The Ordesa Valley

Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park

Above Image By Heparina1985 – Valley of Ordesa, Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, Spain

  • Region: Aragón
  • Province: Huesca
  • Declared a Natural Park:1918
  • Park surface area: 15,696 hectares (extended to this in 1982)
  • UNESCO 1997 (Ordesa-Viñamala)
  • Zona de Especial Protección para las Aves.

Points of interest

The Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park is an area of dramatic landscape, overseen by the peak of Monte Perdido at 3,355m, found within the Pyrenean mountain range that forms the border between Spain and France.

Arid limestone mountain peaks contrast with deep ravines and lush green valleys. Glaciers have scoured the mountains and there are four fast flowing rivers that fall into the Spanish side. Their valleys are named Ordesa, Pineta, Añisclo and Escuaín.

The original park, created in 1918, only covered the Ordesa valley with one of the intentions being to preserve the Pyrenean Ibex, a type of wild mountain goat. Sadly the last of this species died in January 2000.

The park possesses a wide variety of ecosystems, as it receives both Atlantic and Mediterranean influences, the vegetation consisting of alpine, subalpine, montane, lowland-colline and submediterranean zones. The altitude within the park ranges from 600m to 3,355m above sea level. The massif is also called Las Tres Sorores in Spanish (The Three Sisters) as it includes the three peaks of Monte Perdido (3,355m), Cilindro de Marboré (3,335m) and Soum de Ramond (3,254m).


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Monte Perdido is the Spanish translation of the French “Mont Perdu” or in English “Lost Mountain“. Possibly, as it is less visible from the French side, being obscured by other peaks.

The river Arazas which tumbles along the Ordesa valley passes through the impressive glacial cirque “Circo de Soaso”. The valley curves around to the west creating a funnel for Atlantic weather which brings cool moist air, making the plant life lush and the climate moderate.

Massive vertical cliffs composed of horizontal layers, tower high above the pine forests and beyond these the peaks are snow capped for much of the year.

The environmental contrasts here are extreme with the karstic dryness at altitudes and the waterfalls with exuberant growth below. The valley floor is clothed with fir and beech trees together with oak, birch, ash and willow. Continuing above these are black pines, forming the upper edge of the tree line. From the height of 2,500 m are high meadows with their many species of flora which have adapted to this harsh environment.

Vehicle access to the canyon has been restricted and cars have to be left at the extensive car park at Torla. From here, a short bus ride takes you into the park and from this internal point there are a variety of walks.

Flora

The flora within the park is diverse due to altitudinal variations and climate influences. There are more than 1,500 species, of which 50 are Pyrenean endemics.

The submediterranean type is mostly found in valleys in the south and is dominated by Holm’s oak (Quercus ilex rotundifolia) in rocky sites, and Gall oak (Quercus faginea) in deep soils.

The lowland-colline vegetation is dominated by Sessile oak (Quercus sessiliflora).

The montane areas are characterised by Beech (Fagus sylvatica), European silver fir (Abies alba) and Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris). The Pyrenean-violet (Ramonda myconi) is found in this habitat along with others species such as the Pyrenean saxifrage (Saxifraga longifolia), Silver snapdragon (Antirrhinum sempervirens) and a carnivorous Butterwort (Pinguicula longifolia) each endemic to the Pyrenees.

The subalpine vegetation holds Mountain pine (Pinus uncinata) with Silvery vetch (Vicia argentea), the rare Pyrenean catchfly (Silene borderei) and the endemic Borderea pyrenaica of which there are only two varieties, both restricted to the Pyrenees. Petrocoptis crassifolia which has delicate pink flowers is a plant only known in two of the valleys within the park.

The alpine area carries a high proportion of endemic species to the Pyrenees, including a white flowered Saxifrage (Saxifraga pubescens subsp. iratiana) and two Rock-jasmines from the primrose family (Androsace pyrenaica, A. cylindrica) only found in the central Pyrenees and listed as endangered. The deep blue Dwarf bellflower (Campanula cochleariifolia) and Edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum) grow here but also in other alpine regions.

Fauna

Mammals

The original park was set into motion with the plan to protect the Pyrenean Ibex, a type of wild mountain goat. The numbers of these dwindled in recent years with the death of the last of the species, a female, at the beginning of the year 2000. However there are other ungulates, the Pyrenean chamois (Rupicapra pyrenaica pyrenaica) whose numbers are growing after being threatened with extinction and European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus).

