One of my main goals while in Spain was to visit the Pyrenees. Unlike the rest of Spain, which stays mild throughout the year, northern Spain receives a real winter. For hiking, it is recommended that August is the last month to visit the Pyrenees for warm, hikable weather. So, we headed to the nearest national park, Parc Nacional d'Aiguestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici, and the village of Taull.
The first thing I thought when entering Taull was that this village looks like what a village in the Pyrenees should look like. I was reminded that visitors go to Epcot Center at Disney World to feel like they are actually in another country. The caricatures there represent the stereotypes that people envision, even if the real thing isn't really like the expectation. Taull feels like a caricature of itself and is better than the expectation.
As a Coloradan that is used to mountains, I was still awed by the Pyrenees. In Spain, like most European countries, space is a foreign concept. Countries are smaller and every bit of land has been used in some fashion. The United States has protected areas, void of human constructions. US public lands are vast, but often exist next to towns and cities that are also vast and sprawling. In Spain, all must coexist. So, what is amazing to me is how Europeans have perfected the art of compact living and blending into the scenery. Rather than sprawling towns built in valleys between mountains, as in the United States, Pyrenees towns are built at the top of a peak, but so compact that green can be seen for miles, as well as other small dots of towns. It feels as if you are part of the natural beauty around you. This, coupled with the many stone chapels and monasteries gives the villages the feel of growing from the earth itself.
Hiking in the park is controlled to limit visitors and traffic. One must take a taxi bus to the start of trailheads to keep cars from congregating. We were 4 of 8 people being taken to the trail, and we didn't see anyone else on our hike. Our destination was Estany Long (Long Lake) , and a rainstorm came in just as we were departing, which added to the ambience. Clouds and mist hung below the peaks and through the valleys. The park interpreter sold us raincoats and loaned us his umbrella from his small cabin at the trailhead. He also enthusiastically discussed frogs and birds that we were hoping to see. The land itself is breathtaking, with open glacial valleys, high peaks, carved lakes, and cold streams. The only drawback was the amount of grazing, even though only allowed for local farmers. Their cows are different than ours - scruffy, wooly, and stocky. The main cow in each group wears a big cowbell that can be heard within its radius.
Another of the amazing things throughout this area are the Byzantine churches that are in the little towns. Combined, all nine of them constitute a Unesco World Heritage Site and each shows painted walls that combine Romanesque Christian images with animals and mythology. Their ancient stone beauty adds to the romance of the area. Each church has its own bell tower that can be climbed on steep stairs. From each one was a unique and awe inspiring view of the mountains, the spotted villages, and the blue clear skies. The air itself smelled fresh and musty at the same time.
In this high mountain air, the surreal is mixed with the picturesque. On our taxi ride back from our trailhead, we passed a mountain lake where two women were about to swim. Our driver angrily pulled over to tell them that they couldn't swim there and they proceeded to get into a heated argument. Another taxi van pulled up with other passengers and they proceeded to argue as well. The strange thing was that the women were entirely naked. They stood and argued with everyone as if it were no big deal. This encounter is yet another reminder that this is not the Epcot Center. It is the people, and not just the sites, that make up the amazing experience of living in Spain.
- Hotel Rantiner, Taull (family owned with amazing European breakfasts and family room for games)
- Restaurant El Fai, Taull (best food we've had in Spain)
- Ca la Pepa (Owned by Pepa. Served amazing crepes. We forgot cash and they told us to just come pay another time)
- Taxi bus into Park from Boi
- Hike to Estany Llong in the hear fo the Parc (Parc Nacional d'Aiguestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici)
- Romanesque Churches of Boi-Taull Tour with Bell Tower Climbs (we chose: Sant Climent de Taull, Santa Maria de Taull, Sant Joan de Boi, and Santa Eulalia d'Erill la Vall)
Sally and her family have moved to Spain for a year starting July 2017. They are living in a little town called Puzol, which is about 12km north of Valencia. Her kids, Carson and Celia, are attending the American School of Valencia, an International School located in Puzol. The goal for the whole family is to experience another way of life, and learn Spanish. This blog tracks their travels and experiences.