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Valley of Tena


There exists in certain travel circles the general belief that Spain is a country of only sun, beaches
and bullfights. Nevertheless, there are mountain ranges, and among these are the
Pyrenees in northern Spain which truly are a traveler’s paradise


by Conchita Burman
First published in GUIDEPOST
25 July 1980
Photos: various sources


Ed’s note: “Travel: See the Mountains for a Change” is an exciting adventure story but because of its length it is expedient to divide it into four parts.

Get away from the beaches and the crowds and breathe some really fresh air


A couple of kilometers from Hecho is the Visigothic monastery of Siresa of much interest. The church itself dates from the 11th century which has only one nave and apse.

Other valleys of touristic interest are Canfranc and Candanchu. Both indeed tend to be more tourist-like as they are located on the main highway to France and are also famous winter sports centers with many modern hotels.

Pidrafita de Jaca in Huesca, the Aragonese Pyrenees

One of the high points on our trip is the lovely Valley of Tena, which is in the form of a semicircle, surrounded by the Pyrenees over 3,000 meters high with a chain of glaciers and Tendeiria and Pidrafita peaks as a background. This area of Tena includes the stone village of Sallent de Gallego with its clear unpolluted air. Rush hour traffic twice a day consists of parades of mule-drawn carts with farmers going to and coming from their nearby fields in the surrounding mountains. Old men lean on their canes in the sun, berets down to their ears, watching the children playing jai-alai.

Cariñena vineyard and wine bottle with official DO label (inset): French tourists say Cariñena is superior to their Bordeaux

In the Tena Valley is also the famous Panticosa spa with medicinal waters for a variety of ailments. Wonderful accommodation is offered in a beautiful setting, with the surrounding scenery reminiscent of the Yosemite Valley in California. A curious feature in Sallent de Gallego [capital of Tena Valley] was the large number of French tourists, with the frontier being only several kilometers away. They all seemed to be carrying large wine casks and filling them up at the bodegas in Sallent de Gallego. The wine was the Aragon Cariñena which was Goya’s favorite. The French tourists said that the Cariñena red table wine was superior in quality and price to their own Bordeaux. That Spanish wine is also noted for its high alcoholic content.

From the Tena Valley, there is a road through the Bujaruelo gorge to the Ordesa National Park, a natural monument of extraordinary beauty and our central objective. Torla is the village at the entrance to the park with good hotel and beautiful camping facilities. There is neither lodging nor camping permitting in the Ordesa Park, which is a monument to nature and possibly the outstanding feature of the Pyrenees landscape. The mountains are rugged and look like those of the Grand Canyon. No cars nor motorcycles are permitted in Ordesa. The park has an area of 2,000 hectares, consisting of waterfalls and dominated by ranges of rocky mountains with rich vegetation providing a mixture of vivid colors. 

There are various mountain trails for the hikers and they are well-marked. Try to take the three-hour hike to the Cola de Caballo cascade, passing through woods and the Soaso slopes under the shadow of the Monte Perdido, with a priceless opportunity to observe the wildlife in its natural surroundings with all its beauty.

Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park

Get a good night’s sleep and take a backpack and try the hike through Ordesa. Try to start early in the morning during the summer as it is warm on approaching the Cola de Caballo at midday. The woods include wild and black pine, fir beech, jumper, yew, poplar, oak, with an astonishing variety of flowers. The Ordesa travel brochures tell of mountain goat, wild boar, eagle, vulture, chamoix and falcon. We just saw the birds, and the boys were disappointed on not encountering a jabali. It is ten kilometers to the Cola de Caballo, or at least for the adults. The way children play when they are hiking, it is probably double for them.

The return is slightly downhill. If you go to Ordesa, try to take this hike. Our boys are eight and ten and they were quite proud of themselves for having made that long excursion. We then returned to Torla and jumped into the hotel swimming pool for a delightful dip. Ordesa has many other excursions in addition to the Cola de Caballo, and one can spend a most enjoyable week there. On visiting the Cola de Caballo falls, one agrees that they are aptly named.

Jaca coat of arms: the Kings of Navarre were partial to Jaca as a place of residence

We then returned to our headquarters at Jaca, which is a nice town in itself. It was once the favorite residence of the kings of Navarre and its Museum of Romanesque Painting is well worth a visit.

Monastery of San Juan de la Peña: the ancient monastery has a natural rock vault for its ceiling

From Jaca one can visit two of Spain’s most precious monasteries. First is San Juan de la Peña in a harshly beautiful landscape. It has two interesting churches with the lower crypt dating from the 10th century with two aisles and horseshoe arches. The upper crypt is set in rock with an ancient Romanesque cloister which is a jewel with Ionic capitals depicting different themes, with natural rock vault as a ceiling. Many illustrious Spaniards buried there, including the Aragonés count of Aranda, minister of State, ambassador to France and one of the outstanding Spaniards of the 18th century. The other monastery is Santa Cruz de la Seros, founded in 992 but only the 11th-century church is standing today. If one likes to spend several days in that atmosphere, there is a 17th-century monastery near San Juan de la Peña which is converted now into a hotel with a peaceful ambiance.




“TRAVEL: See the Mountains for a Change” as it appears on GUIDEPOST, 25 July 1980




Featured image(Valle de Tena)/Willtron via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA3.0
Piedrafita de Jaca/Kunzuilh, CC BY3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Jaca coat of arms/Willtron, CC BY-SA3.0
Monastry San Juan de la Peña/Aracajal, CC BY-SA3.0
Cariñena vineyard/Zarateman, CC BY-SA3.0, and offical DO label on Cariñena wine bottle/Xemenendura, CC BY-SA3.0