Fodor's Spain (2015)

The Pyrenees

Main Table of Contents

Welcome to The Pyrenees

Eastern Catalan Pyrenees

La Cerdanya

Western Catalan Pyrenees

Aragón and Central Pyrenees

The Navarran and Basque Pyrenees

Welcome to The Pyrenees

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Top Reasons to Go | Getting Oriented | What’s Where | Planning | Exploring the Pyrenees | Eating and Drinking Well in the Pyrenees

Updated by Elizabeth Prosser

Separating the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of the European continent, the snowcapped Pyrenees have always been a special realm, a source of legend and superstition. To explore the Pyrenees fully—the flora and fauna, the local cuisine, the remote glacial lakes and streams, the Romanesque art in a thousand hermitages—could take a lifetime.

Each Pyrenean mountain system is drained by one or more rivers, forming some three dozen valleys between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic; these valleys were all but completely isolated until around the 10th century. Local languages still abound, with Castilian Spanish and Euskera (Basque) in upper Navarra; Grausín, Belsetán, Chistavino, Ansotano, Cheso, and Patués (Benasqués) in Aragón; Aranés, a dialect of Gascon French, in the Vall d’Aran; and Catalan at the eastern end of the chain from Ribagorça to the Mediterranean.

Throughout history, the Pyrenees were a strategic barrier and stronghold to be reckoned with. The Romans never completely subdued Los Vascones (as Greek historian Strabo [63–21 BC] called the Basques) in the western Pyrenean highlands. Charlemagne lost Roland and his rear guard at Roncesvalles in 778, and his Frankish heirs lost all of Catalonia in 988. Napoléon Bonaparte never completed his conquest of the peninsula, largely because of communications and supply problems posed by the Pyrenees, and Adolf Hitler, whether for geographical or political reasons, decided not to use post–Civil War Spain to launch his African campaign in 1941. A D-Day option to make a landing on the beaches of northern Spain was scrapped because the Pyrenees looked too easily defendable (you can still see the south-facing German bunkers on the southern flanks of the western Pyrenean foothills). Meanwhile, the mountainous barrier provided a path to freedom for downed pilots, Jewish refugees, and POWs fleeing the Nazis, just as it later meant freedom for political refugees running north from the Franco regime.

TOP REASONS TO GO

Appreciate the Romanesque: Stop at Taüll and see the exquisite Romanesque churches and mural paintings of the Noguera de Tor Valley.

Explore Spain’s Grand Canyon: The Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido has stunning scenery, along with marmots and mountain goats.

Hike the highlands: Explore the verdant Basque highlands of the Baztán Valley and follow the Bidasoa River down to colorful Hondarribia and the Bay of Biscay.

Venture off the highway: Discover the enchanting medieval town of Alquézar, where the impressive citadel, dating back to the 9th century, keeps watch over the Sierra y Cañones de Guara Natural Park and its prehistoric cave paintings.

Ride the cogwheel train at Ribes de Freser, near Ripoll: Ascend the gorge to the sanctuary and ski station at Vall de Núria, then hike to the remote highland valley and refuge of Coma de Vaca.

GETTING ORIENTED

The Pyrenean valleys, isolated from each other and the world below for many centuries, retain a rugged mountain character, mixing distinct traditions with a common highland spirit of magic and mystery. Here, at Spain’s natural border with France, medieval people took refuge and exchanged culture and learning. A haven from the 8th-century Moorish invasion, the Pyrenees became an unlikely repository of Romanesque art and architecture as well as a natural preserve of wildlife and terrain.

WHAT’S WHERE

The Eastern Catalan Pyrenees. Start from Cap de Creus in the Empordà to get the full experience of the Pyrenean cordillera’s rise from the sea; then move west through Camprodón, Setcases, the Ter Valley, and Ripoll.

La Cerdanya. The widest and sunniest valley in the Pyrenees, La Cerdanya is an east–west expanse that straddles the French border between two forks of the Pyrenean cordillera. The Segre River flows down the center of the valley, while snowcapped peaks rise to the north and south.

Western Catalan Pyrenees. West of La Seu d’Urgell, the western Catalan Pyrenees include the Vall d’Aran, the Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici, and the Noguera de Tor Valley with its Romanesque treasures.

Aragón and the Central Pyrenees. Benasque is the jumping-off point for Aneto, the highest peak in the Pyrenees. Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido is an unforgettable daylong or two-day trek. Jaca, and the Hecho and Ansó valleys, are Upper Aragón at its purest, while Huesca and Zaragoza are good lowland alternatives in case bad weather blows you out of the mountains.

The Navarran and Basque Pyrenees. Beginning in the Roncal Valley, the language you hear may be Euskera, the pre-Indo-European tongue of the Basques. The highlands of Navarra, from Roncesvalles and Burguete down through the Baztán Valley to Hondarribia, are a magical realm of rolling hillsides and emerald pastures.

PLANNING

WHEN TO GO

If you’re a hiker, stick to the summer (June to September, especially July), when the weather is better and there’s less chance of a serious snowfall—not to mention blizzards or lightning storms at high altitudes.

October, with comfortable daytime temperatures and chillier evenings, is ideal for enjoying the still-green Pyrenean meadows and valleys and hillside hunts for wild mushrooms. November brings colorful leaves, the last mushrooms, and the first frosts.

For skiing, come between December and April. The green springtime thaw, from mid-March to mid-April, is spectacular for skiing on the snowcaps and trout fishing or golfing on the verdant valley floors.

August is the only crowded month, when all of Europe is on summer vacation and the cooler highland air is at its best.

PLANNING YOUR TIME

You could walk all the way from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean in 43 days, but not many have that kind of vacation time. With 10 to 14 days you can drive from sea to sea: from a wade in the Mediterranean at Cap de Creus to Hondarribia and the Cabo Higuer lighthouse on the Bay of Biscay. A week is ideal for a single area—La Cerdanya and the Eastern Catalan Pyrenees, best accessed from Barcelona; the Western Catalan Pyrenees and Vall d’Aran; Jaca and the central Pyrenees, north of Zaragoza; or the Basque Pyrenees north of Pamplona.

A day’s drive up through Figueres (in Catalonia) and Olot will bring you to Camprodón. Beget, Sant Joan de les Abadesses, and Ripoll are important stops, especially for the famous Sant Maria de Ripoll portal. La Cerdanya’s Puigcerdà, Llívia, and Bellver de Cerdanya are must-visits, too.

To the west is La Seu d’Urgell, on the way to Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici, the Vall d’Aran, and the winter-sports center Baqueira-Beret. Stop at Taüll and the Noguera de Tor Valley’s Romanesque churches. Farther west, Benasque is the jumping-off point for Aneto, the highest peak in the Pyrenees.

Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido is Spain’s most majestic canyon—reminiscent of North America’s Grand Canyon. Alquézar and Ainsa are upper Aragon’s best-preserved medieval towns, while Jaca is the central Pyrenees’ most important city.

GETTING HERE AND AROUND

Air Travel

Barcelona’s international airport, El Prat de Llobregat, is the largest gateway to the Catalan Pyrenees. Farther west, the Pyrenees can be reached by international flights going through Madrid Barajas airport, or Toulouse Blagnac and Biarritz Airport in France. Smaller airports at Zaragoza, Pamplona, and San Sebastian’s Hondarribia (Fuenterrabía) are useful for domestic flights.

Bus Travel

Bus travel in the Pyrenees is the only way to cross from east to west (or vice versa), other than hiking or driving, but requires some zigzagging up and down. In most cases, four buses daily connect the main pre-Pyrenean cities (Barcelona, Zaragoza, Huesca, and Pamplona) and the main highland distributors (Puigcerdà, La Seu d’Urgell, Vielha, Benasque, and Jaca). The time lost waiting for buses makes this option a last resort.

Bus Lines
Alosa. | Estación Central de Delicias, Avda. Navarra, | Zaragoza | 902/490690 | alosa.avanzabus.com
ALSA. | Estación de Autobuses, Carrer Saracibar 2, | Lleida | 902/422242 | www.alsa.es | Estación de Autobuses, Barcelona Nord, Carrer d’Alí Bei 80, | Barcelona | 902/422242 | www.alsa.es
Conda. | Estación de Autobuses, Carrer Yanguas y Miranda s/n, | Pamplona | 902/422242 | www.conda.es.

Car Travel

The easiest way (and in many cases, the only way) to tour the Pyrenees is by car—and it comes with the best scenery. The Eje Pirenaico (Pyrenean Axis), or N260, is a carefully engineered, safe, cross-Pyrenean route that connects Cap de Creus, the Iberian Peninsula’s easternmost point on the Mediterranean Costa Brava (east of Girona and Cadaqués), with Cabo de Higuer, the lighthouse west of Hondarribia at the edge of the Atlantic Bay of Biscay.

The Collada de Toses (Tosses Pass) to Puigcerdà is the most difficult route into the Cerdanya Valley, but it’s toll-free, has spectacular scenery, and you get to include Camprodón, Olot, and Ripoll in your itinerary. Safer and faster but more expensive (tolls total more than €22 from Barcelona to Bellver de Cerdanya) is the E9 through the Tuñel del Cadí. Once you’re there, most of the Cerdanya Valley’s two-lane roads are wide and well paved. As you go west, roads can be more difficult to navigate, winding dramatically through mountain passes.

Train Travel

There are three small train stations deep in the Pyrenees: Ribes de Freser in the eastern Catalan Pyrenees, Puigcerdà, in the Cerdanya Valley; and La Pobla de Segur, in the Noguera Pallaresa Valley. The larger gateways are Zaragoza, Huesca, and Lleida. From Madrid, connect through Barcelona for the eastern Pyrenees, Zaragoza and Huesca for the central Pyrenees, and Pamplona or San Sebastián for the Navarran and Basque Pyrenees. For information on timetables and routes, consult www.renfe.com.

HIKING THE PYRENEES

There are many reasons to visit the Pyrenees—skiing, food, art, and architecture—but hiking is one of the best ways to drink in the stunning landscape. No matter how spectacular the mountains seem from paved roads, they are exponentially more dazzling from upper hiking trails that are accessible only on foot. Day hikes or overnight two-day treks to mountain huts (refugios, or refugis in Catalan) in the Ordesa or Aigüestortes national parks, in the Alberes range, or on the hike from Col de Núria to Ulldeter reveal the full natural splendor of the Pyrenees.

Local tourist offices can provide maps and recommend day hikes, while specialized bookshops such as Barcelona’s Libreria Quera (Carrer Petritxol 2) have complete Pyrenean maps as well as books with detailed hiking instructions for the entire mountain range from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne by Georges Véron (the 2007 edition is coauthored by Jérôme Bonneaux) is the classic guide across the Pyrenean crest. Other books to look for include The Pyrenees by Kev Reynolds (Cicerone Press), with practical information, maps, and photos by one of the United Kingdom’s most widely used publishers of guidebooks for the outdoors, and Trekking in the Pyrenees (Trailblazer Publications). Also check out www.rural-pyrenees-guide.com for trails and information about the areas.

Hiking in the Pyrenees should always be undertaken carefully: proper footwear, headwear, water supply, and weather-forecast awareness are essential. Even in the middle of summer, a sudden snowstorm can turn a day hike to tragedy.

RESTAURANTS

In the Alta Pyrenees, the cozy stone-wall inns, with their hearty cuisine and comfortable interiors, are a welcome sight after a day’s hiking or sightseeing. Often family run and relaxed, they rarely have any kind of dress code and, often, a nourishing meal is brought to a close with a complimentary local chupito (shot) of liqueur, finishing the night off with a satisfying thump. Back down in the main cities, restaurants take inspiration from these traditional methods, but offer a more contemporary style and setting. Restaurant prices are the average cost of a main course or equivalent combination of smaller dishes at dinner.

HOTELS

Most hotels in the Pyrenees are informal and outdoorsy, with a large fireplace in one of the public rooms. They are usually built of wood, glass, and stone, with steep slate roofs that blend in with the surrounding mountains. Most hotel establishments are family operations passed down from generation to generation. Hotel prices are the lowest cost of a standard double room in high season.

TOURS

Trekking, horseback riding, adventure sports such as canyoning and ballooning, and more contemplative outings like bird-watching and botanical tours are just a few of the specialties available in any of the main Pyrenean resorts.

Well populated with trout, the Pyrenees’ cold streams provide excellent angling from mid-March to the end of August. Notable places to cast a line are the Segre, Aragón, Gállego, Noguera Pallaresa, Arga, Esera, and Esca rivers. Pyrenean ponds and lakes also tend to be rich in trout.

Tour Information
Danica. Chema Ramón and his company, which is located just south of Benasque, can take you fly-fishing anywhere in the world by horse or helicopter, but the Pyrenees is their home turf. You’ll be whisked to high Pyrenean lakes and ponds, streams and rivers, armed with equipment and expertise. Danica also offers wild-mushroom and botanical tours. | 974/553493 | www.danicaguias.com | From €120–€200 a day (depending on equipment)
Pyrenean Experience. The British expat Georgina Howard, with her established company Pyrenean Experiences, specializes in showcasing Basque-Navarran culture, walking, and gastronomy. | 01217/113428 in the U.K., 650/713759 | www.pyreneanexperience.com | From £725 for a one-week walking tour, lodging included.

SKIING

Skiing is the main winter sport in the Pyrenees, and Baqueira-Beret, in the Vall d’Aran, is the leading resort. Thanks to artificial-snow machines, there is usually fine skiing from December through March at more than 20 resorts, including Vallter 2000 at Setcases in the Camprodón Valley, La Molina in La Cerdanya, or west to Isaba and Burguete in Navarra. Although weekend skiing can be crowded in the eastern valleys, Catalonia’s western Pyrenees tend to have more breathing room. Cerler-Benasque, Panticosa, Formigal, Astún, and Candanchú are the major ski areas in Huesca. Numerous resorts offer helicopter skiing and Nordic skiing. Leading Nordic areas include Lles, in the Cerdanya; Salardú and Beret, in the Vall d’Aran; and Panticosa, Benasque, and Candanchú, in Aragón. Jaca, Puigcerdà, and Vielha have public skating sessions, figure-skating classes, and ice-hockey programs.

Spain’s daily newspaper, El País, has complete ski information in season (December to mid-April). For general information, contact the local tourist offices.

EXPLORING THE PYRENEES

As the crow flies, the Pyrenees stretch 435 km (270 miles) along Spain’s border with France, though the sinuous borderline exceeds 600 km (370 miles). A drive across the N260 trans-Pyrenean axis connecting the destinations in this region would exceed 800 km (495 miles). The three groupings across the cordillera are the Catalan Pyrenees, from the Mediterranean to the Noguera Ribagorçana River south of Vielha; the central Pyrenees of Aragón, extending west to the Roncal Valley; and the Basque Pyrenees, falling gradually westward through the Basque Country to the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean. The highest peaks are in Aragón–Aneto, in the Maladeta massif; Posets; and Monte Perdido, all of which are about 11,000 feet above sea level. Pica d’Estats (10,372 feet) is Catalonia’s highest peak, and Pic d’Orhi (6,656 feet) is the highest in the Basque Pyrenees.

EATING AND DRINKING WELL IN THE PYRENEES

Pyrenean cuisine is hearty mountain fare characterized by thick soups, stews, roasts, and local game. Ingredients are prepared with slightly different techniques and recipes in each valley, village, and kitchen.

The three main culinary schools across the Pyrenees match the three main cultural identities of the area—from east to west, they are Catalan, Aragonese, and Basque. Within these three principal groups there are further subdivisions corresponding to the valleys or regions of La Garrotxa, La Cerdanya, Ribagorça, Vall d’Aran, Benasque, Alto Aragón, Roncal, and Baztán. Game is common throughout. Trout, mountain goat, deer, boar, partridge, rabbit, duck, and quail are roasted over coals or cooked in aromatic stews called civets in Catalonia and estofadas in Aragón and the Basque Pyrenees. Fish and meat are often seared on slabs of slate (a la llosa in Catalan, a la piedra in Castilian Spanish). Sheep, goat, and cow cheeses vary from valley to valley, along with types of sausages and charcuterie.

Wild Mushrooms

Valued for their aromatic contribution to the taste process, wild mushrooms come into season in the autumn. They go well with meat or egg dishes. Favorites are rovellons (Lactarius deliciosus or saffron milk cap) sautéed with parsley, olive oil, and garlic, or camagrocs (Cantharellus lutescens, a type of chanterelle) scrambled with eggs.

Highland Soups

As with all mountain soups, sopa pirenaica combines restorative animal protein with vegetables and the high-altitude need for liquids. The Spanish version of the French garbure, the classic mountain soup from the north side of the Pyrenees, mixes legumes, vegetables, potatoes, pork, chicken, and sometimes lamb or wild boar into a tasty and energizing meal that will help hikers recover energy and be ready to go again the next morning. Olha aranesa (Aranese soup) is another Pyrenean power soup, with vegetables, legumes, pork, chicken, and beef in a long-cooked and slowly simmered unctuous stew. Similar to the ubiquitous Catalan escudella, another Pyrenean favorite, the olha aranesa combines chickpeas and pasta with a variety of meats and vegetables and is served, like the cocido madrileño, in various stages: soup, legumes, vegetables, and meats.

Pyrenean Stews

Wild boar stew is known by different names in the various languages of the Pyrenees—civet de porc senglar in Catalan, estofado de jabalí in Spanish. A dark and gamy treat in cold weather, wild boar is prepared in many ways between Catalonia, Aragón, and the Basque Country, but most recipes include onions, carrots, mushrooms, laurel, oranges, leeks, peppers, dry sherry, brown sugar, and sweet paprika. Civet d’isard (mountain goat stew), known as estofado de ixarso in the Pyrenees of Aragón, is another favorite, prepared in much the same way but with a more delicate taste.

Trinxat

The Catalan verb trinxar means to chop or shred, and trinchat is winter cabbage, previously softened by frost, chopped fine, and mixed with mashed potato and fatback or bacon. A quintessential high-altitude comfort food, trinxat plays the acidity of the cabbage against the saltiness of the pork, with the potato as the unifying element.

