With Spain’s national parks accounting for a total of more than 3250 sq km, helping conserve the country’s natural heritage. Of all the 15 official designated national park, the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park being the oldest Spanish national park in the system, situated in the Pyrenees region of Huesca, Aragón.
Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park
Established as a National Park in 1918, is Spain’s first protected area and declared as a World Heritage site in 1997 by UNESCO, the park has progressively expanded to include over 156,08 sq km of varied landscapes, such as lush valleys, forests and meadows, steep limestone slopes and alpine heights.
The Ordesa region comprises of several valleys that emanate from a series of three massifs called Las Tres Sorores (The Three Sisters), it encompasses Monte Perdido (3,355m), Cilindro de Marboré (3,328m) and Soum de Ramond (3,263m). Monte Perdido, meaning Lost Mountain, is the centrepiece of Ordesa y Monte Perdido and the tallest out of the three and the park’s altitude ranges from 600m all the way to 3,355 metres above sea level.
Spain is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including some of the rarest species such as the Spanish Imperial Eagle and the Iberian Lynx.
Ordesa Valley, the park’s namesake, is a glacial valley in Aragon which is part of the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park. It is carved by glaciers, with massive vertical, jagged limestone cliffs composed of horizontal layers brilliantly marked with bands of grey, red and ochre that tower above the pine forests. The peaks beyond are snow-capped for most of the year, the valley gets of plenty of cool and moist air from the Atlantic, giving it a moderate climate and lush vegetation.
The valley floor is home to forests of firs and beeches, dwarf mountain pines that grow along the slopes and alpine shrubs and meadows—with seasonal wild-flowers like edelweiss, orchids, violets and belladonnas—grow above the treelines. The valley is also home to one of Europe’s largest populations of Pyrenean Chamois and is well known for its waterfalls and wildlife.
Ordesa National Park was originally set up specifically to protect the Spanish or Iberian ibex, a wild goat. There are four subspecies of the Iberian ibex, two subspecies still can still be found in Ordesa clinging to the high rocky mountainsides. The other two—Including the Pyrenean species that once occurred in Ordesa — their numbers dwindled due to unknown reasons, eventually, the last known ibex died in 2000.
Spain is also a haven for bird lovers, with about 70 per cent of European birds either visit or breed here, including black vultures and the Eleonora’s falcon.
Other forms of wildlife abound, including other notable ungulates like the Pyrenean chamois deer and the European roe deer, whose numbers are growing after being threatened with extinction.
The valley also shelters about 32 species of mammals, including wild boars, otters, foxes and the unusual Pyrenean Desman, a small semi-aquatic mammal that resides in rock crevices or burrow near water sources. Bird enthusiasts will enjoy the park’s variety of giant birds of prey, including Lammergeiers or Bearded Vultures—adults have a wingspan of 235 to 280cm and weighs between 5 to 7kg. Lammergeiers were in decline throughout Europe but breeding programs have boosted the number in the Pyrenees. Golden Eagles and Griffon Vultures can also be seen soaring on the thermals.
Other species include various reptiles and amphibians, as well as a huge variety of exotic butterflies. One of the best ways to explore Ordesa National Park is on foot. It offers a wide variety of hiking opportunities ranging from short and easy walks to challenging treks. The well-marked GR11, a European long hiking trail, runs through Ordesa as it transverses the Pyrenees mountains.
Spanish’s climate and its habitats being so varied, accommodates all manners of wildlife to keep it sustained. These include exotic butterflies to birds like flamingos and eagles, to mammals like bears, lynx’s and wolves and even dolphins, seals and whales in the coastal areas.
Best to start from the picturesque village of Torla, frequented by tourists. From the village, there are dozens of trailheads to choose from, getting you away from the crowds. The most popular walk is the dramatic Circa Sosa, which takes 5 to 8 hours, a glacial cirque that lies at the head of the valley. The dramatic high ledge offers spectacular views of the three summits as you walk through this famous limestone gorge. Climbers have many choices to climb in this limestone valley. Two noteworthy trails are the Petit Vignemale, which offers almost every technical challenge, and Acisclo Valley for every experienced climber.
Vehicle access to the canyon is restricted, and those driving have to park at the village of Torla. From here, a short bus ride takes you into the park and from this internal point, there are a variety of walks. The town has a wide variety of accommodations, ranging from campsites to luxury digs. There are several refugi (alpine shelters) that are like youth hostels within the park, which are open to all comers. Despite its popularity, Torla is not easy to get to without a car there are two buses a day to and from Sabaninago.