Fossils of Alpine marmots (Marmota marmota) have been discovered from the Pleistocene era and after local extinction were first re-introduced to the Pyrenees in 1948, with other subsequent stocks brought in over the years. Other mammals present are Wild boar (Sus scrofa), Otter (Lutra lutra), Badger (Meles meles), Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Stoat (Mustela erminea), Stone martin (Martes foina), Pine marten (Martes martes), Genet (Genetta genetta), Wild cat (Felis silvestris), Alpine shrew (Sorex alpinus) and Dormouse (Eliomys quercinus).

An unusual creature, the small Pyrenean desman (Galemys pyrenaicus) occurs in areas between 60-1,200 m at streams, rivers and lakes where it hunts by night for larval aquatic insects, crustaceans and terrestrial insects. Well adapted to semi aquatic life, they live in pairs with the male defending the territory, seeking shelter in rock crevices or burrows of water rats and not actually creating their own. Due to habitat loss and water pollution its numbers are decreasing and at present is noted as vulnerable on the red list of threatened species.

Birdlife

The avifauna includes Lammergeyers (Gypaetus barbatus) also known as Bearded vultures, which had been in decline throughout Europe. Breeding support programs have successfully boosted numbers in the area of the Pyrenees. Among the numerous species of birds are Bonelli’s Eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus), Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Griffon and Egyptian vultures (Gyps fulvus, Neophron percnopterus), Red kite (Milvus milvus), Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus), Hazel grouse (Tetrastes bonasia), Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), Alpine Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus), Black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius), Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria), Northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe), Black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), Alpine accentor (Prunella collaris) and Snow finch (Montifringilla nivalis).

Reptiles and Amphibians

Reptiles include the Pyrenean rock lizard (Iberolacerta bonnali) which inhabits higher areas and the Asp viper (Vipera aspis) which although not really associated with high altitudes, in the Pyrenees it has been found at over 2,100 m above sea level.

Among the amphibians are Pyrenean brook salamander (Calotriton asper), Palmate newt (Triturus helveticus), Common frog (Rana temporaria) and Midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans).

Discovered in 1990, on the fringes of the Ordesa and Monte Perdido park, the Pyrenean frog (Rana pyrenaica) is endemic in the central and western Pyrenees and enjoys fast running, well oxygenated cold water.

Butterflies

The park is also the richest in Spain for butterflies, holding 139 species. The Apollo (Parnassius apollo) is one of the largest and most attractive with its pale colours and lazy flight, solely appearing above 1000m. There are 8 species that although present in other parts of Europe, are restricted almost exclusively to this park within Spain.

  • Northern wall brown (Lasiommata petropolitana)
  • Glandon blue (Agriades glandon),
  • Chestnut heath (Coenonympha glycerion)
  • Common brassy ringlet (Erebia cassioides)
  • Gavarnie ringlet (Erebia gorgone)
  • False dewy ringlet (Erebia sthennyo)
  • Mountain alcon blue (Maculinea rebeli)
  • Mountain small white (Pieris ergane).

Also in the area

  • Eco Museum -Visitor’s Centre at the Castle of Ainsa (Huesca) where you can learn about the scheme to aid the Lammergeyers “Quebrantahuesos” (Gypaetus barbatus). There is a sanctuary here for injured birds.
  • Torla Museo Etnológico- Ethnological Museum
  • Morillo de Tou: Museo de la Alfarería Tradicional Aragonesa – Museum of traditional Aragonese pottery.
  • “Dolmen de Tella” is a Neolithic dolmen with a wonderful panorama. It is one of the highest sited megalithic tombs situated above an immense gorge at an altitude of about 1400 meters. The chamber is five-sided and its entrance faces the winter solstice sunset, an important seasonal calendar date traditionally associated with spiritual regeneration.
  • At the village of Tella are five Romanesque chapels, of which Los Santos Juan Y Pablo is the oldest in the area, dating from the 11th Century and spectacularly sited at a vast rock. It consists of a rectangular room which includes a small apse, with a semi-circular floor underneath which there is a crypt.
  • The Romanesque Chapel of the Virgin de Fajanillas is from the 12th Century.
  • Museo Etnológico: Ethnological Museum at Torla
  • The ancient church in Anso is extraordinarily rich inside and houses an interesting ecclesiastical, craft and ethnological museum.

Information/Visitors Centers in the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park

  • “El Parador” situated part way between Torla and La Pradera de Ordesa, at kilometer marker 5.
  • Information Point: Torla
  • Information Point – Escalona A-138, at the entrance to Valle de Añisclo.
  • Information Point – Bielsa “Casa Larraga”, Plaza de España.
  • Information Point – Escuaín. In the old school building within the village. The theme is based on the Bearded vulture
  • Information Point – Pineta on the road to La Larri.

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