Duck with Turnips

The traditional dish, tiró amb naps, goes back, as do nearly all European recipes that make use of turnips, to pre-Columbian times, before the potato’s arrival from the New World. The frequent use of duck (pato in Spanish, anec in Catalan, tiró in La Cerdanya) in the half-France, half-Spain, all-Catalan Cerdanya Valley two hours north of Barcelona is a taste acquired from French Catalunya, just over the Pyrenees.

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Eastern Catalan Pyrenees

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Camprodón | Beget | Setcases | Sant Joan de les Abadesses | Ripoll | Queralbs

Catalonia’s easternmost Pyrenean valley, the Vall de Camprodón, is still hard enough to reach that, despite pockets of Barcelona summer colonies, it has retained much of its farm culture and mountain wildness. It has several exquisite towns and churches and, above all, mountains, such as the Sierra de Catllar. Vallter 2000, La Molina, and Núria are ski resorts at either end of the Pyrenean heights on the north side of the valley, but the lowlands in the middle and main body of the valley have remained pasture for sheep, cattle, and horses.

Getting Here and Around

To reach the Vall de Camprodón from Barcelona, you can take the N152 through Vic and Ripoll. From Barcelona or the Costa Brava you can also go by way of either Figueres or Girona, through Besalú and Olot on route N260, and then through the C26 Capsacosta tunnel to Camprodón. From France, drive southwest from Céret on the D115 through the Col (Pass) d’Ares, which becomes C38 as it enters the Camprodón Valley after passing through Prats-de-Molló-La Preste.

Eastern Catalan Pyrenees and La Cerdanya

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CAMPRODÓN

127 km (80 miles) northwest of Barcelona, 80 km (48 miles) west of Girona.

Camprodón, the capital of its comarca (county), lies at the junction of the Ter and Ritort rivers—both excellent trout streams. The rivers flow by, through, and under much of the town, giving it a highland waterfront character (as well as a long history of flooding). Its best-known symbol is the elegant 12th-century stone bridge that broadly spans the Ter River in the center of town. The town owes much of its opulence to the summer residents from Barcelona who built mansions along Passeig Maristany, the leafy promenade at its northern edge.

Getting Here and Around

The C38 runs into the center of town from both north (France) and south (Barcelona, Vic, or Ripoll) directions. If coming from France, the southbound D115 changes into the C38 once over the Spanish border. From either direction, the C38 heads straight toward the center of town. The best way to explore is on foot as the streets are narrow and can be complicated to navigate by car.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Camprodón. | Pl. Espanya 1 | 972/740010.

WHERE TO STAY

FAMILY | Fonda Rigà.
B&B/INN | A highland inn with comfortable modern rooms and spectacular views that reach the sea, this mountain perch is an excellent base for hiking, horseback riding, and viewing Pyrenean flora and fauna. The rooms and their bathrooms are stylish and have flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi. The restaurant, popular in its own right, has panoramic views over the valley and specializes in meat cooked over coals. Other amenities include foosball and pool tables. Pros: the views and the peace and quiet; well-maintained rooms and facilities. Cons: a serious 5 km (3 mile) drive above the valley floor; remote from Camprodón. | Rooms from: €122 | Final de la ctra. de Tregurà, Ctra. de Tregurà de Dalt, Km 4.8, 10 km (6 miles) up the Ter Valley from Camprodón | 972/136000 | www.fondariga.com | 16 rooms | Closed 2 wks in June | Some meals.

Hotel Maristany.
B&B/INN | An elegant chalet on Camprodon’s grandest promenade, this small but well-appointed hotel offers a chance to live like the 19th- and 20th-century Barcelona aristocracy that spent summers in this mountain retreat. All rooms are nicely decorated, and those on the top floor have vaulted wood ceilings. The restaurant occupies the beautifully converted former coach house. Pros: outside of town center and quiet at night; excellent restaurant. Cons: rooms and baths are somewhat cramped; no children under 10 years allowed. | Rooms from: €132 | Av. Maristany 20 | 972/130078 | www.hotelmaristany.com | 10 rooms | Closed Dec. 10–Mar. 1 | Breakfast.

L’Hotel de Camprodón.
HOTEL | A perfect base for getting a sense of this stylish little mountain hub, this elegant Moderniste building has rooms over the bustling Plaça Dr. Robert on one side and over the river on the other. Some rooms have terraces looking down at the graceful span of Camprodón’s emblematic Pont Nou, with mallards splashing alongside brightly speckled (and legally protected) native Pyrenean trout. All rooms are furnished with tasteful simplicity. Pros: central location; charming Art Nouveau style and preserved features throughout; wonderful views over the river. Cons: no parking; rooms on the square can be noisy in summer; no Wi-Fi in rooms. | Rooms from: €85 | Pl. del Dr. Robert 3 | 972/740013 | www.hotelcamprodon.com | 50 rooms | No meals.

SHOPPING

Cal Xec.
This legendary sausage and cheese store also sells the much-prized, vanilla-flavored Birbas cookies. It’s at the end of the Camprodón Bridge. | C. Isaac Albéniz 1 | 972/740084.

Mercat Setmanal.
Held every Sunday from 9 am to 2 pm, this market sells all manner of artisanal food products, crafts, clothing, antiques, and bric-a-brac. | Pl. del Dr. Robert.

EN ROUTE: Rocabruna.
From Camprodón, take C38 north toward Molló and the French border. After 3 km (2 miles) turn east toward Rocabruna, a village of crisp, clean, Pyrenean stone houses at the source of the clear Beget River. The village is famous for the excellent Can Po restaurant, which makes a good stop for those on the way to Beget.

BEGET

17 km (10 miles) east of Camprodón.

The village of Beget, considered Catalonia’s més bufó (cutest), was completely cut off from motorized vehicles until the mid-1960s, when a pista forestal (Jeep track) was laid down; in 1980 Beget was finally fully connected to the rest of the world by an asphalt roadway, which can be hazardous when mist descends, as it often does. The GIV5223 road to Castellfollit de la Roca, 12 km (7 miles) away, is a spectacular drive through former volcanic peaks of the Alta Garrotxa. Beget’s 30 houses are eccentric stone structures with heavy wooden doors and a golden color peculiar to the Vall de Camprodón. Archaic stone bridges span the stream where protected trout swim in clear mountain water.

Getting Here and Around

Drive northeast out of Camprodón on Carrer Molló (C38) for 2 km (1 mile) before turning right onto the Carretera de Camprodón a Beget (GIV5223) for 14 km (9 miles) to Beget. Cars are not allowed to enter the village but there is parking just outside. When leaving, take the direction towards Oix, which leads to Castellfollit de la Roca and the N260, to avoid having to retrace your steps back up the mountain.

EXPLORING

Sant Cristòfol.
The 12th-century Romanesque church of Sant Cristòfol (St. Christopher) has a diminutive bell tower and a rare 6-foot Majestat—a polychrome wood carving of the risen and reigning Christ in head-to-foot robes, dating from the 12th century. The church is usually closed, but ask in the bar-restaurant behind the church, or in El Forn de Beget and they will direct you to the keeper of the key. A €1 charge is used for church upkeep. | Pl. Major s/n.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

Can Po.
CATALAN | This ancient, ivy-covered, Pyrenean stone–and–mortar farmhouse perched over a deep gully in nearby Rocabruna is famed for carefully prepared local dishes like vedella amb crema de ceps (veal in wild mushroom sauce) and the Catalan classic oca amb peres (goose stewed with pears). Try the civet de porc senglar (stewed wild boar) in season (winter) or any of the many varieties of wild mushrooms that find their way into the kitchen at this rustic mountain retreat. | Average main: €11 | Ctra. de Beget s/n Rocabruna | 972/741045 | Closed mid-Feb.–Mar. 1, and Mon.–Thurs. Oct.–Jul. (except public holidays); call ahead to check in low season.

El Forn de Beget.
B&B/INN | Tucked above the Trull River in the upper part of the village, this little stone restaurant and hotel has panoramic views over Alta Garrotxa. The restaurant serves refined local cooking—early spring dining in the sun perched on the protected terrace is a wonderful experience. Pros: a true hideaway lost in the Pyrenees. Cons: rooms are small and close together. | Rooms from: €119 | Carrer Josep Duñach “En Feliça” 9 | 972/741230 | www.elforndebeget.com | 4 rooms | Some meals.

SETCASES

11 km (7 miles) northwest of Camprodón.

Although Setcases (“seven houses”) is somewhat larger than its name would imply, this tiny village nestled at the head of the valley has a distinct mountain spirit.

Getting Here and Around

From Camprodón, take the road 2 km (1 mile) northwest to Llanars. From Llanars, follow the Carretera Setcases for 9 km (6 miles). The town is small and easily explored on foot unless you are travelling on to the ski resort Vallter 2000.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Setcases. | Pl. Major 1 | 972/136089.

EXPLORING

Llanars.
On the road back down the valley from Setcases, Llanars, just short of Camprodón, has a 12th-century Romanesque church, Sant Esteve de Llanars, which has weathered to a rich shade of ocher. The wood-and-iron portal depicts the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

WHERE TO EAT

Can Tomàs.
CATALAN | On the immediate left when you enter town, this unusual place is covered with lovingly rendered portraits of wild mushrooms; it specializes in aromatic upland fungi used in original ways. The house favorites are arròs de bolets (a paella with wild mushrooms) and the patatas Can Tomàs (fried potatoes with mushrooms and egg), but the encenalls de foie i tòfona (shavings of duck liver with black truffles) and the cuttlefish with meatballs and rossinyols (chanterelles) are representative of the creativity and sophistication of this little gem. | Average main: €20 | Carrer de Jesús 10 | 972/136004 | www.cantomas.com | Closed Wed. No dinner Tues.

SPORTS AND THE OUTDOORS

Vallter 2000 ski area.
Built into a glacial cirque (mountain basin) reaching a height of 8,216 feet, this ski area above Setcases has a dozen lifts and, on very clear days at the top, views east all the way to the Bay of Roses on the Costa Brava. | 972/136057 | www.vallter2000.com.

SANT JOAN DE LES ABADESSES

21 km (13 miles) southeast of Setcases, 14 km (9 miles) south of Camprodón.

The site of an important church, Sant Joan de les Abadesses is named for the 9th-century abbess Emma and her successors. Emma was the daughter of Guifré el Pilós (Wilfred the Hairy), the hero of the Christian Reconquest of Ripoll and the founder of Catalonia. The town’s arcaded Plaça Major offers a glimpse of the town’s medieval past, as does the broad, elegant, 12th-century bridge over the Ter.

Getting Here and Around

Exit southwest of Camprodón, on the Carrer Molló (C38) for 9 km (6 miles), passing through Sant Pau de Segúries. At the traffic circle, take the first exit onto the N260 for 4 km (2½ miles) to Sant Joan de les Abadesses. If you’re coming from Ripoll, take the northbound N260 for 10 km (6 miles). Once here, it’s an easy stroll.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Sant Joan de les Abadesses. | Pl. de la Abadía 9 | 972/720599.

EXPLORING

Sant Joan.
In the 12th-century Romanesque church of Sant Joan, the altarpiece—a 13th-century polychrome wood sculpture of the Descent from the Cross—is one of the most expressive and human of that epoch. | Pl. de la Abadía s/n | 972/722353 | €3 | July and Aug., daily 10–7; Sept.–June, daily 10–2 and 4–6.

RIPOLL

10 km (6 miles) southwest of Sant Joan de les Abadesses, 105 km (65 miles) north of Barcelona.

One of Catalonia’s first Christian strongholds of the Reconquest and a center of religious erudition during the Middle Ages, Ripoll is known as the bressol (cradle) of Catalonia’s liberation from Moorish domination and the spiritual home of Guifré el Pilós (Wilfred the Hairy), the Count of Barcelona, who is widely considered founder of the nation in the late 9th century. A dark, mysterious country town built around a 9th-century Benedictine monastery, Ripoll was a focal point of culture throughout French Catalonia and the Pyrenees, from the monastery’s 879 founding until the mid-1800s, when Barcelona began to eclipse it.

Getting Here and Around

The C17 northbound from Vic heads into Ripoll for the center. From Camprodón and Sant Joan de les Abadesses, head southwest on the C38, which turns into the N260 for the center of Ripoll. There are direct trains from Barcelona (www.renfe.com), but buses connections must be made through Girona. It’s a 10-minute walk from the station to the center, and the small town is easy to explore on foot.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Ripoll. | Pl. de l’Abat Oliva s/n | 972/702351.

EXPLORING

Camino dels Enginyers.
From the ski area of Núria, at an altitude of 6,562 feet, the dramatic, occasionally heart-stopping “engineers’ path” is best done in the summer months. The three-hour trek, aided at one point by a cable handrail, leads to the remote highland valley of Coma de Vaca, where a cozy refuge and hearty replenishment await. Phone ahead to make sure there’s space. In the morning you can descend along the riverside Gorges de Freser trail, another three-hour walk, to Queralbs, where there are connecting trains to Ribes de Freser. | Refugi de Coma de Vaca, Termino Municipal de Queralbs dentro del Espacio protegido Ter Freser Queralbs | 649/229012 | www.comadevaca.com | Refuge closed Nov.–Apr. and weekdays Oct. and May (but open for groups by reservation).

FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Cogwheel train.
The train ride from the town of Ribes de Freser up to Núria provides one of Catalonia’s most unusual excursions—in few other places in Spain does a train make such a precipitous ascent. Known as the cremallera (zipper), the line was completed in 1931 to connect Ribes with the Santuari de la Mare de Déu de Núria (Mother of God of Núria) and with mountain hiking and skiing. The ride takes 45 minutes and costs €22.30 round-trip. | 14 km (9 miles) north of Ripoll Ribes de Freser | 972/732020 | www.valldenuria.cat | Closed Nov. Subject to change—check website.

Santa Maria.
Decorated with a pageant of biblical figures, the 12th-century doorway to the church is one of Catalonia’s great works of Romanesque art, crafted as a triumphal arch by stone masons and sculptors of the Roussillon school, which was centered around French Catalonia and the Pyrenees. You can pick up a guide to the figures surrounding the portal in the nearby Centro de Interpretación del Monasterio, in Placa de l’Abat. The center has an interactive exhibition that explains the historical, cultural, and religious relevence of this cradle of Catalonia. It also provides information about guided tours. | Pl. Monasterio s/n | 972/704203 | Cloister and door €3, museum €4, Centro de Interpretación del Monasterio (exhibition) €2 | Cloister daily 10–1 and 3–6 (until 7 Mar.–Sept.); museum Tues.–Sat. 10–1:30 and 4–6, Sun. 10–2; Centro de Interpretación del Monasterio Tues.–Sun. 9:30–1:30 and 4–6 (until 7 Mar.–Sept).

Santuari de la Mare de Déu de Núria.
The legend of the Santuari de la Mare de Déu de Núria, a Marian religious retreat, is based on the story of Sant Gil of Nîmes, who did penance in the Núria Valley during the 7th century. The saint left behind a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary, a bell he used to summon shepherds to prayer, and a cooking pot; 300 years later, a pilgrim found these treasures in this sanctuary. The bell and the pot came to have special importance to barren women, who, according to local beliefs, were blessed with as many children as they wished after placing their heads in the pot and ringing the bell. | 26 km (16 miles) north of Ripoll Núria | Free | Daily, except during Mass. Closed Nov.

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Vall de Núria.
HOTEL | A mountain refuge and hotel run by the government of Catalonia, this family-oriented base camp with double, triple, and quadruple rooms offers comfortable lodging and dining at 6,500 feet above sea level. For a day’s outing or as a starting point for a major hike (12 hours) to Ulldeter, above Setcases, or even a weeklong walk to the Mediterranean, this is a handy spot, although it is accessible only by the cogwheel train (FSee Exploring) from Ribes de Freser (train tickets are included in room price). Camping is also available on the hotel’s grounds, and a youth hostel (wwww.xanascat.cat) is nearby. Pros: perfect location in the heart of the Pyrenees; pristine mountain air; simplicity. Cons: hotel feels slightly institutional, with quasi-monastic austerity; minimum 2-night stay in high season; high rates. | Rooms from: €181 | Estación de Montaña Vall de Núria Queralbs | 972/732020 | www.valldenuria.com | 65 rooms, 12 apartments | Closed Nov. | Some meals.

QUERALBS

21 km (13 miles) north of Ripoll.

The three-hour walk down the mountain from Vall de Núria to the sleepy village of Queralbs follows the course of the cogwheel train on a rather precipitous but fairly easy route, as long as it’s not done during the snow season. The path overlooks gorges and waterfalls, overshadowed by sheer peaks, before exiting into the surprisingly charming and tiny village of Queralbs, where houses made of stone and wood cling to the side of the mountain. There is a well-preserved Romanesque church, notable for its six-arch portico, marble columns, single nave, and pointed vault.

Queralbs is a picturesque and relaxed alternative to staying up in the more functional and busier Vall de Núria hotel. However, note that outside of weekends and vacation periods, the village restaurant and bars have limited service and the Hostal Les Roquetes does not serve dinner. The town of Ribes de Freser, a few minutes farther down the mountain either by car or on the cogwheel train, has more restaurants and hotels.

WHERE TO STAY

Hostal Les Roquetes.
B&B/INN | A short walk from the cogwheel train station and the center of the village, this hostal has cheerful rooms and some spectacular views. Each of the simple yet adequate bedrooms has tiled floors and up-to-date fixtures and fittings, and the rooms with small terraces command views of the surrounding valley. The restaurant serves breakfast and a lunch, with a menu of traditional Catalan food. Pros: fantastic setting and views; friendly service; good base for walks in the area. Cons: limited food options outside of weekends; only accessible by local road or cogwheel train, and those times are limited. | Rooms from: €66 | Crta. de Ribes 5 | 972/727369 | 8 rooms | Closed Nov. | No meals.

