Around the Spanish Pyrenees
Our Summer travel diaries continue to intrigue, now exploring around the Spanish Pyrenees. We’re here in August 2022 and the heat is intense along with the incredible arid landscapes of this region. Aragon is situated alongside the Pyrenees in the North East part of Spain. For us, our journey began on the coast in Catalonia after entering along the French Mediterranean border.
Now we’re arriving at the Monasterio de San Juan de la Pena at 9am. Beforehand, we spend the night at a wild camping spot en-route from the Mallos los Riglos. Surprisingly, the large wooded parking area is empty on our arrival, so we have a choice of spacious parking spaces. We dodn’t realise the monastery opens at 10am, so we have coffee whilst we wait.
Monasterio de San Juan de la Pena
The complex here is vast and forms two parts. There’s the Ermita de San Voto, at the lower end of the hill, about a 20 minute walk away. This is the older monastery and by far the most interesting in our opinion. The Monasterio Nuevo sits on the main site, at the top of the hill, occupying a flat plateau. Not only is it a huge open space, but its surroundings of woodland and grassy areas make a change from the dry terrain of this region.
The new monastery complex was re-built following a fire in the 17th Century. Undoubtedly, this place is colossal and a mammoth construction project in its day.
A short walk from the parking area leads to the ticket office, located within the monastery building. After paying the 12 Euro entrance fee, which covers both sites, it’s time for us to set about exploring.
Soon we find the new monastery as I’ll call it, houses a museum of artefacts stretching the full length of the building. We step inside upon a glazed floor, beneath which we look down into the old original remains. This has been adapted to form settings showing what each section would have looked like. So, for example, there’s furniture and character models to provide an insight into life in the original monastery.
Ermita de San Voto
Although it’s nice to see, the new Monastery isn’t as interesting or as beautiful as the Emita de San Voto, which we reach via a stoney woodland path.
This turns out to be simply such a serene and more intimate place. Also, information in English is given out, providing useful historic details, something lacking at the first monastery. From ancient tombs and finds of King’s treasures to a replica of the holy grail, everything is so interesting.
Apparently, the original holy grail was here, amidst the stone complex built into the rock face. The building is beautiful, its stone work detailing so intricate and almost immaculate. There’s the internal rooms of stone, carved almost pristine yet basic at the same time. Whilst stone archways provide a delicate finish to the backdrop against the high cliff.
Jaca a fascinating town – Around the Spanish Pyrenees
After leaving the monastery complex behind, we find ourselves moving on towards Jaca. This historic town is gateway to the outdoor activity regions surrounding the Aragon Pyrenees, making Jaca the main stop en-route.
Here is the first Aire we’ve found in a while, so we take advantage and stop to empty and re-fill at the dump area. The Aire itself is full, but we really want to look at Jaca, so park on the road instead.
Soon we have a pleasant surprise, because Jaca is really lovely. I’m not sure what we expect, but here we find a maize of small streets where verandah’s dazzle on the tall, narrow buildings. Somehow it reminds us of Italy, and it’s just as busy as many Italian towns.
The restaurants are bustling, full of life on this Sunday afternoon. There’s families enjoying long lunches and the pedestrianised streets make sightseeing a breeze.
Outside the centre, the main attraction is the incredibly intact Citadel. This was built in the 1590’s and its remarkably intact, dominating the perimeter of the town. You can visit here for a fee, but we walk on by, choosing to admire it from the outside.
Valle de Tena – Around the Spanish Pyrenees
Moving on towards the French border, leaving Jaca behind we find ourselves at the Valle de Tena. We’re passing empty lakes, where remains of stone villages are rising from the mud lake beds.
At Formigal, a ski resort at the end of the Spanish side of the Portalet Pass, we find a parking place for the night along with several other campervans. It’s a grassy lay-by close to the road and one of the few areas without a “no overnight” parking sign or “no motorhomes/campervans/pop tops”.
