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© Archivo del Parque Nacional de Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici
Estany de Sant Maurici
Estany de Sant Maurici
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An aerial view of Banyoles lake
With the summer sun really beginning to shine, we suggest some watery spots around Catalunya that might help you keep cool:
AIGÜESTORTES I ESTANY DE SANT MAURICI NATIONAL PARK
Situated high up in the heart of the Pyrenees is the sole Spanish national park in Catalunya, Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici, a spectacular landscape of serrated mountain peaks, fir and pine forests, tumbling streams and mirrored lakes.
There are two main entrances to the park, at Vall de Boí (Alta Ribagorça) and Vall de Espot (Pallars Sobirà). If entering from Vall de Boí, make sure to visit the impressive, virtually untouched collection of nine early Romanesque churches that were consecrated in the 11th and 12th centuries and are today a UNESCO World Heritage site. Entering from this side also takes you to the Riu de Sant Nicolau which merges into the Riu Escrita at the plain of Aigüestortes (which means ‘twisted waters’). The effects of glaciation are evident here from the U-shaped valley and anonymous boulders that have been abandoned by retreating glaciers, leading to the formation of waterfalls further downstream.
At the eastern entrance of the park, at Vall de Espot, lies the park’s largest lake, the Estany de Sant Maurici, which is the preying spot for over 25 bird species, including the Golden Eagle and Peregrine Falcon, making it ideal for birdwatchers. It is also popular with muskrats, marmots and otters, which prowl the river banks. The crags of Els Encantats (The Enchanted Mountains) are one of the most eyecatching and unique rock formations in the area and feature in the park’s emblem. Legend has it that two men and their dogs decided to hunt izard (another name for the chamois, a goat-antelope) instead of attending mass and were consequently struck by lightning and turned to stone; supposedly, if you look at the twin peaks, you can see the profiles of the two men together with their dog.
From here, there are many hiking trails available, some of which take you to the highest peaks of the Pyrenees, towering over 200 mountain lakes at altitudes of up to 3,000 metres. The walk to the Mirador de l’Estany provides sightseers with some of the best views across the Iberian Peninsula and even in June, be prepared to encounter the occasional snowdrift!
ESTANY DE BANYOLES
A hundred kilometres from Barcelona, in the region of el Pla de l’Estany, lies the Banyoles Lake, which is the largest natural lake in Catalunya, with a surface area of 112 hectares or 1.12 square kilometres. Since hosting the rowing events at the 1992 Olympic Games, the lake has become one of the most iconic natural attractions in the north-eastern Iberian Peninsula and has witnessed a large influx of tourists and rowers from all over Europe.
The lake is particularly popular in the summer when holiday-makers sojourn in the lodges scattered around its perimeter, to take advantage of the nearby forest walking trails and water activities. The still waters are a perfect place for rowing, kayaking and canoeing whilst providing panoramic shots of the Pyrenees which loom in the background. La Draga Park is the only spot on the lake where you can enjoy a picnic but it gives you wonderful views of the habitat that is home to a range of fish, aquatic birds and creatures such as kingfishers, turtles, salamanders and frogs. White willows, European alders, white poplars and the odd banana tree cling to the edge of the shoreline.
The small medieval town has other notable attractions such as the Benedictine Sant Esteve monastery and the Pia Almoina, a Gothic palace that serves as a historical museum for the region.
CASTELLAR DE N’HUG
Not many venture to the small rural town of Castellar de N’Hug, which hugs the cliffs of Els Balços in Berguedá, but it is one of the hidden gems of Catalunya. Its most prized asset is the source of the Llobregat River where water surges up from beneath the earth before gushing out from behind crevices in pure, crystal-like showers, providing spectators with a spectacle that highlights the beauty and brute strength of Mother Nature. Early summer is the perfect time to see the spring in full force and the Cami de les Fonts takes you on an enjoyable venture through the river-bank forests, allowing you to admire the surrounding plants and wildlife.
The Llobregat is the second-longest river in Catalunya, after the Ebre, running over 170 kilometres from Castellar de N’Hug to the Mediterranean Sea.
Castellar de N’Hug is also Catalunya’s highest mountain village, at an altitude of 1,450 metres above sea level, and is famous for hosting one of Catalunya’s more unusual festivals, the International Sheepdog Competition (Gossos d’ Atura), which takes place at El Prat del Castell every year on the last Sunday in August.
Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park—
Estany de Banyoles—www.banyoles.cat
Castellar de N’Hug—www.ajcastellardenhug.cat