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La Cerdanya

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Puigcerdà | Llívia | Bellver de Cerdanya | La Seu d’Urgell

The widest, sunniest valley in the Pyrenees is said to be in the shape of the handprint of God. High pastureland bordered north and south by snow-covered peaks, La Cerdanya starts in France, at Col de la Perche (near Mont Louis), and ends in the Spanish province of Lleida, at Martinet. Split between two countries and subdivided into two more provinces on each side, the valley has an identity all of its own. Residents on both sides of the border speak Catalan, a Romance language derived from early Provençal French, and regard the valley’s political border with undisguised hilarity. Unlike any other valley in the upper Pyrenees, this one runs east–west and thus has a record annual number of sunlight hours.

PUIGCERDÀ

170 km (105 miles) northwest of Barcelona, 65 km (40 miles) northwest of Ripoll.

Puigcerdà is the largest town in the valley; in Catalan, puig means “hill,” and cerdà derives from “Cerdanya.” From the promontory upon which it stands, the views down across the meadows of the valley floor and up into the craggy peaks of the surrounding Pyrenees are dramatic. The 12th-century Romanesque bell tower—all that remains of the town church of Santa Maria, destroyed in 1936 at the outset of the Spanish Civil War—and the sunny sidewalk cafés facing it are among Puigcerdà’s prettiest spots, as is the Gothic church of Sant Domènec. Serving primarily as a base for skiers and hikers from both sides of the border, Puigcerdà has lively restaurants and a bustling shopping promenade. On Sunday, markets sell clothes, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, and wild mushrooms to shoppers.

Getting Here and Around

From Ripoll take the northwest-bound N260 for 63 km (39 miles) toward Ribes de Freser. Several trains a day (they are less frequent on weekends) run from Barcelona Sants to Puigcerdà (www.renfe.com). Buses go from Barcelona Estación del Nord (www.barcelonanord.com). Once you reach the center, there is ample parking, and the easiest way to get around town is on foot.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Puigcerdà. | Carrer Querol 1 | 972/880542.

EXPLORING

FAMILY | Le petit train jaune.
The “little yellow train” has service from Bourg-Madame and from La Tour de Querol, both easy hikes into France from Puigcerdà. The border at La Tour, a pretty one-hour hike, is marked only by a stone painted with the Spanish and French flags. It can also be picked up in Villefranche. The carrilet (narrow-gauge railway) is the last in the Pyrenees and is used for tours as well as transportation; it winds through the Cerdanya to the walled town of Villefranche de Conflent. The 63-km (39-mile) tour can take most of the day, especially if you stop to browse in Mont Louis or Villefranche. Be aware that in low season the trains are infrequent. Timetables are available at the stations or on the website. | Puigcerdà, France | www.ter-sncf.com.

Plaça Cabrinetty.
Along with its porticoes and covered walks, this square also has a sunny northeastern corner where farmers gather for the Sunday morning market. It’s protected from the wind and ringed by two- and three-story houses of various pastel colors, some with decorative sgraffito designs and all with balconies.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

Tap de Suró.
CATALAN | Named for the classic bottle stopper (tap) made of cork oak bark (suró), this wine store, delicatessen, restaurant, and tapas emporium is tucked into the western edge of the town ramparts; it’s the perfect place for sunsets, with views down the length of the Cerdanya Valley to the walls of the Sierra del Cadí. Cheeses, duck and goose liver, Ibérico hams, and oysters are the kinds of delicacies best represented on the varied menu here, with a frequently changing selection of wines—new and old—from all over Spain and southern France. | Average main: €17 | Carrer Querol 21 | 678/655928 | Closed Mon.

Hotel del Lago.
HOTEL | A comfortable old favorite near Puigcerdà’s emblematic lake, this spa hotel has a graceful series of buildings around a central garden. A two-minute walk from the bell tower or the town market, it feels deceptively bucolic but is actually only a few steps from all the action this bustling little market town can provide. Pros: picturesque and central location on the iconic lake at the edge of town; family treatment and service. Cons: rooms can be hot on summer days. | Rooms from: €135 | Av. Dr. Piguillem 7 | 972/881000 | www.hotellago.com | 24 rooms | No meals.

Fodor’s Choice | La Torre del Remei.
HOTEL | Brilliantly restored by José María and Loles Boix, owners of the legendary Boix restaurant in Martinet, this 1910 Moderniste tower provides luxurious accommodations about 3 km (2 miles) west of Puigcerdà. From the lovely manor house to the tasteful suites and heated bathroom floors, everything here is superb, including the restaurant, which serves international cuisine with an emphasis on local products. Pros: perfect comfort and sublime cuisine; surrounded by a hiking, skiing, and golfing paradise. Cons: the price; the slightly hushed stiffness. | Rooms from: €305 | Camí del Remei 3 Bolvir de Cerdanya | 972/140182 | www.torredelremei.com | 4 rooms, 7 suites | Breakfast.

Villa Paulita.
HOTEL | This stately town-house complex at the edge of Puigcerdà’s famous lake has some of the best rooms and food in the Cerdanya Valley. Along with lots of peace and comfort, the hotel restaurant, L’Estany Senzone, directed by chef José Carlos Gamiz, is one of the top dining establishments in the Pyrenees. Pros: renowned restaurant on site; near the center of the town’s markets, restaurants, and general action but tucked into a quiet and scenic corner. Cons: some of the rooms are cramped and noisy (avoid the ones on the ground floor); small pool. | Rooms from: €180 | Av. Pons i Gasch 15 | 972/884622 | www.hotelvillapaulita.com | 38 rooms | Breakfast.

SHOPPING

Puigcerdà is one big shopping mall—one that’s long been a center for contraband clothes, cigarettes, and other items smuggled across the French border.

Carrer Major.
This is an uninterrupted row of stores selling books, jewelry, fashion, sports equipment, and lots more. Check out Agau Joier, at Ramón Cosp 12, just off the main street, for jewelry designed by Andrés Santana. | Carrer Major.

Pasteleria Cosp.
For the best margaritas in town—no, not those; these are crunchy-edged madeleines made with almonds—head for the oldest commercial establishment in Catalonia, founded in 1806. | Carrer Major 20 | 972/880103.

Sunday market.
On Sunday morning (9–2), head for this weekly market, which, like those in most Cerdanya towns, is a great place to look for local crafts and specialties such as herbs, goat cheese, wild mushrooms, honey, and baskets. | Paseo 10 de Abril.

LLÍVIA

6 km (4 miles) northeast of Puigcerdà.

A Spanish enclave in French territory, Llívia was marooned by the 1659 Peace of the Pyrenees treaty, which ceded 33 villages to France. Incorporated as a vila (town) by royal decree of Carlos V—who spent a night here in 1528 and was impressed by the town’s beauty and hospitality—Llívia managed to remain Spanish.

Getting Here and Around

From Puigcerdà you could walk to Llívia, as it is only 6 km (4 miles) northbound through the border of France, but there is a bus, which departs from Puigcerdà train station. By car, follow the Camí Vell de Llívia onto the N154, which goes directly to Llívia.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Llívia. | Carrer dels Forns 10 | 972/896313.

EXPLORING

Mare de Déu dels Àngels.
At the upper edge of town, this fortified church has wonderful acoustics; check to see if any classical music events are on—especially in August, when it hosts an annual classical music festival. Information about the festival’s concerts is released in June. | Carrer dels Forns 13 | 972/896301.

Mosaic.
In the middle of town, look for the mosaic commemorating Lampègia, princesa de la pau i de l’amor (princess of peace and of love), erected in memory of the red-haired daughter of the Duke of Aquitania and lover of Munuza, a Moorish warlord who governed the Cerdanya in the 8th century during the Arab domination.

Museu de la Farmacia.
Across from the Mare de Déu dels Àngels church, this ancient pharmacy was founded in 1415 and has been certified as the oldest in Europe. | Carrer dels Forns 10 | 972/896011 | €3 | Mid-June–mid-Sept., Tues.–Sat. 10–8, Sun. 10–2; mid-Sept.–mid-June, Tues.–Fri. 10–6, Sat. 10–8, Sun. 10–2.

WHERE TO EAT

Can Ventura.
SPANISH | Inside a flower-festooned 17th-century town house made of ancient stones, this is one of the Cerdanya’s best addresses for both fine cuisine and good value. Beef a la llosa (seared on slabs of slate) and duck with orange and spices are house specialties, and the wide selection of entretenimientos (hors d’oeuvres or tapas) is the perfect way to begin. Ask the owner, Jordi Pous, who’s a food and wine savant, about wine selections, game, and wild mushrooms in season. | Average main: €17 | Pl. Major 1 | 972/896178 | www.canventura.com | Reservations essential | Closed Mon. and Tues.

Fodor’s Choice | La Formatgeria de Llívia.
SPANISH | Set on Llívia’s eastern edge (en route to Saillagousse, France), this restaurant is in a former cheese factory, and the proprietors continue the tradition by producing fresh homemade cheese on the premises while you watch; there are tasting tables in the bar for cheese-sampling sessions. Juanjo Meya and his wife, master chef Marta Pous, have had great success offering fine local cuisine, which comes with panoramic views looking south toward Puigmal and across the valley, and general charm and good cheer. There’s also an innovative tasting menu. | Average main: €20 | Pl. de Ro s/n, Gorguja | 972/146279 | www.laformatgeria.com | Reservations essential | Closed Tues. and Wed., and 1st 2 wks in July.

BELLVER DE CERDANYA

31 km (19 miles) southwest of Llívia, 18 km (11 miles) southwest of Puigcerdà.

Bellver de Cerdanya has preserved its slate-roof-and-fieldstone Pyrenean architecture more successfully than many of the Cerdanya’s larger towns. Perched on a promontory over the Río Segre, which winds around much of the town, Bellver is a mountain version of a fishing village—trout fishing, to be exact. The town’s Gothic church of Sant Jaume and the arcaded Plaça Major, in the upper part of town, are lovely examples of traditional Pyrenean mountain-village design.

Getting Here and Around

Take the southwest-bound N260 from Puigcerdà; once here, it’s easily explored on foot.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Bellver de Cerdanya. | Pl. de Sant Roc 9 | 973/510229.

WHERE TO STAY

Aparthotel Bellver.
B&B/INN | The warmth of the terra-cotta tiles, the great views, and traditional fireplaces in some of the rooms add to the charm of this mountain lodge and apartment block within the winding streets of central Bellver. The bright rooms have wooden beams overhead and comfortable bedding, and the addition of kitchenettes means it can be used as an independent base for exploring the area. Pros: centrally located; open year-round. Cons: two-night minimum stay in July and August. | Rooms from: €110 | Carrer de la Batllia 61–63 | 973/510627 | www.aparthotelbellver.com | 12 rooms | No meals.

LA SEU D’URGELL

20 km (12 miles) south of Andorra la Vella (in Andorra), 45 km (28 miles) west of Puigcerdà, 200 km (120 miles) northwest of Barcelona.

La Seu d’Urgell is an ancient town facing the snowy rock wall of the Sierra del Cadí. As the seat (seu) of the regional archbishopric since the 6th century, it has a rich legacy of art and architecture. The Pyrenean feel of the streets, with their dark balconies and porticoes, overhanging galleries, and colonnaded porches—particularly Carrer dels Canonges—makes Seu mysterious and memorable. Look for the medieval grain measures at the corner of Carrer Major and Carrer Capdevila. The tiny food shops on the arcaded Carrer Major are good places to assemble lunch for a hike.

Getting Here and Around

Take the N260 southwest from Puigcerdà via Bellver de Cerdanya for 45 km (28 miles). From the direction of Lleida, head north on the C13 for 63 km (39 miles), then take the C26 after Balaguer, before joining the C14 for 32 km (20 miles) and then the N260 into the center. There are buses daily from Barcelona. The town is compact and can be explored on foot.

Essentials

Bus Contacts
ALSA. | Estación de Autobuses, Bisbe Benlloch 1 | 902/422242 | www.alsa.es.

Visitor Information
La Seu d’Urgell. | Calle Mayor 8 | 973/351511 | www.turismeseu.com.

EXPLORING

Fodor’s Choice | Catedral de Santa Maria.
This 12th-century cathedral is the finest in the Pyrenees, and the sunlight casting the rich reds and blues of Santa Maria’s southeastern rose window into the deep gloom of the transept is a moving sight. The 13th-century cloister is famous for the individually carved, often whimsical capitals on its 50 columns, crafted by the same Roussillon school of masons who carved the doorway on the church of Santa Maria in Ripoll. Don’t miss the haunting, 11th-century chapel of Sant Miquel or the Diocesan Museum, which has a collection of striking medieval murals from various Pyrenean churches and a colorfully illuminated 10th-century Mozarabic manuscript of the monk Beatus de Liébana’s commentary on the apocalypse. | Pl. dels Oms | 973/353242 | www.museudiocesaurgell.org | Cathedral, cloister, and museum €3 | Nov.–Mar., daily 10–1; Apr.–mid-June and mid-Sept.–Oct., daily 10–1 and 4–6; mid-June–mid-Sept., daily 10–1 and 4–7.

WHERE TO STAY

Fodor’s Choice | Cal Serni.
B&B/INN | Ten minutes north of La Seu d’Urgell in the Pyrenean village of Calbinyà, this enchanting 15th-century farmhouse and inn exudes rustic charm and provides inexpensive meals against a backdrop of panoramic views. The inn’s friendly owners often accompany guests into the woods to help identify mushrooms and berries, and will be only too delighted to show you how to make delicious jams and conserves or how to cure meats during la matança, the midwinter pig-slaughtering event. Pros: mountain authenticity just minutes from La Seu; good value. Cons: small rooms, tight public spaces. | Rooms from: €75 | Ctra. de Calbinyà s/n, Valls de Valira Calbinyà | 973/352809 | www.calserni.com | 6 rooms | Breakfast.

El Castell de Ciutat.
HOTEL | Just outside town, this wood-and-slate structure beneath La Seu’s castle is one of the finest places to stay in the Pyrenees—rooms on the second floor have balconies overlooking the river, those on the third have slanted ceilings and dormer windows, and suites include a salon. The restaurant here, Tapies, specializes in mountain cuisine, particularly Pyrenean bolets (mushrooms) and caza (game) from the Cerdanya Valley. Reserve well in advance during summer or Easter week. Pros: best restaurant for many miles; supremely comfortable rooms. Cons: right next to a busy highway; misses out on the feel of the town. | Rooms from: €225 | Ctra. de Lleida (N260), Km 229 | 973/350000 | www.hotelelcastell.com | 33 rooms, 5 suites | Breakfast.

Parador de la Seu d’Urgell.
HOTEL | These comfortable quarters right in the center of town are built into the 14th-century convent of Sant Domènec. The interior patio—the cloister of the former convent—is a tranquil hideaway, lush with vegetation. Rooms are spare and simple but warm, and some have views of the mountains. Pros: next to the Santa Maria Cathedral; handy for wandering through the town. Cons: some may feel that the minimalist lines and contemporary interior design clash with the medieval feel of the town. | Rooms from: €171 | Calle Sant Domènec 6 | 973/352000 | www.parador.es | 79 rooms | Closed Jan. 6–Feb. 14 | No meals.

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Western Catalan Pyrenees

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Sort | Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici | Taüll | Caldes de Boí | Espot | Vall d’Aran and Environs | Vielha | Salardú

“The farther from Barcelona, the wilder” is the rule of thumb, and this is true of the rugged countryside and fauna in the western part of Catalonia. Three of the greatest destinations in the Pyrenees are here: the harmonious, Atlantic-influenced Vall d’Aran; the Noguera de Tor Valley (aka Vall de Boí), with its matching set of gemlike Romanesque churches; and Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici, which has a network of pristine lakes and streams. The main geographical units in this section are the valley of the Noguera Pallaresa River, the Vall d’Aran headwaters of the Atlantic-bound Garonne, and the Noguera Ribagorçana River Valley, Catalonia’s western limit.

Western Catalan Pyrenees

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SORT

59 km (37 miles) west of La Seu d’Urgell, 136 km (84 miles) north of Lleida, 259 km (160 miles) northwest of Barcelona.

The capital of the Pallars Sobirà (Upper Pallars Valley) is the area’s epicenter for skiing, fishing, and white-water kayaking. The word sort is Catalan for “luck,” and its local lottery shop, La Bruixa d’Or (The Gold Witch), became a tourist attraction by living up to the town’s name and selling more than an average number of winning tickets. Don’t be fooled by the town you see from the main road: one block back, Sort is honeycombed with tiny streets and protected corners built to stave off harsh winter weather.

Getting Here and Around

Heading westward from La Seu d’Urgell, take the N260 toward Lleida, head west again at Adrall, staying on the N260, and drive 53 km (33 miles) over the Cantó Pass to Sort.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Pallars Sobirà. | Camí de la Cabanera s/n | 973/621002 | www.turisme.pallarssobira.cat.

WHERE TO EAT

Fodor’s Choice | Fogony.
SPANISH | If you hit Sort at lunchtime, then this restaurant makes an excellent reason to stop: it’s one of the best of its kind in the Pyrenees. Come here for contemporary creations by its acclaimed chef, Zaraida Cotonat: pollo (pota blava ecológico) a la cocotte con trufa (organic bluefoot chicken with truffle), solomillo de ternera de los Pirineos con ligero escabeche de verduras y setas (filet of Pyrenean veal with marinated vegetables and mushrooms), or the colmenillas con salsa de foie de pato macerado con Armagnac y Oporto (wild mushrooms with sauce of duck liver macerated in Armagnac and port wine). An economical fixed-price menu is also available, which is more traditional and uses organic produce. | Average main: €25 | Av. Generalitat 45 | 973/621225 | www.fogony.com | Closed Mon. and Tues. (except Christmas wk, Easter wk, and Aug.) and 2 wks in Jan. No dinner Sun.

PARC NACIONAL D’AIGÜESTORTES I ESTANY DE SANT MAURICI

33 km (20 miles) north of Sort, 168 km (104 miles) north of Lleida, 292 km (175 miles) northwest of Barcelona.

