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Torla, the gateway to the Ordesa National Park*


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

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


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.


Loarre Castle

The Romanesque fortress of Loarre, which sits high on a hill above the valley below, can be visited from Jaca. If I ask my boys which castle they like best in Spain, they immediately answer — Loarre. It is surrounded by walls with round towers and two entry gates. Loarre castle became a monastery at the end of the 11th century and from that period dates its special rectangular crypt with a semicircular apse. 

Returning to Torla, behind the Monte Perdido is another Pyrenees valley called La Pineta. One passes through the medieval village of Ainsa. Actually it is just off the road and while it does not appear all that attractive from this distance, drive in and you will be impressed by the beauty of its arcaded plaza mayor, with the tall Romanesque church tower on one side. 

Pineta Valley, one of the four lovely valleys nestled in the Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park

The houses all seem to be painted in rose color and have fine plateresque windows. The valley itself of La Pineta is a narrow ravine with near-vertical walls which reach an incredible height. Few accommodations are available there, but one is excellent, the Parador Nacional del Monte Perdido. The view from there is breathtaking. Sit at the terrace of the parador and see cascades falling from the many glaciers above. 

The second highest mountain in the Pyrenees range is aptly named “Lost Mountain”, or Monte Perdido. Its peak is usually hidden behind ever-present clouds, but we did receive a brief glimpse of the peak when there was a break in the clouds.

If one is anywhere near the Monte Perdido, a stay in that parador is highly recommended. There are a few caves there and because of the humidity, one finds edelweiss flowers. Don’t overlook the beautiful adjoining valley of Cisclo. 

Vielha, capital of Val d’Aran: The “civilization” of Val d’Aran came as a bit of a shock

Our next valley on our tour of Pyrenees valleys was Benasque still in Aragon, and crowned by the giant of the Pyrenees-Monte Aneto. This peak is over 3,400 feet and overlooks not only Benasque but also the delightful Valley of Arán in the province of Lérida, with this latter valley also called El Rey de los Valles. Just before entering Arán, one drives through the kilometers-long tunnel of Viella. On approaching the light at the end of the tunnel is an exceptional view of high peaks and glaciers. For me that was the nicest part of Arán as I was later rather disappointed with the valley itself. However, after having spent over three weeks in the Pyrenees with tranquility and no crowds or traffic, the civilization of Arán came as a bit of a shock.

The villages in the valley were all close together and it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other commenced. Perhaps it was our own fault as we stayed in the valley did not make any excursions except to Baqueira Beret as the boys wanted to see where the king and queen go skiing in the winter. 

Arán does have two fine paradors. One is huge just at the exit of the long tunnel on entering the valley. The view is beautiful from the veranda which overlooks the entire valley. The other is at the village of Arties and named Gaspar de Portolá. For many Californians, the name Portolá rings a bell as he is remembered in that state’s history as the first Spanish governor. Arties was the ancestral home of the Portolás and one can still see their torreón. One reason why we did not take more excursions was that Eric, my husband, was researching there on Gaspar de Portolá.

Valle de Bohi, Lerida: Romanesqu Church of San Clemente de Tahull

But if you come this far in the Pyrenees, surely don’t miss the valley of Bohi also in the province of Lérida. It is small but has a green fertile landscape dotted with picturesque villages and more than two dozen charming Romanesque churches. They all form a peaceful and bucolic scene. Most of the churches are rather well preserved with magnificent frescos inside. The most attractive one for me was the small church of San Clemente de Tahull with its outstanding tower.

To the east at Arán is the region of Ribargozana, with dampness and its impenetrable woods giving a dark green tone to its landscape. Located there is the other National Park of the Pyrenees-Aigues Tortes, which is a plateau of 2,000 meter high elevation. One of the most attractive sights there which is also seen on Spanish ministry of Commerce and Tourism posters is the beautiful lake of San Mauricio, with fir and fine trees mirrored in the clear blue water and snow-capped peaks in the background. One really does not have to journey to Switzerland with scenery like San Mauricio. Swimming is not permitted in the lake, although the beautiful water makes it tempting to bend the law.

In this Catalonian region of the Pyrenees, we discovered its delicious homemade paté. Once back in Madrid, the boys rebelled on going back to the canned variety. Those patés de foie gras are a must for travelers in that region.


*Torla in 1987, close to the time Ms Conchita Burman wrote “Travel: See the Mountains for a Change”






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


Featured image (Torla)/Armando Gonzalez Alameda, CC BY-SA4.0
Loarre Castle rotated to the right/Josue Mendivil, CC BY2.0
Pineta Valley/Daniel Ortega Molina, CC BY-SA3.0
Vielha, Val d’Aran/Thomas Julin,  CC BY3.0
Torla 1987/Gordito 1869, CC BY3.0