Romanesque Churches, Pyrenees Ridges and Roman Ruins

Finally I made it back to the Pyrenees, a place I visited about 8 years ago to climb my first mountain with snow and ice. I was seduced by the name at the time and made it my mission: ‘Monte Perdido’ or ‘Lost Mountain’ in the Odessa National Park. How could one not want to climb a peak called that name? After the circumnavigation and climb I returned the rental gear and bought a set of crampons and an ice axe in the same shop. Revisiting the Pyrenees was a long time anticipated for all the beautiful old stone villages and old houses, as much as for the mountains, national parks and as always my longing for the Spanish lifestyle and language. The Pyrenees are also the less visited mountain chain in Europe which makes them even more appealing. While on our way to the National Park Aiguestortes a bakery owner took all his time, neglecting other customers, to tell us to go and visit the Boi valley, a UNESCO protected site for its many Romanesques churches. This picturesque valley with about a dozen of these beautiful simple stone churches made our imagination flower and we started our exploration of the park from this end.

We left from ‘Caldes de Boi’  for a multi day trip in the Aiguestortes Park National. The  famous circuit of several days is called ‘Carro de Foc’ http://www.carrosdefoc.com/en and takes you through an amazing landscape of granite, hundreds of lakes, rivers and waterfalls. The passes are up to 2750m high and were holding some snow. The higher lakes were still semi frozen while the lower ones invited for a quick refreshing dip at the heat of the day.

 
After this little warm up we moved on to Pico Aneto, which is with his 3404m the highest mountain of the Pyrenees, and is a nice day trip from the car park. Benasques is the get away town for Aneto climbs and a bustling hub at main season, but was quiet at this time of the year. It also has a lovely historic center and great outdoor shopping. Next stop was Ainsi, which has a fortress, a Romanesque church and is at the entrance to the Bielsa Valley to access the Odessa National Park.
We attempted the ‘Extreme Circuito de Monte Perdido’ this time round, which is a slight variation taking a higher route, on the circuit I did 8 years earlier. We also did it in half the time…yeah! It was great to come back to this special place, where you cross from Spain to France and back. The Refugio Tucarroya sits in a very precarious spot right in a steep little notch with barely enough room for the two stone vaults. It’s right on the border and the vaults used to be separated volumes, one belonging to Spain and one to France. These are now connected with a door inside. It’s the oldest shelter in the Pyrenees, finished in 1890 and sits at 2661m, with a great view to the north face of Monte Perdido. This hut left a lasting impression with me on my first visit for its construction on such an extreme site. From there we dropped down to the Circle de Gavarnie which is famous for its waterfalls, one the height of five times the Eiffel Tour. We had a spectacular route up the face of these waterfalls and back across to Spain via a gap in the mountain called the ‘Breca Roland’ and on to the famous Odessa Canyon.

We were sad to leave Spain, but it was time to carry on to France and we aimed for the beach at the famous Cote d’Azur, but mad a few stops en route: first in Carcassone, where we visited the biggest fortress of Europe, another fortress in Aigues Mortes, than through the Carmarque  – land of the gypsies – and on to Arles, where the Romans left some ruins behind, a theater, an amphitheaters, thermes, etc…