Catalonia’s only national park is a dramatic and unspoiled landscape that was shaped through 2 million years of glacial activity. Hikers can reach the park from the Noguera Pallaresa and Ribagorçana valleys, from the villages of Espot to the east, and Taüll and Boí to the west.

Getting Here and Around

The C13 road north up the Noguera Pallaresa Valley covers 14 km (8 miles) from Sort to Llavorsí. The road up to Espot and into the park forks west 4 km (2½ miles) after Escaló, which is 8 km (5 miles) northwest of Llavorsí.

Fodor’s Choice | Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici.
The breathtaking scenery of this national park is formed by jagged peaks, steep rock walls, and an abundance of high mountain terrain, all of which lie in the shadow of the twin peaks of Els Encantats. More than 300 glacial lakes and lagoons trickle through forests and meadows of wildflowers to the meandering Noguera River watercourses: the Pallaresa to the east and the Ribagorçana to the west. The land range sweeps from soft lower meadows below 5,000 feet to the highest crags at nearly double that height. The twin Encantats measure more than 9,000 feet, and the surrounding peaks of Beciberri, Peguera, Montarto, and Amitges hover between 8,700 feet and a little under 10,000 feet.

The nine mountain refuges here range from the 18-bed Besiberri—the highest bivouac in the Pyrenees at 9,174 feet—to the 70-bed Ventosa i Calvell, at 7,326 feet at the foot of Punta Alta. Between June and September these mountain accommodations fill with tired and hungry hikers sharing trail tips and lore and it is essential to make a reservation.

The park has strict rules: no camping, no fires, no swimming, no vehicles beyond certain points, and no unleashed pets. TIP Though driving inside the park is not allowed, it is possible to organize a taxi in Boí or Espot. For information and refuge reservations, contact the park’s administration office, Casa del Parque de Boí. | Calle de les Graieres, 2, Ca de Simamet Boí | 973/696189 | reddeparquesnacionales.mma.es/en/parques/aiguestortes/index.htm | Free.

WHERE TO STAY

There are no hotels in the park, but the nine refuges have staff who provide beds and dinner for hikers from June to October and during shorter periods at Christmas and Easter. When these are not open or staffed, shelter is still available in parts of the park, and fireplaces can be used for cooking, but hikers must supply the food and the utensils. A charming alternative is to stay in the pretty village of Taüll, on the western side of the park, where there are hotel and restaurant options.

Refugi d’Amitges.
B&B/INN | This refuge is near the Amitges lakes, at 7,920 feet. Prices are per p | Rooms from: €43 | Espot | 973/250109, 973/641681 | www.amitges.com | 74 beds | Closed Oct.–June, except Easter wk | Some meals.

Refugi Ernest Mallafré.
B&B/INN | At the foot of Els Encantats, this refuge is near Lake Sant Maurici. The price is per p | Rooms from: €39 | Espot | 973/250118, 933/720283 | www.refugiosonline.com | 34 beds | Closed Oct.–June, except Easter wk. | Some meals.

Refugi Josep Maria Blanc.
B&B/INN | At 10,892 feet, this refuge is at the base of a peninsula reaching out into the Tort de Peguera Lake. The price is per p | Rooms from: €43 | Espot | 973/250108, 973/641681 | www.jmblanc.com | 60 beds | Closed Oct.–June, except Easter wk | Some meals.

TAÜLL

58 km (36 miles) south of Vielha.

Taüll is a town of narrow streets and tight mountain design—wooden balconies and steep, slate roofs—that makes an attractive base for exploring the Parque Nacional de Aigüestortes. The high-sided valley also has one of the greatest concentrations of Romanesque architecture in Europe, and the famous Taüll churches of Sant Climent and Santa María are among the best examples of Romanesque architecture in the Pyrenees. Other important churches near Taüll include Sant Feliu, at Barruera; Sant Joan Baptista, at Boí; Santa Maria, at Cardet; Santa Maria, at Col; Santa Eulàlia, at Erill la Vall; La Nativitat de la Mare de Deu and Sant Quirze, at Durro.

Getting Here and Around

Take the N230 northbound from Lleida for 138 km (86 miles), passing through El Pont de Suert. At Erill la Vall, go east for 4 km (2 ½ miles) toward Boí and Taüll. Taüll is small enough to walk around unless you are headed to the ski resort, in which case a car is needed. Four-wheel-drive taxis into the Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes can be organized from Boí (973/694000 for tourist office).

Essentials

Visitor Information
Centre del Romànic de la Vall de Boí. For the secrets of the valley’s eight Romanesque churches and one hermitage, which UNESCO designated part of the Patrimony of Humanity, take a guided tour led by the Romanesque Center. English-language tours require a reservation in advance. Erill-la-Vall is west of Taüll, 2 km (1 mile) beyond Boí. | Carrer del Batalló 5, | Erill-la-Vall | 973/696715 | www.centreromanic.com | One church €2, three churches €7, all churches €10 | Mid-Apr.–mid-Oct., daily 9–2 and 5–7
Taüll. | Passeig de St. Feliu 43, Barruera, Vall de Boí | 973/694000 | www.vallboi.com.

EXPLORING

Boí Taüll.
Taüll’s ski resort is at the head of the Sant Nicolau Valley. It is also open in summer for hiking. | 902/406640 | www.boitaullresort.com.

Fodor’s Choice | Sant Climent.
At the edge of town, this exquisite three-nave Romanesque church was built in 1123. The six-story belfry has perfect proportions, Pyrenean stone that changes hues with the light, and a sense of intimacy and balance. In 1922 Barcelona’s Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya removed the murals for safekeeping, including the famous Pantocrator, the work of the “Master of Taüll.” The murals presently in the church are reproductions. | Ctra. de Taüll s/n | www.centreromanic.com | €5 | Daily 10–2 and 4–7.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

La Cabana.
SPANISH | Lamb and goat cooked over coals are the specialties of this simple, up-country restaurant, which also serves a fine escudella (sausage, vegetable, bean, noodle and potato stew) and an excellent crema de carredetes (cream of meadow mushroom) soup. | Average main: €28 | Ctra. de Taüll 16–21, 2.5 km (1.6 miles) from Taüll (direction Boí) | 973/696316 | www.lacabanadeboi.com | Closed Mon. Call ahead for hours in low season.

Fodor’s Choice | Hotel Santa María.
B&B/INN | Lovingly restored, this 200-year-old stone house has a quiet central courtyard and stone arches, antique furnishings, and a knowledgeable owner who speaks some English. Each of the bedrooms has a unique interior design, with wrought-iron bed frames and pristine bedding. The hall, library, dining room, and bedrooms all have locally sourced antique furniture, and although the house is old, it has central heating and modern facilities. The owner, Alex, is something of a local expert on the nearby Romanesque churches of Sant Climent and Santa Maria. Staff will make up a picnic bag for €10. Pros: authentic cottage experience; atmospheric; interesting antique features. Cons: creaky floorboards; entrance hall and dining area feel somber. | Rooms from: €94 | Pl. Cap del Riu 3 | 973/696170, 609/316233 | www.taull.com | 6 rooms | Breakfast.

CALDES DE BOÍ

6 km (4 miles) north of Taüll.

Essentials

Visitor Information 
Vall de Boí. | Passeig Sant Feliu 43 Caldes de Boí | 973/694000 | www.vallboi.com.

EXPLORING

Caldes de Boí.
The thermal baths in the town of Caldes de Boí include, between hot and cold sources, 40 springs. The caves inside the bath area are a natural phenomenon, with thermal steam seeping through cracks in the rock. Take advantage of the baths’ therapeutic qualities at either Hotel Caldas or Hotel Manantial—services range from a mere inhalation, at €7.50, to a bath with hydromassage and light therapy at €24.25, or a mud bath with medical checkup at €39.75. Arthritic patients are regulars. | Hotel Caldas Lleida, Catalonia | 973/696210 | www.caldesdeboi.com | Closed Sept.–June | Hotel Manantial | 973/696210 | Closed Oct.–May.

WHERE TO STAY

Fondevila.
B&B/INN | Wooden trim and simple country furnishings warm the interior of this stone structure 3 km (2 miles) north of Taüll, and the rooms are generously proportioned, handsomely furnished, and cozy. The country cuisine includes game in season and various Catalan specialties, from hearty stews such as escudella to venison and lamb grilled over charcoal. Pros: friendly and intimate service; simple mountain lodging; top value. Cons: sparse room style may seem stark. | Rooms from: €55 | Ctra. de Taüll 2 Boí | 973/696011 | www.hotelfondevila.com | 46 rooms | Breakfast.

ESPOT

33 km (20 miles) north of Sort.

Espot is in the heart of the valley, along a clear stream, next to the eastern entrance of Aigüestortes–Sant Maurici National Park.

Getting Here and Around

From Sort, head north on the C13 for 26 km (16 miles) towards Llavorsí and Escaló, then turn west onto the Carretera de Espot, which goes straight to Espot.

Essentials

Visitor Information 
Espot. | Ctra. de Sant Maurici 5, | Espot | 973/624036.

EXPLORING

Espot Esquí.
This attractive local ski area is surrounded by forest. | Ctra. Berradé s/n Espot | 973/624058 | www.skipallars.cat.

Pont de la Capella.
The Chapel Bridge is a perfect, mossy arch that straddles the Riu Escrita; it looks as though it might have grown directly out of the Pyrenean slate. | Espot.

VALL D’ARAN AND ENVIRONS

58 km (35 miles) northwest of Espot, 79 km (49 miles) northwest of Sort, 160 km (96 miles) north of Lleida, 297 km (178 miles) northwest of Barcelona.

The Vall d’Aran is at the western edge of the Catalan Pyrenees and the northwestern corner of Catalonia. North of the main Pyrenean axis, it’s the Catalan Pyrenees’ only Atlantic valley, opening north into the plains of Aquitania and drained by the Garonne, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean above Bordeaux. The 48-km (30-mile) drive from Bonaigua Pass to the Pont del Rei border with France follows the riverbed.

The valley’s Atlantic personality is evidenced by its climate—wet and cold—and its language: the 6,000 inhabitants speak Aranés, a dialect of Gascon French derived from the Occitan language group. (Spanish and Catalan are also universally spoken.) Originally part of the Aquitanian county of Comminges, the Vall d’Aran maintained feudal ties to the Pyrenees of Spanish Aragón and became part of Catalonia–Aragón in the 12th century. In 1389 the valley was assigned to Catalonia.

Neither as wide as the Cerdanya nor as oppressively narrow and vertical as Andorra, the Vall d’Aran has a sense of well-being and order, an architectural harmony unique in Catalonia. The clusters of iron-gray slate roofs, the lush vegetation, and the dormer windows (a sign of French influence) all make the Vall d’Aran a distinct geographic and cultural pocket that happens to have washed up on the Spanish side of the border.

Getting Here and Around

The C13 road continues north 6 km (4 miles) from the Espot turnoff to Esterri d’Aneu, and then becomes C28 and runs west over the Bonaigua Pass 32 km (19 miles) to Baqueira. From Baqueira the C28 continues 14 km (8½ miles) west to Vielha.

Hiking in the Pyrenees

Walking the Pyrenees, with one foot in France and the other in Spain, is an exhilarating experience.

In fall and winter, the Alberes Mountains between Cap de Creus, the Iberian Peninsula’s easternmost point, and the border with France at Le Perthus are a grassy runway between the Côte Vermeille’s curving beaches to the north and the green patchwork of the Empordá to the south. The well-marked GR (Gran Recorrido) 11 is a favorite two-day spring or autumn hike, with an overnight stay at the Refugi de la Tanyareda, just below and east of Puig Neulós, the highest point in the Alberes.

The eight-hour walk from Coll de Núria to Ulldeter over the Sierra Catllar, above Setcases, is another grassy corridor in good weather from April to October. The luminous Cerdanya Valley is a hiker’s paradise year-round, while the summertime round-Andorra hike is a memorably scenic 360-degree tour of the tiny country.

The Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici is superb for trekking from spring through fall. The ascent of the highest peak in the Pyrenees, the 11,168-foot Aneto peak above Benasque, is a long day’s round trip best approached in summer and only by fit and experienced hikers. Much of the hike is over the Maladeta Glacier, from the base camp at the Refugio de La Renclusa.

In Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido you can take day trips up to the Cola de Caballo waterfall and back around the southern rim of the canyon or, for true mountain goats, longer hikes via the Refugio de Góriz to La Brèche de Roland and Gavarnie or to Monte Perdido, the parador at La Pineta, and the village of Bielsa. Another prized walk has bed and dinner in the base-camp town of Torla or a night up at the Refugio de Goriz at the head of the valley.

The section of the Camino de Santiago walk from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Roncesvalles is a marvelous 8- to 10-hour trek any time of year, though weather reports should be checked carefully from October to June.

Local excursionista (outing) clubs can help you get started; local tourist offices may also have brochures and rudimentary trail maps. Note that the higher reaches are safely navigable only in summer.

Some useful contacts for hiking are Cercle d’Aventura (972/881017 www.cercleaventura.com), Giroguies (636/490830 www.giroguies.com), Guies de Meranges (616/855535 | www.guiesmeranges.com), and Guies de Muntanya (629/591516 | www.guiesdemuntanya.com).

VIELHA

79 km (49 miles) northwest of Sort, 297 km (185 miles) northwest of Barcelona, 160 km (99 miles) north of Lleida.

Vielha (Viella in Spanish), capital of the Vall d’Aran, is a lively crossroads vitally involved in the Aranese movement to defend and reconstruct the valley’s architectural, institutional, and linguistic heritage. At first glance, the town looks like a typical ski-resort base, but the compact and bustling old quarter has a Romanesque church and narrow streets filled with a good selection of restaurants and a couple of late-night bars. Hiking and climbing are popular around Vielha; guides are available year-round and can be arranged through the tourist office.

Getting Here and Around

From the direction of Taüll, head south on the L500 for 15 km (9 miles) toward El Pont de Suerte. At Campament de Tor turn right onto the Carretera Lleida–Vielha (N230) northbound to Vielha. Vielha’s town center is fairly compact and everything can be reached on foot, but you’ll need a car to get to Salardú, Arties, and the ski station of Baqueira-Beret.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Vielha. | Carrer Sarriulera 10 | 973/640110 | www.visitvaldaran.com.

EXPLORING

Sant Miquel.
Vielha’s octagonal, 14th-century bell tower on the Romanesque parish church of Sant Miquel is one of the town’s trademarks, as is its 15th-century Gothic altar. The partly damaged 12th-century wood carving Cristo de Mig Aran, displayed under glass, evokes a sense of mortality and humanity with a power unusual in medieval sculpture. | Pl. de la Iglesia | Daily 10–7.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

Era Mola (Restaurante Gustavo y María José).
SPANISH | This rustic former stable with whitewashed walls serves Aranese dishes with a modern, often French twist. Duck, either stewed with apples or served with carreretes (wild mushrooms from the valley), and roast kid and lamb are favorites, as are espuma de patata con foie a la plancha (potato foam with grilled foie gras). The wine list is particularly strong on Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Somontano reds, as well as full-bodied whites, such as Albariño from Rías Baixas and Rueda from Valladolid. | Average main: €17 | Carrer Marrec 14 | 973/642419 | Reservations essential | Closed May, June, and Oct. No lunch weekdays Dec.–Apr. (except during Christmas and Easter).

Eth Paer.
TAPAS | The early evening (open from 3 pm) draws a drinks-and-tapas crowd to Eth Paer: they huddle around barrels outside by the door, comparing stories of the day’s skiing or walking. Later on it becomes a laid-back wine bar that’s also good for a casual meal. The creative salads are deliciously fresh, with ingredients such as tuna belly and warm duck, and there is a good selection of tapas, including carpaccio de ciervo (venison carpaccio) and tostada de emmental, panceta, y ceps confitados (toast with Swiss cheese, pancetta, and mushroom confit). There is also a choice of embutidos (cold cuts), pâtés, and cheeses. The staff are happy to recommend a decent wine from the many lined up against each wall, and the shop here is great place to pick up a culinary souvenir, such as locally made savory and sweet preserves. | Average main: €17 | Carrer Major 1 | Closed Mon.–Wed. in Oct. and Nov. No lunch.

Tauèrnes Urtau.
TAPAS | The area’s most happening tapas chain is friendly, fun, and always busy. Customers can help themselves at the bar to an assortment of 40 mouthwatering pinchos (pieces of bread on sticks with a variety of creative toppings) such as a minihamburger, king prawn with mushrooms, or ravioli with foie gras. There is also a tapas menu and table service. It’s a good pick-me-up for weary limbs following the Romanesque trails. Another branch is in Arties at Plaza de Ortau 12. | Average main: €16 | Av. Pas d’Arrò 4 | 973/642671 | www.urtau.com | Closed 2 wks in Oct. or Nov.

Casa Irene.
B&B/INN | A rustic haven, this inn is known for fine mountain cuisine with a French flair, and the personal style and spacious and elegant rooms make this a highly recommended address for a stay as well as a meal. The restaurant offers a tasting menu, and dishes such as baked turbot with winter vegetables and roast pigeon with cream of artichokes have made Irene a national treasure (the menu changes seasonally). In low season it’s a good idea to call ahead to check if the restaurant is open, and reservations are essential. Pros: small and personalized; aesthetically impeccable. Cons: streetside rooms can be noisy on summer nights; restaurant is closed on Monday; fairly expansive. | Rooms from: €250 | Carrer Major 22 Arties, 6 km (4 miles) east of Vielha | 973/644364 | www.hotelcasairene.com | Reservations essential | 22 rooms | Closed May., Jun., Oct., and Nov. | Breakfast.

Hotel El Ciervo.
B&B/INN | In Vielha’s old quarter, and next to one of the town’s most attractive pedestrian-only streets, this family-run inn resembles an idyllic winter cottage, and the personal service includes a breakfast, available for a small additional charge, that former guests have touted it as the best in Spain. Other extras include afternoon treats of freshly baked cakes, hot chocolate, and hot wine. Although small, the rooms are comfortable and individually decorated with pastels, gingham, and painted wood furniture. Pros: quirky and inviting; excellent breakfast; pleasant furnishings. Cons: rooms are a little cramped; the somewhat feminine style may not appeal to everyone; breakfast costs a bit extra. | Rooms from: €85 | Pl. de San Orencio 3 | 973/640165 | www.hotelelciervo.net | 20 rooms | Closed June and Nov. | No meals.

