Ready to see another Gorgeous hike in the Pyrenees? Our next adventure was a giant loop within Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park. As the hike we did was immense, (and jelly leg inducing), I’ll split it up to write about it. This is the first section between two lakes; It’s called the Route of the Marmot from Estany de Cavallers to Estany Negre and Refugi Ventosa i Calvell.
Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park is one of Spain’s 15 National Parks, and the only one located in Catalonia. The park is famous for it’s hundreds of lakes (or estany in Catalan) so you will see plenty of gorgeous Pyrenees rocky slopes reflected in these lakes. The main two access points for Aigüestortes are from the Vall de Boí in the West, or from Epsot in the East. As we were staying in the Vall de Boí, we started by exploring the West side of this ridiculously beautiful region.
Route of the Marmot trail map
Estany de Cavallers to Estany Negre – The basics
Distance: 11 km (return)
Elevation Gain: 496m
High Point: 2214 (at Refugi Ventosa i Calvell)
Time: 6 hours
What to bring:
Water, snacks and your camera!
Hiking sticks were helpful as the path is soggy at some points.
The 10 essentials.
Okay but keep them on a leash.
How hard is it?
Moderate. It’s not technical but it is a bit of a slog. If you’re not used to hiking you may find this difficult.
Maps: Spain has fantastic maps that you can download or use the Mapas de España app. We used a mixture of that, Maps Me and hard copies of maps that my mum brought.
Getting to Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park
Hike or cycle:
There are car parks near most of the entrances to Aigüestortes, so you can park and hike in. For example you can park near Caldes de Boí and hike up to Estany de Cavallers. It will take 2 hours for you to walk the 6km (gaining 430m in elevation)
Private Vehicles can’t drive into the park, but there are fantastic taxi services from Boí or Epsot. The 4×4 Taxis in Boí can take you to either Estany de Cavallers, or over to the Aigüestortes plateau. We used this service to start our hike from Estany de Cavallers. It cost €12 each (one way.)
If you visit from June to September there is a Park Bus which will take you to the various entrances around Aigüestortes. This would be great if you want to hike in one way, and out via another. You can find the Park bus timetable here.
La Vall Fosca Cable Car:
If you fancy a different walk, you can take a cable car up into Aigüestortes for €18 return. See details and time here.
Estany de Cavallers – Getting Started
We cheated and took the taxi up to the Estany de Cavaller (Cavallers Reservoir) to start our hike. We’d planned a pretty epic route, and we had limited time, so we didn’t want to exhaust our legs before the hike had actually started! This meant our walk began with views like this:
It is quite shady around the Cavallers Reservoir early in the morning, but the reflections were fantastic. The route starts by walking around the reservoir on a wide, easy to follow path.
Route of the Marmot
Since we returned, I have found out that this walk is called Route of the Marmot. We didn’t see any Marmots along our hike, but it did seem like ideal terrain for them. Maybe the cows had scared them all away. Route of the Cows might be a more appropriate name as there were cows (wearing massive cowbells) in all directions. Can you see the cow silhouette below?
Pyrenean cow etiquette
Mum’s hiking guidebook said we should always stick to the paths and stay at least 10m away from the cows. Cattle can be very dangerous, especially in the summertime when the mothers are protecting their calves. The thing is, the cows seemed to really like the hiking paths, and they were so numerous that we couldn’t always keep a safe distance.
Plateau of Riumalo
There is a bit of a climb up to the plateau of Riumalo. The views back to Cavallers Reservoir improve with each switchback. Then, once you reach the plateau, you’ll be greeted by more cows and fabulous views. Cross the stream (there is a footbridge) and then continue in the same direction, across the plateau with steep mountains in all directions.
This is the view looking back on the plateau once we started to climb above it. You can see two hikers behind us for scale. For some reason, all the other Spanish hikers we met wore incredibly bright colours. It must look like a rainbow earlier in the year when there are more people on the trails.
Cascada de Riumalo Waterfall
We saw a few good waterfalls on our way up. This was the best one with several giant steps up. You get to walk over the top of it higher up the trail(!) This part of the trail is called Llastres de la Morta (literally “the ballasts of the deceased,”) possibly because it gets quite steep!?
Cows on the move
So, I mentioned that you are supposed to stay on the trail aaaand stay 10m away from the cows; Well that is not always possible! The pathway narrows through a boulder-filled area surrounded by cliffs. As we were about to climb up, bell (and moo) sounds warned us that a group of cows was using the path. We had to quickly scamper up some boulders to get out of their way.
After that, there was a giant cow conga line the whole way up the mountain. The cows use the hiking path, as it is the easiest route, so there was very little room for us! We had to climb up mini waterfalls and boulders to leave the switchbacks free for our musical cow friends. Once we made it to the top of the waterfall, most of the cows were below us, apart from one cow-lady who stood at the top of the cliff bellowing. I guess she felt she’d been left behind?
From the top of the waterfall you need to keep your eyes peeled for the little wooden posts with yellow markers that show the route. The path is rocky, but the views keep getting better as you see more of the mountain tops.
First view of Estany Negre
In no time at all we could look down on the Estany Negre or Black Lake. The shadows make the mountain behind look black, but the “black Lake” looked like a beautiful shade of blue to me. In any case, it is a stunning location; Definitely worth the effort!
After our first view of the lake, we dropped down a little and the path became a little easier. I was then blown away by our first view of Agulles de Travessani! It looks a bit like a giant Stegosaurus in the distance.
We could also see our destination, Refugi Ventosa i Calvell. We just had to hike around to it.
Mini detour for lake views
However (as always) we were distracted by a pathway leading upwards. We decided to take a mini detour up to the top of the nearest ridge to see the views to the west. Once we made it up there, we got to see Agulles de Travessani reflected into this mini lake. Isn’t it stunning?
This is the (very rocky) view in the other direction. I am looking really happy to be in the mountains, and because we’re about to reach the Refugi and lunch!
This is Marc’s photo back from the Refugi, looking back the way we had just hiked. I have to admit, the Estany Negre does look more like a black lake from up here.
Refugi Ventosa i Calvell
We made it to Refugi Ventosa i Calvell in just over 2.5 hours, despite plenty of stops to take photos of the cows. The refugi is in a stunning location, and has picnic benches as well as running water. It looks like a fantastic place to sleep if you were doing a multi-day hike. It costs €31 to stay overnight, including breakfast.
They did sell food, so if you wanted to do a long distance hike, you could manage without carrying too much grub. I loved that they had a dino in their flower box too.
This hike would be fantastic as an out-and-back walk if you decided to return to Cavallers Reservoir from here. However we had searched various maps to find a larger, circular walk so we carried on along the Carros de Foc route towards the next refugi. I’ll tell you about that more in my next post!
What do you think? Have I convinced you that you need to go hiking in the Spanish Pyrenees yet? If you like the look of Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park, you can find more information, a map and a great list of walks (including this one) on this fantastic leaflet.