There is an Aire in the nearby village of Salient de Gallego, but it’s one of those where you need to register online for entry. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough data left to do this, but we take a look and it seems a good spot.
Ski parking areas here all have the “no overnight” signs and are sealed off too. However, the views from our parking area are lovely and although we don’t think it has the appeal of other Alpine regions in Europe, there’s no denying the beauty of the mountains.
The Ibonet de Anayet Walk -Around the Spanish Pyrenees
From our parking area is relatively easy access to the start of the Ibonet de Anayet walk which begins at the ski station parking of the same name.
We venture off on foot, firstly taking an uphill climb through the ski area which is busily undergoing maintenance in preparation for Winter.
From here we follow a stream for the entire route up the mountain. There’s both glorious views and a few plunge-type stream pools where people take a brave dip.
There’s supposed to be a waterfall near the top of the mountain, but this is down to a trickle in the August sun. We’re surrounded by mountain peaks giving close and distant views and all the while we’re making our way further and further up the mountain.
The wind when we left the van was strong and cold, but so far, the narrow valley is protecting us. One last steep haul brings us out onto a large, grassy plateau, with a mountain lake – the Ibonet de Anayet at one end. Beneath are huge rock peaks, namely the 2545m Pico de Anayet and beyond this into France is the Pic de Midi d’Ossau at 2884m.
A picnic and a campsite near Broto
We perch ourselves on a mountain rock and take out our picnic and flask of coffee. It’s busy with other hikers doing the same, some basking in the sun, while others prepare to move higher through the mountains.
Now, it’s time to re-trace our steps back down the mountain path, providing amazing views all the while. We arrive back at the campervan and contemplate another walk for tomorrow. This time at the Salient de Gallego, but instead we choose to drive on towards The Ordesa National Park.
The road is winding and forests surround us, then at the little town of Broto more scenic surroundings appear. We park up to take a look around this pretty stone village. Remarkably, it’s full of shops, which is rather strange given its size.
With plenty of historic architecture dating to the 16th Century, this quirky little town is well worth a visit.
Broto, is an historic village of stone buildings sits beside a scenic river. There’s a Romanesque bridge spanning the river and plenty of outdoor activities.
We try without success to find a wild camping spot, driving to each area showing on Park4Night but find all to be either inaccessible or have no overnight parking.
Instead, we turn around and head back to Broto where we find a campsite pitch at Camping Oto. How lovely it is too, full to the brim but spotless and low-key.
We eat pizza in the restaurant but Nigel’s never arrives, lost in translation or in the kitchen – one or the other.
Parque National de Ordesa y Monte Perdido
Now there’s a mouthful! This is where we’re heading today, and to be more precise to the gateway to the national park at Torla.
We arrive to overflowing car parks, which are big at that. After circling several times and watching and waiting, we give up. Instead, we drive on, arriving a few miles further along at the National Park itself. Unfortunately, we now realise why the car parks are full to bursting and that’s because you can’t enter the National Park itself.
There’s a road block and wardens preventing access, with the only option being on board one of the shuttle coaches which take you from the parking areas back in Torla.
Eventually we manage to find a place to park in a layby, although it’s only for lunch and to walk back into the town.
Torla itself is a nice enough village, but no doubt it’s The Ordesa that’s the main attraction. We don’t want to take a coach, so after a wonder through the narrow streets and a look in a few souvenir shops, it’s time to move on.
A wild camping spot
Now we drive back towards Jaca, where a wild camping spot on a dirt track close to a river provides a place to park for the night. Unfortunately, as is common place nowadays, there’s the stench of urine filling the hot air whilst the grassy edges are strewn with toilet paper.
It’s a sorry state that people leave our natural spaces in, but we know there’s also responsible vanlife lovers amongst us.
We’re no sooner settling in, before a large touring caravan arrives, it’s family occupants being our neighbours for the night.
Next time we continue exploring around the Spanish Pyrenees. First we come to the most incredible renovation project ever in the form of the abandoned Canfranc station. Feel welcome to subscribe for future up to date posts!