Hotel Iori.
HOTEL | On one of the narrow streets of Vielha’s old town, this delightful Japanese-style boutique hotel couples modern simplicity and design with an environmentally focused restaurant. Each room is done in neutrals, with good-quality linens on dark wood furniture; the dimmed lights and cheerful staff make it all very pleasant and calm. The focal point of the bar and restaurant area is a central open fireplace, and this is an excellent place to unwind after a day walking or sightseeing. The cuisine here is vegetarian based on a macrobiotic diet, providing an interesting alternative to the heavier traditional Pyrenean food. Pros: central location; attractive modern design; helpful, friendly staff. Cons: not for those seeking traditional comfort or local dishes; street-facing rooms can be noisy. | Rooms from: €95 | Carrer Frederic Mistral 1-C | 973/643304 | www.iorihotel.com | 10 rooms | Closed end of Easter wk–June, Oct., and Nov. | Breakfast.

Parador de Arties.
HOTEL | Built around the Casa de Don Gaspar de Portolà, once home to the founder of the colony of California, this modern parador with friendly staff has views of the Pyrenees and is handy for exploring the Romanesque sights in nearby villages. Vielha is 2½ km (1½ miles) to the north, and the Baqueira ski slopes are 7 km (4 miles) away. The restaurant specializes in Pyrenean soups and stews such as civet de jabalí (wild boar stew). Pros: marvelous panoramas; quiet and personal for a parador. Cons: neither at the foot of the slopes nor in the thick of the Vielha après-ski vibe; requires driving; feels old-fashioned. | Rooms from: €163 | Calle San Juan 1 Arties | 973/640801 | www.parador.es | 54 rooms, 3 suites | Closed after Easter wk.–end of May. | No meals.

Parador de Vielha.
HOTEL | It’s all about the views at this modern granite parador, and its shining star is a semicircular salon with huge windows and spectacular views over the Maladeta peaks of the Vall d’Aran. Many of the rooms also have a decent mountain view and a terrace, compensating for the somewhat functional design. The light-flooded restaurant serves Catalan and Pyrenean cuisine, such as ollaaranesa (a meat- and bean-heavy local stew) and civet de jabali (wild boar stew). The addition of a spa has provided heated indoor and outdoor pools and a variety of treatments. Pros: terrific observation post; comfortable and relaxed. Cons: over-modern and somewhat lacking in character; beside a busy road. | Rooms from: €173 | Ctra. del Túnel s/n | 973/640100 | www.parador.es | 118 rooms | Closed mid-Oct.–mid-Nov. | No meals.

NIGHTLIFE

Bar La Lluna.
Inside a typical Aranese house, this local favorite has live performances on Wednesday. | Pl. de Ortau 7, Arties.

Eth Clòt.
This hot bar musicale is popular on weekends, when it hosts a variety of live music and DJs. | Pl. Corralets 7, Arties.

Eth Saxo.
This is the most popular late-night bar for all ages in downtown Vielha. | Carrer Marrec 6.

SPORTS AND THE OUTDOORS

Skiing, white-water rafting, hiking, climbing, horseback riding, and fly fishing are just some of the sports available throughout the Vall d’Aran.

Baqueira-Beret Estación de Esquí (Baqueira-Beret Ski Station).
This ski center offers Catalonia’s most varied and reliable skiing. Its 87 km (57 miles) of pistas (slopes), spread over 53 runs, range from the gentle Beret slopes to the vertical chutes of Baqueira. The Bonaigua area is a mixture of steep and gently undulating trails, with some of the longest, most varied runs in the Pyrenees. A dozen restaurants and four children’s areas are scattered about the facilities, and the thermal baths at Tredós are 4 km (2½ miles) away. | C. Baqueira Beret | 973/639025 | www.baqueira.es.

SALARDÚ

9 km (6 miles) east of Vielha.

Salardú is a pivotal point in the Vall d’Aran, convenient to Baqueira-Beret, the Montarto peak, the lakes and Circ de Colomers, Aigüestortes National Park, and the villages of Tredós, Unha, and Montgarri. The town itself, with a little more than 700 inhabitants, is known for its steep streets and its octagonal fortified bell tower.

Getting Here and Around

The C28 east out of Vielha goes straight to Salardú and Tredós in 9 km (6 miles) and onto Baqueira-Beret in 13 km (8 miles).

OFF THE BEATEN PATH: Santa Maria de Montgarri.
Partly in ruins, this 11th-century chapel was once an important way station on the route into the Vall d’Aran from France. The beveled, hexagonal bell tower and the rounded stones, which look as if they came from a brook bottom, give the structure a stippled appearance that’s a bit like a Pyrenean trout. The Romería de Nuestra Señora de Montgarri (Feast of Our Lady of Montgarri), on July 2, is a country fair with feasting, games, music, and dance. The sanctuary can be reached by following the C142 road until Beret and then walking 6 km (4 miles) along a dirt track that can also be accessed by off-road vehicles. It is difficult to get there during the winter snow season.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

Casa Rufus.
SPANISH | Fresh pine on the walls and the floor, red-and-white checked curtains, and snowy white tablecloths cozily furnish this restaurant that’s in the tiny, gray-stone village of Gessa, between Vielha and Salardú. Try the conejo relleno de ternera y cerdo (rabbit stuffed with veal and pork). Civets (stews) of mountain goat or venison, although not on the menu, can be requested in advance. If you’re making a special trip to eat here, it’s a good idea to call ahead to confirm its hours. | Average main: €18 | Sant Jaume 8 Gessa | 973/645246 | Closed May and June, weekdays Oct. and Nov., and Sun. Oct.–Apr.

Val de Ruda.
HOTEL | For rustic surroundings—light on luxury but long on comfort—that are only a two-minute walk from the lift, this modern-traditional construction of glass, wood, and stone is a good choice. The philosophy is to provide a “little chalet in the mountains,” with friendly staff and pine- and oak-beam warmth for après-ski wining and dining. The spa here is small but offers a range of rejuvenating treatments after the rigors of the slopes. Pros: pleasant and outdoorsy; warm and welcoming after a day in the mountains; friendly family service. Cons: some of the dormer rooms are cozy but tiny; hotel is only open during ski season; not inexpensive. | Rooms from: €220 | Ctra. Baqueira-Beret Cota 1500 | 973/645258 | www.hotelvalderudabaqueira.com | 35 rooms | Closed end of Easter wk–Dec. | Breakfast.

Romanesque Architecture in Spain

The Alta Ribagorça Oriental includes the east bank of the Noguera Ribagorçana River and the Llevata and Noguera de Tor valleys, the Pyrenees’ richest concentration of medieval art and architecture. The unity of design in the Romanesque churches here is the result of the sponsorship—and the wives—of the Counts of Erill, who left their spouses to run local matters while away fighting in the Reconquest. The women brought in Europe’s leading architects, masons, sculptors, and muralists to build and decorate the churches. To what extent a single eye and sensibility was responsible for this matched set of churches may never be known, but they all share a miniaturistic tightness, an eccentric or irregular design, and slender rectangular bell towers that fit perfectly into their surroundings.

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Aragón and Central Pyrenees

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Zaragoza | Huesca | Alquézar | Benasque | Aínsa | Bielsa | Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido | Jaca | Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña | Hecho and Ansó Valleys

The highest, wildest, and most spectacular range of the Pyrenees is the middle section, farthest from sea level. From Benasque on Aragón’s eastern side to Jaca at the western edge are the great heights and most dramatic landscapes of Alto Aragón (Upper Aragón), including the Maladeta (11,165 feet), Posets (11,070 feet), and Monte Perdido (11,004 feet) peaks, the three highest points in the Pyrenean chain.

Communications between the high valleys of the Pyrenees were all but nonexistent until the 19th century: four-fifths of the region had never seen a motor vehicle of any kind until well into the 20th century, and the 150-km (93-mile) border with France between Portalet de Aneu and Vall d’Aran had never had an international crossing. This combination of high peaks, deep defiles (mountain passages), and isolation has produced some of the Iberian Peninsula’s best-preserved towns and valleys. Delightful examples of these are the atmospheric old towns of Aínsa and Alquézar, worth discovering off the main track. Today, numerous ethnological museums bear witness to a way of life that has nearly disappeared since the 1950s. Residents of Upper Aragón speak neither Basque nor Catalan, but local dialects such as Grausín, Chistavino, Belsetán, and Benasqués (collectively known as fabla aragonesa), which have more in common with each other and with Occitan or Langue d’Oc (the southwestern French language descended from Provençal) than with modern Spanish and French. Furthermore, each valley has its own variations on everything from the typical Aragonese folk dance, the jota, to cuisine and traditional costume.

The often-bypassed cities of Huesca and Zaragoza are both useful Pyrenean gateways and historic destinations in themselves. With its Mudejar (Moorish-influenced) churches such as the dazzling La Seo, its own Alhambra-like Aljafería fortress, and the immense basilica of La Pilarica, Zaragoza is much more than just a drive-by between Barcelona and Bilbao; and Huesca has a memorable old quarter. Both cities retain an authentic provincial character that is refreshing in today’s cosmopolitan Spain.

The Aragüés, Hecho, and Ansó valleys, drained by the Estarrún, Osia, Veral, and Aragón Subordán rivers, are the westernmost valleys in Aragón and rank among the wildest and most unspoiled reaches of the Pyrenees. Today these sleepy hollows are struggling to generate an economy that will save this endangered species of Pyrenean life. With only cross-country (Nordic) skiing available, this is a region less frequented by tourists.

Aragón and the Central Pyrenees

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ZARAGOZA

138 km (86 miles) west of Lleida, 307 km (184 miles) northwest of Barcelona, 164 km (98 miles) southeast of Pamplona, 322 km (193 miles) northeast of Madrid.

Despite its hefty size (population 680,000), this sprawling provincial capital midway between Barcelona, Madrid, Bilbao, and Valencia is a detour from the tourist track connected by the AVE, Spain’s high-speed railroad, with both Madrid and Barcelona only 90 minutes away. The first decade of this century were major boom years here, and it’s been rated one of Spain’s most desirable places to live because of its air quality, low cost of living, and low population density.

Straddling Spain’s greatest river, the Ebro, Zaragoza was originally named Caesaraugusta, for the Roman emperor Augustus, and established as a thriving river port by 25 BC. Its legacy contains everything from Roman ruins and Jewish baths to Moorish, Romanesque, Gothic-Mudejar, Renaissance, baroque, neoclassical, and art nouveau architecture. Parts of the Roman walls are visible near the city’s landmark Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar. Nearby, the medieval Puente de Piedra (Stone Bridge) spans the Ebro. Checking out the Lonja (Stock Exchange), La Seo cathedral, the Moorish Aljafería (Fortified Palace and Jewel Treasury), the Mercado de Lanuza (Produce Market), and the many Mudejar churches in the old town is a good way to navigate Zaragoza’s jumble of backstreets.

Excursions from Zaragoza include Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes’s birthplace at Fuendetodos, 44 km (26 miles) to the southeast, and Belchite, another 20 km (12 miles) east of Fuendetodos, site of the ruins of a town destroyed in one of the fiercest battles of the Spanish Civil War and left untouched since as a war memorial.

Getting Here and Around

There are several trains per day between Zaragoza and Barcelona, Lleida, and Huesca (www.renfe.com). The bus company Alosa runs buses between Zaragoza, Huesca, and Jaca. By car, travel west from Barcelona on the E90 motorway. All of Zaragoza’s main sights are accessible on foot as the center is compact and much of it is traffic-free.

Essentials

Bus Station 
Zaragoza. | Estación Central de Autobuses, Calle Miguel Roca i Junyent | 976/700599 | www.estacion-zaragoza.es.

Visitor Information
Zaragoza. | Central Square, Pl. de Nuestra Señora del Pilar | 976/201200 | www.zaragozaturismo.es.

EXPLORING

Fodor’s Choice | Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar).
Hulking on the banks of the Ebro, the basilica, often known simply as “La Pilarica,” or “El Pilar,” is Zaragoza’s symbol and pride. An immense baroque structure with no fewer than 11 tile cupolas, La Pilarica is the home of the Virgen del Pilar, the patron saint not only of peninsular Spain but of the entire Hispanic world. The fiestas honoring this most Spanish of saints, held the week of October 12, are events of extraordinary pride and Spanish fervor, with processions, street concerts, bullfights, and traditional jota dancing. The cathedral was built in the 18th century to commemorate the appearance of the Virgin on a pillar (pilar), or pedestal, to St. James, Spain’s other patron saint, during his legendary appearance as Santiago Matamoros (St. James the Moorslayer) in the 9th century. La Pilarica herself resides in a side chapel that dates from 1754. Among the basilica’s treasures are two frescoes by Goya, one of them, El Coreto de la Vírgen, painted when he was young and the other, the famous Regina Martirum, after his studies in Italy. The bombs displayed to the right of the altar of La Pilarica chapel fell through the roof of the church in 1936 and miraculously failed to explode. You can still see both of the holes, one in the corner of the earlier Goya fresco and the other by the top of the column overhead to the left. Behind La Pilarica’s altar is the tiny opening where the devout line up to kiss the rough marble pillar where La Pilarica is believed to have been discovered. There is an elevator in one of the towers for easy access to great views of the city. | Pl. del Pilar s/n | Basilica free, tower €3 | Basilica Mon.–Sat. 6:45 am–8:30 pm, Sun. 6:45 am–9:30 pm; tower daily 10–1:30 and 4–5:30.

Iglesia de San Pablo.
After the basilica and La Seo, this church, with examples of Mudejar architecture in its brickwork, is considered by zaragozanos to be the “third cathedral.” | Carrer San Pablo 42 | 976/2012200 for tourist office | For services only.

La Seo (Catedral de San Salvador).
Zaragoza’s cathedral, at the eastern end of the Plaza del Pilar, is the city’s bishopric, or diocesan seo (seat). An amalgam of architectural styles ranging from the Mudéjar brick-and-tile exterior to the Gothic altarpiece to exuberant Churrigueresque doorways, the Seo nonetheless has an 18th-century baroque facade that seems to echo those of La Pilarica. The Museo de Tapices within contains medieval tapestries. The nearby medieval Casa y Arco del Deán form one of the city’s favorite corners. | Pl. de la Seo 2 | Cathedral and museum €4 | Cathedral and museum: weekdays 10–2 and 4–6:30, Sat. 10–12:30 and 4–6:30, Sun. and public holidays 10–noon and 4–6:30.

Museo Camón Aznar.
A fine collection of Goya’s works, particularly engravings, are on view here. | Carrer Espoz y Mina 23 | 976/397387 | www.museo.ibercaja.es | Free | Tues.–Sat. 10–1.45 and 5–8:45, Sun. 10–1:45.

Museo de Zaragoza.
This museum contains a rich treasury of works by Zaragoza’s emblematic painter, Goya, including his portraits of Fernando VII and his best graphic works: Desastres de la guerra, Caprichos, and La tauromaquia. | Pl. de los Sitios 5 | 976/222181 | Free | Tues.–Sat. 10–2 and 5–8, Sun. 10–2.

Museo del Foro.
Remains of the Roman forum and the Roman sewage system can be seen here. Two more Roman sites, the thermal baths at Calle de San Juan y San Pedro and the river port at Plaza San Bruno, are also open to the public. You can organize in advance to see the presentation videos in English through the Museo del Teatro Romano (976/726075), and English-language audio guides are also available. | Pl. de la Seo s/n | 976/399752 | €3 | Tues.–Sat. 10–2 and 5-9, Sun. 10–2:30.

Museo del Teatro Romano.
In addition to the restored Roman amphitheater here, you can also see objects recovered during the excavation process, including theatrical masks, platters, and even Roman hairpins. | Calle San Jorge 12 | 976/726075 | €4 | Tues.–Sat. 10–2 and 5–9, Sun. 10–2:30.

Museo Diocesano.
Portraits of archbishops (one by Goya), Flemish tapestries, Renaissance and medieval paintings, and the remains of the Romanesque door of Zaragoza’s church of Santiago form parts of this museum’s collection. | Pl. de la Seo 5 | 976/399488 | www.mudiz.net | €5 | Tues.–Sat. 10–1:30 and 5–8:30, Sun. 10–1:30.

Museo Pablo Gargallo.
This is one of Zaragoza’s most treasured and admired gems, both for the palace in which it is housed and for its collection—Gargallo, born near Zaragoza in 1881, was one of Spain’s greatest modern sculptors. | Pl. de San Felipe 3 | 976/724922 | €4 | Tues.–Sat. 10–2 and 5–9, Sun. and public holidays 10–2:30.

Museo Pablo Serrano.
A collection of works by the famous 20th-century sculptor Pablo Serrano (1908–85) and his wife, Juana Francés, are housed in this museum. | Paseo María Agustín 20 | 976/280659 | www.iaacc.es | Free | Tues.–Sat. 10–2 and 5–9, Sun. 10–2.

Palacio de La Aljafería.
One of Spain’s three greatest Moorish palaces. If Córdoba’s Mezquita shows the energy of the 10th-century Caliphate and Granada’s Alhambra is the crowning 14th-century glory of Al-Andalus (the 789-year Moorish empire on the Iberian Peninsula), then the late-11th-century Aljafería can be seen as the intermediate step. Originally a fortress and royal residence, and later a seat of the Spanish Inquisition, the Aljafería is now the home of the Cortes (Parliament) de Aragón. The 9th-century Torre del Trovador (Tower of the Troubadour) appears in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore. | Diputados s/n | 976/289683 | www.cortesaragon.es | €5 | Apr.–Oct., daily 10–2 and 4:30–8; Nov.–Mar., daily 10–2 and 4:30–6:30.

