We drive once again through the gorge, filled with narrow roads which will soon be made easier by the construction of a series of new tunnels.
Roadworks are well underway and trucks continue with the mammoth task despite the Summer tourists.
As we say goodbye to the Ainsa and the Benasque Valley here in Spain, another surprise find awaits. This time, it’s about 15km West of Ainsa, to the destroyed and subsequently abandoned village of Janovas.
Next time, we’ll share the amazing sights and story of this fascinating location, ultimately a highlight of this trip and a very special place indeed.