Just in case I did not already convince everyone I know to visit the Spanish Pyrenees, I’d like to share another beautiful walk. This adventure explores the most famous lake in the area, Estany de Sant Maurici. This hike is a bit easier than my previous Pyrenees walks; So if you are vaguely fit, you’ll be able to manage it. Our route goes around Lake Sant Maurici, then we walked up to Refugi Amitges (via the Carros de Foc trail), then returned on the opposite side of the lake via the Mirador de l’Estany viewpoint. This loop involves waterfalls, spectacular lakes, two refuges and mountain scenery that will make you go “squeeee.”
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). This is also one of the best spots to see the beautiful ‘Enchanted Mountains’.
Sant Maurici Lake Loop Map
Sant Maurici Lake Loop – The basics
Distance: 10 km as a loop
Elevation Gain: 463m
High Point: 2370m (at Refugi d’Amitges)
Time: 4-5 hours
What to bring:
Water, snacks and your camera!
Hiking sticks were helpful if you have ouchy knees!
The 10 essentials.
Must stay on a leash.
How hard is it?
Moderate. There is a bit of elevation gain, but it’s not too long and the views will keep you going. I did this hike when I was a bit poorly, so you can do this!
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 Estany de Sant Maurici
As I mentioned in my previous post, there are a few ways to get to the start of your hike.
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 at Llac Sant Maurici car park. It will take an 1 hour to walk the 4km (gaining 250m in elevation)
Private Vehicles can’t drive into the park, but there are fantastic taxi services from Boí or Espot. The 4×4 Taxis in Espot can take you to either Estany de Sant Maurici, or even all the way up to the Refugi Amitges. We used this service to start our hike from Estany de Sant Maurici. It cost €10.5 each (both ways.) The taxis pick people up every hour to bring them down again (so 3pm, 4pm, 5pm and 6pm.) The service is really easy to use.
Sant Maurici Lake Loop – Getting started
The 4×4 taxi drops people off right next to Estany de Sant Sant Maurici. So you’ll be treated to gorgeous views like this right from the start of the walk. There are several options for loops around the lake. You can take it easy and stay on the low path, or follow our (still easy-ish) route up high to Refugi Amitges via the Carros de Foc trail. There are also multiple possible ways to return, depending on your energy levels.
Cascada de Ratera
The path starts off under trees, so it’s not too hot. Every so often you can peek down at Sant Maurici Lake and the gorgeous mountains. The path follows switchbacks up to the pretty Cascada de Ratera waterfall.
Keep going beyond the waterfall. You’ll soon emerge above the main forest to see the fantastic views of the sub-alpine area of the National Park. Looking back you get your first full view of the twin peaks of the Enchanted Mountains. *swoons*
Eastany de Ratera
The hike up to the refuge goes past quite a few picturesque lakes. First you’ll see Estany de Ratera. I loved the way it is such a good backdrop for the huge rocky peaks behind it. Follow the path around the lake and keep climbing to the next ridge.
Estanyola de Ratera
Next there is a smaller lake, Estanyola de Ratera. This also has a perfect background of Pyrenees peaks. You can turn left here to return to Lake Sant Maurici via a pretty viewpoint, or keep heading up on the Carros de foc trail.
Carros de foc
Just in case you missed my other post about this, the Carros de Foc is a truly epic mid-distance hike that connects the 9 mountain refuges in the Aigüestortes i Llac de Sant Maurici National Park. It covers 55km with 9200m of elevation gain(!) Most people take 5-7 days to walk it, but some Sky Runners do the entire thing in a day. Carros de foc means “Chariots of fire” in Catalan, so if you see chariots of fire related images along the route, that is why!
The whole section of this walk up to the refuge is part of the Carros de foc trail. It was also much easier than the previous section we had attempted.
Estany de la Bassa
This is the next small lake along the trail. This one is teeny but seemed to be keeping the grass green, and the cows happy.
There are quite a few switchbacks, so each time you turn around, you see better views of the spiky-topped Pyrenees.
This gives you an idea about the trail up to Refugi Amitges. You can pay for a ride the whole way up this bumpy road, if you don’t think you can walk this far, but you still want to take in the views.
I already thought Refugi Ventosa i Calvell was impressive, but the views of Refugi Amitges blew me away. Just look at this location!
We’d bought sandwiches (pan con queso) down in Espot, so we spent some time out on the balcony enjoying the views. There were quite a few staff at the refuge, and the beds looked clean (and super comfy.) It looked like it would be a truly fantastic place to stay overnight.
This is the view down to the Enchanted Mountains from Refugi Amitges’ balcony.
Then as you come out of the front door, this is the epic view that greets you.
From this point, there are a couple of different possible ways to continue your Lake Sant Maurici Loop. We decided to keep going to Estany de les Obagues de Ratera, another beautiful mountain lake. We descended a little, and then followed the a contour around a headland. Once again, the views were spectacular.
Estany de les Obagues de Ratera
Now you can probably tell from my overexposed photos, but it was SUCH a bright sunny day. It was so bright that I felt like I wasn’t wearing sun glasses, even when they were on my face! I had been sick the previous day, and I hadn’t quite recovered, so we had to sit in the shade for a while by this lake for me to hydrate and feel better. It was a pretty stunning spot to relax.
Vall de Ratera
However, we knew we wanted to take the taxi back down to Espot, so we soon sped back up to hike along the gorgeous Ratera valley.
Mirador de l’Estany
This is one of the best viewpoints on our Lake Sant Maurici Loop. Even if you don’t want to hike all the way up to the refuge, this is a gorgeous viewpoint to aim for. The Enchanted Mountains look perfect from here, and the lake was a shade of fake-looking glacier blue.
The thing I really loved about this loop was the return journey allows you to drop elevation slowly, so it’s not too hard on your knees. At first the path traverses around the lake up high so you continue to see the best views of Estany de Sant Maurici.
Just how amazing are these mountains!? This mountain is Roca de l’Estany.
As we moved around the lake, we got better views of the Enchanted Mountains. I love how they look once shadows started to show off their rocky faces.
Around Lake Sant Maurici
The return loop around Lake Sant Maurici is quite high up, so you will continue to see pretty views down to the blue waters. There is another pathway down by the water, but if you return via the Mirador de l’Estany viewpoint, it’s easier to take the high route.
This is looking back where we had just walked. We had started on the opposite side of the lake. The refuge is on the ridge to the left of Pui Pla, the massive mountain.
As we got closer to the end of our hike, the light started to become golden and we had some amazing views looking straight up to craggy peaks.
Eventually we made it back down with about 10 minutes before the next taxi back to Espot.
The Sant Maurici Lake side of Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park seems to be more famous than the other side near the Vall de Boí. We found there were more tourists and hikers, but not so many that the park seemed crowded. In fact, the protections (no swimming, no camping, no hunting, no gathering plants or mushrooms) ensure that the park seems wild, despite the excellent facilities and clear paths and sign posts. It’s a bit sad that you cannot swim or camp near any of these lakes, but it is worth it to protect the area from the mess us humans sometimes leave behind.
If you like the look of this, you might also like my other posts in the area:
- Romanesque Churches of Vall de Boí
- Route of the Marmot from Cavallers Reservoir to Estany Negre, the Black Lake
- Hike to Coll de Contraix on the Carrors de foc trail