OFF THE BEATEN PATH: Monasterio de Piedra.
An hour’s drive southwest of Zaragoza brings you to the Cistercian Monasterio de Piedra, a lush oasis on the arid Aragonese meseta (plain). Founded in 1195 by Alfonso II of Aragón and named for the nearby Río Piedra (Stone River, named for the calcified limestone deposits along its banks), the monastery has a 16th-century Renaissance section that is now a private hotel (62 rooms at €98 to €136), with rooms that are still somewhat monastic and austere. Even if you don’t stay for the night, come to visit the 12th-century cloister, wine museum, and park—the caves, waterfalls, and walkways suspended over the riverbed are spectacular. | Rte. C202, 113 km (70 miles) southwest of Zaragoza via A2 Nuévalos | 902/196052 | www.monasteriopiedra.com | €15, includes park, monastery, and exhibitions | Monastery and exhibitions: Mar.–Oct., daily 10–1 and 3–6; Nov.–Feb., daily 11:15–1:15 and 3:15–5:15. Park: Apr.–Oct., daily 9–8; Nov.–Mar., daily 9–6.

WHERE TO EAT

Bodegas Almau.
TAPAS | The walls of this popular bodega are crammed with enticing bottles of wine and cava, while the bar is loaded with superlative anchovies, croquettes, and potato omelets. It’s mainly standing room only here, so join the jostling crowds, shout out your drinks order, and grab whatever takes your fancy off the top of the bar. Popular choices include vermut con anchoas (a small plate of anchovies and a serving of house vermouth). There is also a pretty terrace overlooking the Mudéjar San Gil church. | Average main: €15 | Calle de los Estébanes 10 | 976/299834 | Closed Sun. evening.

Gran Taberna Tragantua.
SPANISH | This rollicking place serves surprisingly great food, including solomillicos con salsa de trufa (little beef filets with truffle sauce) and albóndigas de solomillicos (meatballs of beef filet). The beer is fresh and cold, and the house wines, usually from Upper Aragón’s own Somontano D.O., are of top value and quality. Carlos Ayora, the owner and chief waiter, seems to thrive on ensuring that his guests enjoy themselves. | Average main: €19 | Plaza Santa Marta s/n | 976/299174 | www.grupoloscabezudos.es | Closed 2nd wk in June.

La Cueva en Aragón.
TAPAS | Although it may not be much to look at from the outside, this tiny establishment is worth popping into for its freshly stacked mushrooms grilled with garlic and olive oil and topped with a prawn—the only dish it serves. Piled high on skewers with a slice of bread beneath to soak up the garlic-infused oil and served on wooden boards, they can be washed down with a chilled artisan beer from the tap. | Average main: €10 | Libertad 16 | 976/204645.

La Miguería.
TAPAS | It’s functional rather than charming, but this is the place in town to stop and try migas—bread crumbs, accompanied by garlic, olive oil, chorizo, and, in some cases, topped with a fried egg and a bemusing scattering of grapes. This bustling locale also makes varieties on a theme, including migas con bacalao (with cod), migas con jamon (with ham), and migas con setas (with wild mushrooms). | Average main: €12 | Calle Estébanes 4 | 976/200736 | www.lamigueria.es | Closed Sun. (except public holidays).

Los Victorinos.
TAPAS | Victorinos are a much-feared and respected breed of fighting bulls, and this rustic tavern, located behind the Seo, is heavily adorned with bullfight-related paraphernalia. It offers an elaborate and inventive selection of pinchos and original tapas of all kinds. Jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn-fed Iberian ham), Spain’s best-known luxury food, is always a natural choice, though quail eggs or the classic gilda—olives, green peppers, and anchovies on a toothpick—are also on the bar and hard to resist. It opens at 7:30 pm. | Average main: €15 | Calle José de la Hera 6 | 976/394213 | No dinner Sun. Closed 2 wks in May.

Palomeque.
TAPAS | For upscale tapas, larger portions, and a sit-down restaurant atmosphere, Palomeque makes a great choice. Using fresh market produce, dishes are based on traditional recipes and finished off with a clean, modern look. There is a seemingly endless selection of tapas and wines, with advice on which would provide the best pairings. Highlights on the menu include virutas de foie de pato (duck foie gras shavings on bread) and tacos de solomillo de ternera al ajillo (tender sirloin steak with garlic). If it’s too hard to choose, make it easy by opting for the surtido de tapas (selection of mixed tapas). | Average main: €25 | Calle Agustín Palomeque 11 | 976/214082 | www.restaurantepalomeque.es | Closed Sun.

WHERE TO STAY

Catalonia El Pilar.
HOTEL | Overlooking the lovely Plaza Justicia and the baroque Santa Isabel church, this early-20th-century Art Nouveau building is a tourist sight in its own right, housing an original Moderniste wooden elevator and a facade with wrought-iron decorations. These charming features are complemented by polished, contemporary interior decoration and a restaurant serving traditional Aragonese dishes. Rooms are functional, with all the necessary modern amenities, but they lack the charisma of the rest of the building. The hotel’s central yet peaceful location makes it an ideal base to stroll to the sights without feeling overwhelmed by the crowds. Pros: quiet location on one of the city’s prettiest squares; five-minute walk from the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar; spotless and efficient. Cons: rooms are immaculate but somewhat characterless. | Rooms from: €90 | Manifestación 16 | 976/205858 | www.hoteles-catalonia.com | 66 rooms | Breakfast.

Hotel Zenit Don Yo.
HOTEL | Ideally located for exploring Zaragoza’s sights, this is an in-and-out type of hotel—somewhere to lay your head. But as an agreeable city stopover it’s perfect: the rooms are well-proportioned and functional, beds are comfortable, facilities are modern, and the staff is very helpful. At the price, it’s a great value-for-money choice. Pros: central and convenient; good sized rooms for a city hotel; valet parking; good value. Cons: lacks personality and feels a bit stuck in the past. | Rooms from: €75 | Calle Bruil 4–6 | 976/226741 | www.zenithoteles.com | 146 rooms | Breakfast.

Palafox.
HOTEL | One of Zaragoza’s top hotels, Palafox combines contemporary design with traditional urban service and elegance. Rooms are equipped with the gadgets you want, including flat-screen TVs and Jacuzzis, and the bathrooms are almost private spas. The restaurant, Aragonia, holds its own with any place in town, with more than 2,000 wines and various tasting menus with wine or beer pairings. Pros: top comfort and service; bright reception area; good restaurant. Cons: modern and somewhat antiseptic. | Rooms from: €113 | Calle Marqués Casa Jiménez s/n | 976/237700 | www.palafoxhoteles.com | 179 rooms | Breakfast.

HUESCA

68 km (42 miles) northeast of Zaragoza, 123 km (74 miles) northwest of Lleida.

Once a Roman colony, Huesca would later become the capital of Aragón, until the royal court moved to Zaragoza in 1118. The town’s university was founded in 1354 and now specializes in Aragonese studies.

Getting Here and Around

From Zaragoza there are several trains a day (www.renfe.com). Alosa runs buses between Huesca and Zaragoza, Lleida and Jaca. By car from Zaragoza, head northwest toward Huesca on the A23 for 68 km (42 miles). The center is quite small and it’s easier to go on foot to the sights, because the traffic and one-way system can be tricky.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Huesca. | Pl. López Allué s/n | 974/292170 | www.huescaturismo.com.

EXPLORING

Cathedral.
An intricately carved gallery tops the eroded facade of Huesca’s 13th-century Gothic cathedral. Damián Forment, a protégé of the 15th-century Italian master sculptor Donatello, created the alabaster altarpiece, which has scenes from the Crucifixion. | Pl. de la Catedral s/n | 974/231099 | €4, includes tower and museum | Cathedral: weekdays 10:30–2 and 4–7, Sat. 10:30–2 and 4:30–6:30, Sun. 9–1 and 4:30–6:30. Tower and museum: weekdays 10:30–2 and 4–7, Sat. 10:30–2.

Museo Arqueológico Provincial.
An octagonal patio here is ringed by eight chambers, including the Sala de la Campana (Hall of the Bell), where the beheadings of 12th-century nobles took place. The museum occupies parts of the former royal palace of the kings of Aragón and holds paintings by Aragonese primitives, including La Virgen del Rosario by Miguel Jiménez, and several works by the 16th-century Maestro de Sigena. | Pl. de la Universidad | 974/220586 | Free | Tues.–Sat. 10–2 and 5–8, Sun. 10–2.

San Pedro el Viejo.
This church has an 11th-century cloister. Ramiro II and his father, Alfonso I, the only Aragonese kings not entombed at San Juan de la Peña, rest in a side chapel. | Pl. de San Pedro s/n | €2.50 | Oct.–May, Mon.–Sat. 10–1:30 and 4–6, Sun. 11–12:15 and 1–2; June–Sept., Mon.–Sat. 10–1:30 and 4–7:30, Sun. 11–12:15 and 1–2.

OFF THE BEATEN PATH: Castillo de Loarre.
This massively walled 11th-century monastery, 36 km (22 miles) west of Huesca off Route A132 on A1206, is nearly indistinguishable from the rock outcroppings that surround it. Inside the walls are a church, a tower, a dungeon, and even a medieval toilet with views of the almond and olive orchards in the Ebro basin. | C. Fuente 2 Loarre | 974/342161 | www.castillodeloarre.es | €3.90 | Nov.–Feb., Tues.–Sun. 11–5:30; Mar.–mid-June and mid-Sept.–Oct., daily 10–7; mid-June–mid–Sept., daily 10–8.

Los Mallos de Riglos.
The village of Riglos, 43.5 km (27 miles) northwest of Huesca, is at the foot of the Iberian Peninsula’s most spectacular rock-climbing site. Roped teams dangle hundreds of feet overhead, some bivouacking overnight on the rock face; down below, climbing culture is celebrated and toasted at Bar el Puro. | Riglos.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

Las Torres.
SPANISH | Huesca’s top restaurant makes inventive use of first-rate local ingredients, including wild mushrooms, wild boar, venison, and lamb. The glass-walled kitchen is as original as the cooking that emerges from it, and the wine list is strong in Somontano, Huesca’s own Denomination of Origin. Look for lomo de ternasco cocinado a baja temperatura con embutidos de Graos (veal cooked at low temperature with Graos sausage) or paticas de cordero deshuesados (boned lamb’s trotters) for a taste of pure upper Aragón. | Average main: €23 | Calle María Auxiliadora 3 | 974/228213 | www.lastorres-restaurante.com | Closed Sun. and Aug. 15–31.

Hotel Abba Huesca.
HOTEL | The most stylish hotel in Huesca has modern and comfortable rooms and a buzzing contemporary bar where guests and locals mingle. It’s centered on a serene and spacious lobby that’s surrounded by glass and overlooked by the undulating white walls of the upper floors—designed to represent the surrounding mountains. For peaceful repose there’s an attractive garden and a terrace by the pool. Pros: excellent value for money; upscale feel. Cons: slightly outside the center of town. | Rooms from: €80 | Calle de Tarbes 14 | 974/292900 | www.abbahuescahotel.com | 84 rooms | No meals.

San Marcos.
B&B/INN | This elegant building dates from the late 19th century, though the public spaces have been updated for comfort; its rooms are small and simply decorated, with fresh pine furniture and impeccable bathrooms. Located outside the 1st-century Roman walls, the hotel is a five-minute walk from Huesca’s cathedral. Pros: central location; historic and elegant building; good value. Cons: rooms can seem cluttered and somewhat cramped. | Rooms from: €60 | Calle San Orencio 10 | 974/222931 | www.hostalsanmarcos.es | 29 rooms | No meals.

ALQUÉZAR

51 km (32 miles) northeast of Huesca, 123 km (76 miles) northeast of Zaragoza.

Almost as though carved from the rock itself, Alquézar overlooks the Sierra y Cañones de Guara Natural Park and is one of Aragón’s most attractive old towns. A labyrinth of cobbled, winding streets and low archways coil around the town’s central square, and many of the buildings’ facades bear coat-of-arms motifs dating back to the 16th century. The uniquely shaped town square, formed with no cohesive plan or architectural style, has a porched area that was built to provide shelter from the sun and rain.

Getting Here and Around

From Huesca, travel eastward on the A22 or N240 for 29 km (18 miles) before joining the A1229 toward Alquézar. Cars cannot enter the old quarter, so the only way to see the town is on foot.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Alquézar. | Calle Arrabal s/n | 974/318940 | www.alquezar.es.

EXPLORING

Colegiata de Santa María.
Keeping watch over the Sierra de Guara, the Colegiata, originally a 9th-century Moorish citadel, was conquered by the Christians in 1067. An interesting mix of Gothic, Mudejar, and Renaissance details are found in the shaded cloister, and there are biblical murals that date back to the Romanesque era. The church, built in the 16th century, contains an almost life-size Romanesque figure of Christ, but restoration has taken away some of its charm—its interior brickwork is now only a painted representation. | Diseminado Afueras, off Calle la Iglesia | Apr.–Oct., daily 11–1:30 and 4:30–7:30; Nov.–early Jan., daily 11–1:30 and 4–6; early Jan.–Feb., weekends 11–1:30 and 4–6.

River Vero Cultural Park.
Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1998, this park within the Sierra de Guara contains more than 60 limestone caves with prehistoric cave paintings. Some date back to around 22,000 BC, although the majority are between 12,000 BC and 4000 BC. Information and guided tours are available through the interpretation center in Colungo. Opening hours can change, so call ahead. | Calle Las Braules 2 Colunga, 9½ km (6 miles) east of Alquézar | 974/318185, 974/306006 | Mar. and Sept.–Dec., weekends 10–2; Apr., May, and June, weekends 10–2 and 4–7; July and Aug., Tues.–Sun. 10–2 and 4:30–7:30.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

Casa Pardina.
SPANISH | Elegant, romantic dining at a reasonable price is the draw here, with a choice of two fixed menus. Locally sourced ingredients come together to create a traditional Araganese menu, adapted for contemporary tastes, and the wine is from the nearby Somontano region. Every meal starts with a tasting of local olive oils. Tucked away downstairs, the small inviting dining room and traditional arched stone walls makes it a cozy choice for winter, but the highlight is the leafy summer dining terrace with a stunning backdrop of the Sierra de Guara and San Miguel church. | Average main: €27 | Calle Medio s/n | 974/318425 | www.casapardina.com | Closed Tues. No lunch weekdays Oct.–Easter.

Hotel Santa María de Alquézar.
B&B/INN | Just outside the old town walls, this hotel has the best views in town—overlooking the River Vero canyon and the Colegiata de Santa María. Rooms are simple but agreeably decorated in rustic colors of reds and yellows. The open-plan lounge and breakfast room is warm and relaxing, with wood furnishings, sofas, and an open fire. The breakfast buffet is filled with all manner of pastries, homemade butter and preserves, local cheeses, and cold meats. Even the olive oil is made from homegrown olives. Pros: breathtaking views; bright rooms; relaxed ambience. Cons: guests can be heard in other rooms; street-facing rooms can be noisy; in high season parking is difficult to find. | Rooms from: €89 | Paseo San Hipolito s/n | 974/318436 | www.hotel-santamaria.com | 21 rooms | Closed Jan. and Feb. (except last two weekends in Feb.) | Breakfast.

SPORTS AND THE OUTDOORS

The Sierra de Guara is one of Europe’s best places for canyoning (descending mountain gorges, usually in or near streams and other water sources).

Avalancha.
There are several agencies in Alquézar that specialize in guided private or group trips for all levels and ages. Avalancha is one of the best for canyoning equipment, including wet suits and helmets. | Paseo San Hipolito s/n | 974/318299 | www.avalancha.org.

BENASQUE

113 km (70 miles) northeast of Alquézar, 140 km (87 miles) northeast of Huesca, 148 km (89 miles) north of Lleida, 221 km (133 miles) northeast of Zaragoza.

Benasque, Aragón’s easternmost town, has always been an important link between Catalonia and Aragón. This elegant mountain hub, with a population of just over 2,200, harbors a number of notable buildings, including the 13th-century Romanesque church of Santa Maria Mayor and the ancient, dignified manor houses of the town’s old families, such as the palace of the counts of Ribagorça, on Calle Mayor, and the Torre Juste. Take a walk around and peer into the entryways and patios of these palatial facades, left open for this purpose.

Getting Here and Around

Take the A22 eastward from Huesca for 112 km (70 miles) before exiting onto the N240 towards Barbastro. At Barbastro join the N123 towards Graus for 27 km (17 miles). At Campo take the N260 toward Benasque for 32 km (20 miles). The town itself is small and easily explored on foot.

For the ski resort and village of Anciles, the best way to go is by car. The short 2-km (1-mile) detour south of Benasque means you’ll be able to see its beautiful collection of 16th-century houses, and sample some well-prepared Aragonese dishes at the Restaurante Ansils.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Benasque. | Calle San Sebastián 5 | 974/551289 | www.benasque.com.

EXPLORING

OFF THE BEATEN PATH: Pico De Aneto.
Benasque is the traditional base camp for excursions to Aneto, which, at 11,168 feet, is the highest peak in the Pyrenees. You can rent crampons and a piolet (ice ax) for the two- to three-hour crossing of the Aneto glacier at any sports store in town or at the Refugio de la Renclusa, a way station for mountaineers that’s an hour’s walk above the parking area, which is 15 km (9 miles) north of Benasque, off A139. The trek to the summit and back is not difficult, just long—some 20 km (12 miles) round-trip, with a 4,500-foot vertical ascent. Allow a full 12 hours.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

Asador Ixarso.
SPANISH | Roast goat or lamb cooked over a raised fireplace in the corner of the dining room is why this place is a fine refuge in chilly weather. The revuelto de setas (eggs scrambled with wild mushrooms) is a classic highland specialty, while the salads are varied and refreshing, especially after a morning or afternoon of skiing, hiking, or climbing. The mixed grill is a house favorite, and the opportunity to try whatever game—venison, wild boar, or partridge—is on the menu should not be missed. | Average main: €20 | Calle San Pedro 12 | 974/552057 | Closed mid-Sept.–Nov. and Apr.–mid-June.

