On Foot in the Pyrenees: Ngaire Drew
The weather in London dawned fine on Sunday the 19th July and, despite the best efforts of a “yet again closed for engineering works” Victoria line, I got to Heathrow in time for my flight to Spain to join Explore’s ‘On Foot in the Pyrenees’ tour. At the departure gate I spotted one or two people that I thought might be on the trip (walking boots are usually a good clue) but, of course, met all 15 of my fellow travellers plus Henri, our tour leader, once through into the arrivals hall at Barcelona airport. The group then travelled direct to the small village of Esterri, which was the first of our two bases for the week.
The trip has a number of walks in and around the Aigues Tortes National Park. The first two are on some of the lower slopes of the hills then we moved base to Espot and spent time higher up in the mountains in the national park itself. The weather throughout was beautiful; fine, bright and sunny every day, but it was certainly warm at the beginning of the week. The adage that “only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” was probably very apt. Although, to be fair, the group did consist of six non-British nationals so maybe it’s not just the English that are happy to go hiking in the heat!
The walks were all very enjoyable and the scenery stunning. Our first day’s walk saw us in the Vall d’Aneu and at one point we walked through an abandoned village that had, apparently, been inhabited up until the 1960’s or so. The population of a number of the mountain villages has been dwindling over the years so it would be good to see sensitively planned and managed tourism help keep the area alive and vibrant.
The Aigues Tortes National Park is a great natural asset and a wonderful place for walking and various winter activities, and the wider area is a stunning part of the world. I think most of the group, at one stage or another, felt quite envious of Henri knowing that, for a short time at least, the area was his “office”. The walks on days 4 and 6 of the itinerary took us to some wonderful mountain lakes that were icy blue and no doubt icy cold.
I did venture to put my feet into a stream during one walk and lasted less than 10 seconds. I was completely out-classed by one of my fellow travellers who waded about for a number of minutes, but then I don’t mind admitting to being a bit of a wimp!
The trip had a couple of rest days so we were able to undertake optional activities such as kayaking, white water rafting and additional walks or, as in my case on one day, relaxing with a good book. The accommodation we had in both Esterri and Espot was good, with both hotels having nice outdoor areas in which to have a drink after a good day’s walk. Although, I should mention that in Espot the step up to the terrace from street level was somewhat challenging at the end of a 1,000m descent or a 3-km route march back from the national park (the latter of which, I hasten to add, was purely voluntary as it was part of the optional day we had at the end of the week). On most evenings we ate out as a group but one does has to be mindful that the Spanish eat very late and, whilst extremely good value financially, a 3-course meal (with bread and wine as part of the inclusive price) eaten no earlier than eight o’clock in the evening doesn’t always mean a good night’s sleep! (Especially given as we didn’t have the energy to go out and party until midnight to give our food time to digest.)
Overall, the combination of a well thought out itinerary; a fun and capable tour leader, and a great bunch of travelling companions made for an excellent tour. The walking was fairly strenuous in parts but I’d thoroughly recommend that people dust off their boots, tone up their fitness, and go and enjoy what is a very beautiful part of Europe.
Ngaire Drew took part in our 'On Foot in the Pyrenees' tour in July 2009.