Restaurante Ansils.
SPANISH | This rustic spot in Anciles is ingeniously designed in glass, wood, and stone and specializes in local Benasqué and Aragonese dishes, such as civet de jabalí (wild boar stew) and perdiz guisada con setas de temporada (partridge stew with wild mushrooms), which is a perennial house favorite: the meat is cooked to perfection. The restaurant is sometimes closed unexpectedly on weekdays and out of season, so check before you go. Memorable and exuberant holiday meals are served on Christmas and Easter; reserve well in advance. | Average main: €15 | Calle General Ferraz 6, Anciles | 974/551150 | Closed weekdays in Oct., Nov., May, and June.

Hospital de Benasque.
HOTEL | Constructed and furnished in stone and wood, this mountain retreat is an ideal base camp for hiking and cross-country skiing. Rooms are simple, with clean lines, and the restaurant serves classical Pyrenean fare in a dining room flooded with natural light. Pros: lovely location in a wide meadow surrounded by peaks; literally a breath of fresh air. Cons: rooms are spartan; can get hot on summer days. | Rooms from: €86 | Camino Real de Francia s/n, about 13 km (8 miles) north of Benasque off A139 | 974/552012 | www.llanosdelhospital.com | 52 rooms | Breakfast.

FAMILY | Hotel Aneto.
HOTEL | The only four-star hotel in the area, the Aneto is handy for central Benasque and just a few minutes by car to mountain trails and skiing. It’s also the most favorable for families, who appreciate the gardens and indoor pool. The design integrates the look of a classic mountain chalet with modern interior features, which, with an unusual bedroom layout, may not be to everyone’s taste. Its light and airy café-bar looks out over the mountains, and there are two restaurants, one serving traditional dishes, the other with fusion cuisine. Pros: clean and spacious; best option for children in the area; close to local attractions and amenities. Cons: modern design lacks charm. | Rooms from: €115 | Ctra. de Francia 4 | 974/551061 | 75 rooms | Closed Sept.–Dec. Closed wk after Easter–mid-June | No meals.

Fodor’s Choice | Hotel Selba d’Ansils.
B&B/INN | Attention to detail, impeccable service, and absolute peace and tranquility are the hallmarks of this mountain cottage—by far the best option in the area, whether for a romantic getaway or a family vacation. Only a short distance from Benasque and Anciles, it’s set back from the road amid meadows that have by a backdrop of mountains. Inside, there are delightful personal touches—bedrooms contain items collected on their travels by the owners, Rafael and Piedad, who built the place from scratch in 2007; the duplex rooms are ideal for families. The dining room overlooks countryside, and there is also a library and sitting area. Pros: perfect for escaping city madness; peaceful; personal service from friendly and professional staff. Cons: not for those who value the anonymity of a hotel; a car is necessary. | Rooms from: €110 | Ctra. Anciles, Km 1.5 | 974/552054, 636/876241 | www.hotelselbadansils.com | 10 rooms | Breakfast.

SPORTS AND THE OUTDOORS

Cerler ski area.
Built on a shelf over the valley, at an altitude of 5,051 feet, Cerler (6 km [4 miles] east of Benasque) has 67 ski runs and 19 lifts on the slopes of the Gallinero peak (8,629 feet). | 974/551012 | www.cerler.com.

Danica Guías de Pesca.
This outfitter can show you the top spots and techniques for Pyrenean fly fishing. | Ctra. Benasque s/n | 974/553493 | www.danicaguias.com | €190 per person with guide at the river, €225 at higher mountain lakes.

AÍNSA

66 km (41 miles) southwest of Benasque, 120 km (72 miles) northeast of Huesca, 214 km (128 miles) northeast of Zaragoza.

Persevere through the uninspiring outskirts of Aínsa’s new town, until the road turns sharply upward toward one of Aragón’s most impressive walled medieval towns, where houses are jammed together along narrow cobbled streets. Declared a UNESCO artistic and historic monument, it perches above the new town and offers sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and Odesa National Park.

Getting Here and Around

Head north out of Huesca on the E7/N330 for 39 km (24 miles) and then turn right onto the N260 for 10 km (6 miles). Aínsa can only be explored on foot once you’re through the old city walls.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Aínsa. | Av. Pirenaica 1 | 974/500767 | www.villadeainsa.com.

EXPLORING

Citadel.
The citadel and castle, originally built by the Muslims in the 11th century, was conquered by the Christians and reconstructed in the 16th century. | Old Quarter.

Santa María.
This 12th-century Romanesque church, with its quadruple-vaulted door and 13th-century cloister, is in the corner of the attractive porticoed Plaza Mayor. | C. Santa Cruz, Old Quarter | Free | Daily 10–2 and 4–8.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

Bodegas del Sobrarbe.
SPANISH | Lamb and suckling pig or kid roasted in a wood oven are among the specialties at this excellent restaurant, which had been built into an 11th-century wine cellar. After the welcoming bar at the entrance, a succession of small dining rooms under arches gives a sense of privacy. The tables are decorated with handcrafted ceramic tiles from Teruel, and the setting is rustic and medieval, with vaulted ceilings of heavy wood and stone. | Average main: €18 | Pl. Mayor 2 | 974/500237 | www.bodegasdelsobrarbe.com.

Hotel Los Arcos.
B&B/INN | Next door to Hotel Siete Reyes, Los Arcos provides the same level of service and is welcoming and helpful toward all of its guests. It’s similar in style to its neighbor too, with exposed stone walls throughout, but its interior displays warmer tones and a softer, more traditional look. Although there are only six bedrooms, the breakfast room feels a little cramped in the cellar. However, the library and lounge area on the ground floor is pleasant and overall the hotel radiates friendliness and efficiency. Pros: excellent service; comfortable furnishings. Cons: noise from the square; cramped breakfast room. | Rooms from: €100 | Pl. Mayor 23 | 974/500016 | www.hotellosarcosainsa.com | 6 rooms | Breakfast.

Hotel Los Siete Reyes.
B&B/INN | One of two boutique hotels in Ainsa’s Plaza Mayor, Los Siete Reyes occupies a handsome restored historic house with good-size and artistically decorated bedrooms overlooking the square. Each of the rooms has dark polished wooden floors, exposed stone walls, faux animal pattern covers, and modern bathrooms. It is possible to participate in wine tasting in the hotel’s wine cellar and there is a shop that sells local products. Pros: charming and atmospheric; central location. Cons: noise from the square; interior design makes rooms dark. | Rooms from: €129 | Pl. Mayor s/n | 974/500681 | www.lossietereyes.com | 6 rooms | Breakfast.

BIELSA

34 km (21 miles) northeast of Aínsa, 154 km (92 miles) northeast of Huesca, 221 km (133 miles) northeast of Zaragoza.

Bielsa, at the confluence of the Cinca and Barrosa rivers, is a busy summer resort with some lovely mountain architecture and an ancient, porticoed town hall. Northwest of Bielsa the Monte Perdido glacier and the icy Marboré Lake drain into the Pineta Valley and the Pineta Reservoir. You can take three- or four-hour walks from the parador up to Larri, Munia, or Marboré Lake among remote peaks.

Getting Here and Around

Continue north out of Aínsa on the A138 for 34 km (21 miles). The town itself is small and can be explored on foot. For the Parador de Bielsa and the Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido, a car is required.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Bielsa. | Pl. Mayor s/n | 974/501127 (seasonal), 974/501000 for town hall.

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Valle de Pineta.
B&B/INN | This corner castle overlooking the river junction is the most spectacular nest and refuge in town—try for the top corner room, which looks across both the Barrosa and Cinca valleys. The restaurant, serves excellent traditional Aragonese and Pyrenean fare, and the views from the floor-to-ceiling windows are superb. Pros: central location in the village; family service. Cons: upper rooms are cozy but tiny; it gets hot if the wind dies down during the hottest part of summer. | Rooms from: €56 | Calle Baja s/n | 974/501010 | www.hotelvalledepineta.com | 26 rooms | Closed weekdays in Nov., Jan., and Feb. | Breakfast.

Parador Bielsa.
HOTEL | Glass, steel, and stone define this remote modern structure overlooking the national park, the peak of Monte Perdido, and the source of the Cinca River. Rooms are done in bright wood, but the best part is the proximity to the park and the views. The restaurant specializes in Aragonese mountain dishes, such as pucherete de Parzán (a stew with beans, sausage, and vegetables). Pros: surrounded by nature in complete comfort; views of the highest peaks in the Pyrenees; country cooking. Cons: indifferent service typical of paradors; a little chilly at 4,455 feet above sea level; a 20-minute drive from Bielsa. | Rooms from: €173 | Valle de Pineta s/n | 974/501011 | www.parador.es | 39 rooms | Closed Dec.–Mar. | No meals.

EN ROUTE: Valle de Pineta.
You can explore the Valle from the source of the Cinca River, at the head of the valley above Bielsa. From Bielsa, drive back down to Aínsa on the A138, and turn west on N260 for Broto, Torla, and the Parque Nacional de Ordesa.

PARQUE NACIONAL DE ORDESA Y MONTE PERDIDO

79 km (47 miles) west of Bielsa, 45 km (27 miles) west of Aínsa, 92 km (55 miles) north of Huesca.

This great but often overlooked park is was founded by royal decree in 1918 to protect the natural integrity of the central Pyrenees. It has expanded from 4,940 to 56,810 acres as provincial and national authorities have added the Monte Perdido massif, the head of the Pineta Valley, and the Escuain and Añisclo canyons.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Torla. | Calle Fatás s/n, | Torla | 974/486378.

EXPLORING

Fodor’s Choice | Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park.
The entrance to this natural wonder is under the vertical walls of Monte Mondarruego, the source of the Ara River and its tributary, the Arazas, which forms the famous Ordesa Valley. Defined by the Ara and Arazas rivers, the Ordesa Valley is endowed with pine, fir, larch, beech, and poplar forests; lakes, waterfalls, and high mountain meadows. Protected wildlife includes trout, boar, chamois, and the sarrio or isard (Rupicapra pyrenaica) mountain goat.

Well-marked mountain trails lead to waterfalls, caves, and spectacular observation points. The standard tour, a full day’s hike (eight hours), runs from the parking area in the Pradera de Ordesa, 8 km (5 miles) northeast of Torla, up the Arazas River, past the gradas de Soaso (Soaso risers—a natural stairway of waterfalls) to the cola de caballo (horse’s tail), a lovely fan of falling water at the head of the Cirque de Cotatuero, a sort of natural amphitheater. There is one refuge, Refugio Gorez, north of the cola de caballo. A return walk on the south side of the valley, past the Cabaña de los Cazadores (hunters’ hut), offers a breathtaking view followed by a two-hour descent back to the parking area. A few spots, although not technically difficult, may seem precarious. Information and guidebooks are available at the booth on your way into the park at Pradera de Ordesa. The best time to come is May to mid-November, but check conditions with the tourist office, Centro de Visitantes de Torla, before risking driving into a blizzard in May or missing out on el veranillo de San Martín (“Indian summer”) in fall. | Av. Ordesa s/n Torla | 974/486472 for Centro de Visitantes de Torla | www.ordesa.net | Free.

EN ROUTE: Broto is a prototypical Aragonese mountain town with an excellent 16th-century Gothic church. Nearby villages, such as Oto, have stately manor houses with classic local features: baronial entryways, conical chimneys, and wooden galleries. Torla is the park’s main entry point, with regular buses that go up to the park entrance during summer, and is a popular base camp for hikers.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

El Rebeco.
SPANISH | In this graceful, rustic building in the upper part of town, the dining rooms are lined with historic photographs of Torla during the 19th and 20th centuries. The black marble-and-stone floor and the cadiera—a traditional open fireplace room with an overhead smoke vent—are extraordinary original elements of Pyrenean architecture. In late fall and winter, civets (stews) of deer, boar, and mountain goat are the order of the day. In summer, lighter fare and hearty mountain soups restore hikers between treks. | Average main: €14 | Calle Fatás 55 | 974/486068 | Closed Nov.–Easter.

Villa de Torla.
B&B/INN | This classic mountain refuge, with sundecks, terraces, and a private dining room, has rooms of various shapes and sizes. All have typical Pyrenean details—stone floors and wood paneling and trim. It’s easy to forget that some of Spain’s wildest highland scenery is just a few minutes up the valley. Pros: in the middle of a postcard-perfect Pyrenean village; helpful staff. Cons: streetside rooms can be noisy on weekends and summer nights. | Rooms from: €70 | Pl. Aragón 1 | 974/486156 | www.hotelvilladetorla.com | 38 rooms | Closed early Jan.–mid-Mar. | No meals.

EN ROUTE: Follow N260 (sometimes marked C140) west over the Cotefablo Pass from Torla to Biescas. This route winds interminably through the pine forest leading up to and down from the pass; expect it to take five times longer than it looks like it should on a map.

JACA

24 km (15 miles) southwest of Biescas, 164 km (98 miles) north of Zaragoza.

Jaca, the most important municipal center in Alto Aragón, is anything but sleepy. Bursting with ambition and endowed with the natural resources, jacetanos are determined to make their city the site of a Winter Olympics someday. Founded in 1035 as the kingdom of Jacetania, Jaca was an important stronghold during the Christian Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula and proudly claims never to have bowed to the Moorish invaders. Indeed, on the first Friday of May the town still commemorates the decisive battle in which the appearance of a battalion of women, their hair and jewelry flashing in the sun, so intimidated the Moorish cavalry that they beat a headlong retreat.

Getting Here and Around

Alosa runs daily buses between Jaca and Zaragoza. There is also the option of taking the train between Jaca and Huesca or Zaragoza (www.renfe.com). By car take the E7/N330 northbound from Huesca via Sabiñánigo for 73 km (45 miles). The town sights are easily accessible on foot.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Jaca. | Pl. San Pedro 11–13 | 974/360098.

EXPLORING

Ayuntamiento (Town Hall).
The door to Jaca’s town hall has a notable Renaissance design. | Calle Mayor 24 | 974/355758.

Canfranc.
In July and August a guided train tour departs from the Jaca RENFE station, covering the valley and Canfranc’s magnificent Belle Époque train station, now abandoned. Surely the largest and most ornate building in the Pyrenees, the station has a bewitching history, and was used as a location in the 1965 film Doctor Zhivago. Ask the tourist office for schedules and train prices—it’s a good idea to book ahead of time. In addition, a nontourist train runs year-round between Jaca and Canfranc. | Canfranc Estación | www.elcanfranero.com, www.renfe.com.

Catedral de San Pedro.
An important stop on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Jaca’s 11th-century Romanesque cathedral has lovely carved capitals and was the first French-Romanesque Cathedral in Spain, paving the way for later Spanish-Romanesque architecture. | Pl. de San Pedro 1 | Daily 9–1:30 and 4–8 (except during services).

Museo Diocesano.
Inside the cathedral and near the cloisters, the museum is filled with an excellent collection of Romanesque and Gothic frescoes and artifacts. | Pl. de la Catedral | 974/362185 for museo | www.diocesisdejaca.org | €6 | Weekdays 10–1:30 and 4–7, Sat. 10–1:30 and 4–8, Sun. 10–1:30.

Ciudadela.
The massive pentagon-shaped Ciudadela is an impressive example of 17th-century military architecture. It has a display of more than 35,000 military miniatures, arranged to represent different periods of history. Check the website to confirm hours. | Avda. del Primer Viernes de Mayo s/n | 974/361124, 974/357157 | www.ciudadeladejaca.es | Citadel €6, museum €6, combined ticket €10 | Tues.–Sun. 10:30–1:30 and 4:30–7:30.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAY

La Cocina Aragonesa.
SPANISH | This Jaca mainstay is an elegant, rustic space decorated with local farming and mountaineering objects and centered on a mammoth fireplace. Its Aragonese-Basque cuisine is justly famous around town and beyond for constantly changing, fresh, and innovative creations, especially game in season: venison, wild boar, partridge, and duck. Try the perdiz roja estofada con foie (redleg partridge stuffed with foie gras) or the cebollitas glaseadas y trufa negra (glazed baby onions with black truffles). | Average main: €20 | Hotel Conde Aznar, Calle Cervantes 5 | 974/361050 | www.condeaznar.com | Closed Mon. and 10 days in June and Nov. No dinner Sun.

La Tasca de Ana.
TAPAS | For a taste of Spanish tapas in the Pyrenees, this cozy and fun tavern is one of Jaca’s finest. With only a handful of tables and standing room by the bar, it’s not the setting for a quiet romantic dinner, but it is recommended for anyone spending an evening in Jaca, whether simply to kick-start the evening with a glass of local wine and a tapas appetizer, such as their signature rodolfito (langoustine in sauce), or for something more substantial. Staff are friendly and efficient with the constant stream of orders. | Average main: €20 | Calle Ramiro I 3 | 974/363621 | www.latascadeana.com | Closed 2 wks in May and 2 wks in Sept. No lunch weekdays in winter.

Gran Hotel.
HOTEL | This rambling hotel—Jaca’s traditional official clubhouse—is central to life, sports, and tourism in this Pyrenean hub. The streamlined and comfortable rooms have rich colors and practical wood furniture within a mid-20th-century structure of wood, stone, and glass. The complex includes a garden and a separate dining wing with a restaurant serving creditable Aragonese cuisine. Pros: quiet location just west of the town center; professional and polished service. Cons: modern and functional construction with no special charm or Pyrenean features; neo–motel room style. | Rooms from: €79 | Paseo de la Constitución 1 | 974/360900 | www.granhoteljaca.com | 165 rooms | No meals.

Hotal Rural El Mirador de los Pirineos.
B&B/INN | On the way to the Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña, this peaceful spot is more of a small retreat than a place to simply rest for the night, with its own spa and outdoor pool—not to mention stunning views. These take in the captivating village of Santa Cruz de la Serós and the San Juan de la Peña mountain range. Each of the bedrooms is warmly furnished and inviting (with its own scent), and some have a terrace overlooking the hotel gardens and village. The owner is helpful but not intrusive. Pros: a peaceful and charming alternative to urban Jaca; beautiful setting; spa retreat. Cons: only two restaurants nearby; staff not always on hand; not for those looking for complete hotel service. | Rooms from: €99 | Calle Ordana 8 Santa Cruz de la Serós, 10 km (6 miles) from Jaca | 974/355593 | www.elmiradordelospirineos.com | 7 rooms | Closed Apr.–May. (dates depend on Easter, so call ahead) and 2 wks in Nov. | Breakfast.

Fodor’s Choice | Hotel Barosse.
B&B/INN | In a small village on the outskirts of Jaca, this intimate bed-and-breakfast is worth sacrificing a central location to gain the sweeping mountain views and helpful, personalized service. Carefully constructed from scratch to resemble a traditional Aragonese country house, the Barosse has attractive rooms with wood-beamed ceilings and rustic stone walls. The Jacuzzi and sauna area can be reserved privately, and there is an honesty bar where guests can help themselves. The owner, Jossé, offers a wealth of knowledge about the area and excellent restaurant recommendations. Pros: attractive rural setting; boutique-style accommodations; friendly service. Cons: a car is necessary; not in the center of Jaca. | Rooms from: €130 | Calle de Estirás 4,Barós | 974/360582, 638/845992 | www.barosse.com | 5 rooms | Closed 1st wk in Sept. | Breakfast.

NIGHTLIFE

Jaca’s music bars are concentrated in the old town, on Calle Ramiro I and along Calle Gil Bergés and Calle Bellido. Santa Locura, La Trampa, El Pintakoda, and La Dama Blanca are among the most popular.

SPORTS AND THE OUTDOORS

Ski areas.
On the road to Somport and the French border, the ski areas of Candanchú and Astún are 32 km (20 miles) north of Jaca. | www.valledelaragon.com.

MONASTERIO DE SAN JUAN DE LA PEÑA

21 km (13 miles) southwest of Jaca, 185 km (111 miles) north of Zaragoza, 90 km (54 miles) east of Pamplona.

South of the Aragonese valleys of Hecho and Ansó, and 23 km (14 miles) southwest of Jaca, is the Monastery of San Juan de la Peña, a site connected to the legend of the Holy Grail and one of the centers of Christian resistance during the 700-year Moorish occupation of Spain.

Fodor’s Choice | Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña.
The origins of this arresting religious sanctuary can be traced to the 9th century, when a hermit monk named Juan settled here on the peña (cliff). A monastery was founded on the spot in 920, and in 1071 Sancho Ramirez, son of King Ramiro I, made use of this structure, which was built into the mountain’s rock wall, to found this Benedictine monastery. The cloister, tucked under the cliff, dates from the 12th century and contains intricately carved capitals depicting biblical scenes. The church of the New Monastery contains the Kingdom of Aragon Interpretation Centre, with a 45-minute audiovisual show (in Spanish, except for pre-booked groups). | Off N240 | From Jaca, drive 11 km (7 miles) west on N240 toward Pamplona to a left turn clearly signposted for San Juan de la Peña. From there it’s another 11 km (7 miles) to the monastery | 974/355119 | www.monasteriosanjuan.com | €12 | June–Aug., daily 10–2 and 3–8; Mar.–May, Sept., and Oct., daily 10–2 and 3:30–7; Nov.–Feb., Sun.–Fri. 10–2, Sat. 10–5.

HECHO AND ANSÓ VALLEYS

The Hecho Valley is 49 km (30 miles) northwest of Jaca. The Ansó Valley is 25 km (15 miles) west of Hecho, 118 km (71 miles) east of Pamplona.

The Valle de Ansó is Aragón’s western limit. Rich in fauna (mountain goats, wild boar, and even a bear or two), it follows the Veral River up to Zuriza. Towering over the head of the valley is Navarra’s highest point, the 7,989-foot Mesa de los Tres Reyes (Plateau of the Three Kings), named not for the Magi but for the kings of Aragón, Navarra, and Castile, whose 11th-century kingdoms bordered here, allowing them to meet without leaving their respective realms. The Selva de Oza (Oza Forest), at the head of the Hecho Valley, is above the Boca del Infierno (Mouth of Hell), a tight draw that road and river barely squeeze through.

It’s worth stopping at the pretty village of Ansó, where a preserved collection of stone houses are tightly bunched together along narrow cobbled streets dominated by the oversize Gothic church of San Pedro overlooking the valley. Try to be there on the last Sunday in August, when residents dress in their traditional medieval costumes and perform ancestral dances of great grace and dignity. If heading to this area from Jaca, keep your eye out for the town of Aragüés del Puerto if you wish to explore the adjacent Hecho and Ansó valleys.

Getting Here and Around

You can reach the Valle de Hecho from Jaca by heading west on the N240 and then north on the A176.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Hecho. | Pallar d’Agustín, | Hecho | 974/375505.

EXPLORING

Monasterio de San Pedro de Siresa.
The area’s most important monument is a 9th-century retreat above the town of Hecho. Although now only the 11th-century church remains, it is a marvelous example of Romanesque architecture. Cheso, a medieval Aragonese dialect descended from the Latin spoken by the Siresa monks, is thought to be the closest to Latin of all Romance languages and dialects. It has been kept alive in the Hecho Valley, especially in the works of the poet Veremundo Méndez Coarasa. | Calle San Pedro Siresa | €2 | July–Sept., daily 11–1 and 5–8; Oct.–June, daily 11–1 and 3–5. If closed call Juana (628/212764) for the key.

WHERE TO STAY

Gaby-Casa Blasquico.
B&B/INN | This cozy inn is a typical mountain chalet with flowered balconies and a plethora of memorabilia inside. The restaurant here, best known for its Aragonese mountain cuisine, is especially strong is game recipes, but the menu also has superb Pyrenean lamb and vegetable dishes, and innovative creations such as foie gras with Coca-Cola sorbet. Call ahead for reservations, as Gaby often opens for anyone who reserves in advance, even if the place is theoretically closed. Pros: two cute dormered rooms; fine mountain cuisine. Cons: rooms lack space; public rooms cluttered. | Rooms from: €53 | Pl. la Fuente 1 Hecho | 974/375007 | www.casablasquico.es | 6 rooms | Closed weekdays Nov. 5–Mar. 19 | No meals.

Posada Magoría.
B&B/INN | All the rooms in this carefully restored Art Nouveau house, now an eco-friendly B&B, have a splendid view and are furnished with original furniture and knickknacks from the 1920s, as well as pristine bedding and modern comforts. The homemade vegetarian menu, ecological wines, and organic breakfasts (not included in rates) provide respite from the heavier Pyrenean food. Meals are served in the lounge and dining area, overlooked by a striking ancient rock wall that fuses the house to the adjoining church of San Pedro. In summer the views can be admired from the conservatory and garden. The owner is an encyclopedia of knowledge about the area. Pros: feel-at-home, relaxed atmosphere; cozy retreat in beautiful surroundings. Cons: noise can sometimes be heard from other parts of the house—choose a room on a higher floor. | Rooms from: €60 | Calle Milagro 32A Ansó | 974/370049 | www.posadamagoria.com | 7 rooms | No meals.

Usón.
B&B/INN | For an eco-friendly, totally solar-powered base for exploring the upper Hecho Valley or the Oza Forest, look no farther. The staff at this friendly little Pyrenean inn will tell you where to rent a bike, get you a trout-fishing permit, or send you off in the right direction for a climb or hike. Rooms are simple and airy and decorated with colorful fabrics and quilts. Pros: friendly service; great value; stunning views into the mountains. Cons: no elevator; remote setting. | Rooms from: €58 | Ctra. Selva de Oza, HU2131, Km 7 Usón | 608/729369 | www.hoteluson.com | 8 rooms, 4 apartments | Closed Nov. 5–Mar. 15 | No meals.

EN ROUTE: From Ansó, head west to Roncal on the narrow and winding but panoramic 17-km (11-mile) road through the Sierra de San Miguel. To enjoy this route fully, count on taking a good 45 minutes to reach the Esca River and the Valle de Roncal.

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The Navarran and Basque Pyrenees

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Roncal Valley | Roncesvalles (Orreaga) | Burguete (Auritz) | Baztán Valley

Moving west into the Roncal Valley and the Basque Country, you will note smoother, rolling hills and softer meadows as the rocky central Pyrenees of Aragón begin to descend toward the Bay of Biscay. These wet and fertile uplands and verdant beech forests are a melting pot of Basque-Navarran folklore, culture, tradition, and cuisine. The Basque highlands of Navarra from Roncal through the Irati Forest to Roncesvalles and along the Bidasoa River seem like an Arcadian paradise as the jagged Pyrenean peaks give way to sheep-filled pasturelands, 15th-century caseríos, and sleepy watermills.

The Navarran and Basque Pyrenees

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RONCAL VALLEY

17 km (11 miles) west of Ansó Valley, 72 km (43 miles) west of Jaca, 86 km (52 miles) northeast of Pamplona.

The Roncal Valley, the eastern edge of the Basque Pyrenees, is notable for the sheep’s-milk cheese of the same name and as the birthplace of Julián Gayarre (1844–90), the leading tenor of his time. The 34-km (21-mile) drive through the towns of Burgui and Roncal to Isaba winds through green hillsides past caseríos, classical Basque farmhouses covered by long, sloping roofs that were designed to house animals on the ground floor and the family up above to take advantage of the body heat of the livestock. Burgui’s red-tile roofs backed by rolling pastures contrast with the vertical rock and steep slate roofs of the Aragonese and Catalan Pyrenees; Isaba’s wide-arched bridge across the Esca is a graceful reminder of Roman aesthetics and engineering.

Getting Here and Around

To get to the valley from Jaca, take N240 west along the Aragón River; a right turn north on A137 follows the Esca River from the head of the Yesa Reservoir up the Roncal Valley.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Roncal. | Barrio Iriartea s/n, | Roncal | 948/475256 | www.turismo.navarra.es.

EXPLORING

Aribe.
Two kilometers (1 mile) south of Ochagavía, at Escároz, a small secondary roadway winds 22 km (14 miles) over the Abaurrea heights to Aribe, known for its triple-arched medieval bridge and ancient horreo (granary).

El Tributo de las Tres Vacas (The Tribute of the Three Cows).
Try to be in the Roncal Valley for this event, which has been celebrated every July 13 since 1375. The mayors of the valley’s villages, dressed in traditional gowns, gather near the summit of San Martín to receive the symbolic payment of three cows from their French counterparts, in memory of the settlement of ancient border disputes. Feasting and celebrating follow.

Ochagavía.
The road west (NA140) to Ochagavía through the Portillo de Lazar (Lazar Pass) has views of the Anie and Orhi peaks, which tower over the French border.

Selva de Irati (Irati Forest).
A 15-km (9-mile) detour north through the town of Orbaiceta up to the headwaters of the Irati River, at the Irabia Reservoir, gets you a good look at the Selva de Irati, one of Europe’s major beech forests and the source of much of the lumber for the fleet Spain commanded during its 15th-century golden age.

RONCESVALLES (ORREAGA)

64 km (40 miles) northwest of Isaba in the Roncal Valley, 48 km (30 miles) north of Pamplona.

Roncesvalles (often listed as Orreaga, its name in Euskera) is a small village and site of the Battle of Roncesvalles (or Battle of Roncevaux Pass) when Charlemagne’s army, under the command of Roland, was attacked and overcome by Basque soldiers in AD 778. This battle became the inspiration for one of France’s most revered literary poems, Le Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland), written in the 11th century.

The village’s strategic position, 23 km (14 miles) from the original starting line of St-Jean-de-Port in France, has made it the first stop-off point for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago since the 10th century. Its Gothic Colegiata—built in the style of the Nôtre Dame Cathedral in Paris—hospital, and 12th-century chapel have provided shelter since then. This part of the camino offers up some of the best scenery, and many modern-day pilgrims start in Roncesvalles.

Getting Here and Around

The N135 northbound out of Pamplona goes straight to Roncesvalles.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Orreaga-Roncesvalles. | Antiguo Molino, Calle de Nuestra Señora de Roncesvalles | 948/760301.

EXPLORING

Colegiata.
Built on the orders of King Sancho VII el Fuerte (the Strong), the Collegiate Church houses the king’s tomb, which measures more than 7 feet long. | Calle de Nuestra Señora de Roncesvalles | www.roncesvalles.es.

Ibañeta Pass.
This 3,468-foot pass, above Roncesvalles, is a gorgeous route into France. A menhir (monolith) marks the traditional site of the legendary battle in The Song of Roland, during which Roland fell after calling for help on his ivory battle horn. The well-marked eight-hour walk to or from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port (which does not follow the road) is one of the most beautiful and dramatic sections of the Santiago pilgrimage.

WHERE TO STAY

Casa de Beneficiados.
HOTEL | Whether or not you are embarking on the pilgrimage, this hotel, in a restored 18th-century building adjoining the Colegiata, provides warm, atmospheric shelter for the night, with low-lit, stone-wall common areas and modern, comfortable rooms. Meals are served in the hotel, but a cozy and cheerful alternative is the restaurant in Casa Sabina, a hostel run by the same proprietor that’s a few yards away. Here, pilgrims staying in simpler accommodations, hunker down and refuel over red-checkered tablecloths and dishes such as pimientos del piquillo rellenos de bacalao y gratinados (red peppers filled with cod au gratin) and seasonal meat and fish dishes. Pros: historic building; friendly service; at the center of the pilgrim action. Cons: rooms lack the charm of the common areas. | Rooms from: €90 | Calle Nuestra Señora de Roncesvalles s/n | 948/760105, 639/754449 | www.casadebeneficiados.com | 16 rooms | Dec.–mid-Mar. | No meals.

BURGUETE (AURITZ)

2 km (1 mile) south of Roncesvalles.

Burguete (Auritz, in Euskera) lies between two mountain streams forming the headwaters of the Urobi River and is surrounded by meadows and forests. The town was immortalized in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, with its evocative description of trout fishing in an ice-cold stream above a Navarran village. Hemingway himself spent time here doing just that, and he stayed at the Hostal Burguete.

Getting Here and Around

The N135 northbound out of Pamplona goes to Burguete in 44 km (27 miles). From Roncesvalles, it’s just 2 km south on the N135.

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Loizu.
B&B/INN | An inn for pilgrims since the 18th century, the Loizu is now a country-style hotel that makes an excellent base for exploring the Selva de Irati. The attentive service, along with a decent restaurant that caters to dietary requirements and vegetarians, makes it a stand-out choice. The rooms are light and airy, some featuring attractive slanted wooden ceilings and exposed stone brickwork, and there are pleasant relaxation areas in the cozy lounge area, where there’s a traditional fireplace, and on the pretty garden-terrace. Pros: family-run; friendly service; comfortable and good-sized rooms. Cons: bathrooms, although adequate, are small and fairly cramped. | Rooms from: €85 | Calle San Nicolás 13 | 948/760008 | www.loizu.com | 27 rooms | Closed mid-Dec.–mid-Mar. | No meals.

EN ROUTE: To skip Pamplona and stay on the trans-Pyrenean route, continue 21 km (13 miles) southwest of Burguete on NA135 until you reach NA138, just before Zubiri. A right turn takes you to Urtasun, where the small NA252 leads left to the town of Iragui and over the pass at Col d’Egozkue (from which there are superb views over the Arga and Ultzana River valleys) to Olagüe, where it connects with NA121 some 20 km (12 miles) north of Pamplona. Turn right onto N121A and climb over the Puerto de Velate (Velate Pass)—or, in bad weather (or in a hurry), through the tunnel—to the turn for Elizondo and the Baztán Valley, N121B. (Take a good map if you’re setting off into the hills.)

BAZTÁN VALLEY

62 km (38 miles) northwest of Roncesvalles, 80 km (50 miles) north of Pamplona.

Tucked neatly above the headwaters of the Bidasoa River, beneath the peak of the 3,545-foot Gorramendi Mountain that looms over the border with France, is the Valle de Baztán. These rounded green hills are a scenic halfway stop-off point between the central Pyrenees and the Atlantic. Here the roads of this enchanted Navarran valley meander through picture-perfect villages of geranium-covered, whitewashed, stone-and-mortar houses with red-tile roofs grouped around a central frontón (handball court).

This once-isolated pocket of the Basque-Navarran Pyrenees is peppered with smugglers’ trails and is the site of the Camino de Baztanas, the oldest stretch of the Camino de Santiago. You can follow in the ancient footsteps of pilgrims from the main starting point in the historic village of Urdax. Nearby, close to the village of Zugarramurdi, you can visit a collection of limestone caves, otherwise known as las cuevas de las brujas (witches’ caves), where so-called witches held covens and pagan rituals before their eventual and brutal persecution in the 1600s.

Try to be in the village of Ituren in late September for its Carnival—The Day of the Joaldunak—which has been recognized as one of the oldest celebrations in Europe. Here you can see striking costumes hung with clanging cowbells as participants parade from farm to farm and house to house paying homage to their ancestors; some anthropologists argue that the rituals go back to pagan times. Check the exact dates with the tourist office as each year’s schedule depends on the phases of the moon.

Essentials

Visitor Information
Bidasoa and Baztan Valleys. | Centro de Turismo Rural de Bértiz, Bertiz Natural Park, | Oieregi | 948/592323 | www.consorciobertiz.org.

WHERE TO EAT

FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Donamariako Benta.
BASQUE | This family-run restaurant is notable for its high quality and refined level of service. Created from a former 19th-century residence and stables, the restaurant is cozy in winter, with its crackling fire, and a treat in summer, when you can be seated in the peaceful garden filled with willow trees overlooking the river and old salmon leap. Prix-fixe menus change seasonally and are based on traditional recipes, such as secreto de cerdo ibérico con crema de hongas (grilled tender pork steak with a wild mushroom sauce) or txangurro a la Donostiarra (baked crab), all sublimely executed. It is advisable to make a reservation if you’re coming in August or around public holidays. | Average main: €30 | Barrio de Las Ventas 4 Donamaria | 948/450708 | www.donamariako.com | Closed Mon. and Dec. 10–Jan. 5. No dinner Sun.