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Santa Engracia, An Unusual Village High in the Catalonian Pyrenees, Spain

Updated on November 13, 2014
Perched high on a giant slanting rock, Santa Engracia.
Perched high on a giant slanting rock, Santa Engracia.

Pyrenees

The Pyrenees mountain range stretches from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean, spanning a total of nearly 305 miles. A natural border between France and Spain there are 49 peaks at 3,000m and above, the highest being Pic D'Aneto at 3.404m (11,168ft).


Santa Engracia is a tiny village set way up high, at a 1000m, in the Catalonian Pyrenees. I've visited three times in all and find it the perfect base from which to hike the trails that criss cross the higher slopes.From here you can walk all the way north to France if you wish to! Or take the grand routes west and end up in Basque country!

The high Pyrenees is a haven for those who like the outdoors - climbers, bird watchers, naturalists (not naturists!) and those who love the idea that when people and mountains meet something great happens.

You can also 'stay local' and get to know the life the locals lead by visiting the many small communities that thrive here. It really is a spectacular part of the world, dominated by orangey-pink gold rock formations, home to eagles, ravens and vultures. If you prefer getting away from it all, far from the madding crowds, but still feel in touch with civilisation, then this is the place to come.

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How To Get To Santa Engracia


By far the best way to get to Santa Engracia is by train from Barcelona, via Lleida and the town of Tremp. Once you reach Tremp you can either get a taxi (15 euros) or walk the 12km up the mountain track. You'll need a meal before you attempt the latter as most of the route is uphill but the advantages - beautiful scenery, slow pace, pollution-free - are clear. Plus, if you're into Nature then expect some spectacular flora and fauna to come your way.

Vulture sailing overhead on a silver-blue morning.
Vulture sailing overhead on a silver-blue morning.
Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture, a rare bird with a beautiful flight and distinctive shaped tail.
Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture, a rare bird with a beautiful flight and distinctive shaped tail. | Source

Extraordinary Days

On certain days you can wake up early in the morning and, once the wooden shutters are fully opened and eyes adjusted, come face to face with an unbelievable blue, often graced with the presence of an eagle or vulture, come to take a look at you.

I love these starts to the day. Breakfast outside in crisp, clean air whilst raptors wheel overhead and the mountains stretch as far as the eye can see.

Ordinary days for the lammergeiers and eagles become extraordinary days for the likes of me.

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The small church in golden light at sunset.
The small church in golden light at sunset.

Romanesque Church

This area of Catalonia is renowned for its well preserved ancient churches and ermitas - hermitages - many of which date from 6-8th century and are known as Romanesque in design.

The church in Santa Engracia sits precariously above a sheer rock face and is in fact in desperate need of repair. It's a humble little place of worship, beautifully built, but is only open the locals say, a few times a year, on important festival dates.The tower and bell are still intact. When the sun sets you get a subtle tone of silver on the stone, that gradually changes to gold.

I'm not religious in the orthodox sense but can appreciate the history of such places of worship and prayer.

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Close up of the bell tower, Santa Engracia.
Close up of the bell tower, Santa Engracia.
Cool refreshing water from the village spring.
Cool refreshing water from the village spring.

Filling the Water Bottles - Ready For The Mountains

It's a beautiful day, the sun is up early and the temperature is a reasonable 14 degrees celsius. Perfect weather down here in the cool of village shadows, but mustn't forget that higher up temperatures may be a good ten degrees higher at midday. Plenty of fresh water from the natural spring should help stave off dehydration.

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Guide To The Pyrenees

Here is a link to a useful site should you be travelling to the Pyrenees:

Pyrenees

What To Take With You On A Day's Climb

First of all, be safe. Do not go hiking/walking in bad weather at the wrong time of year. Let someone know where you're going- write it all down - and give them your approximate time of return. Leave a mobile number just in case.

  • Lightweight Rain jacket, warm zip sports jacket, shirt, t shirt, hat, gloves, strong walking boots/shoes.
  • Enough snack food to keep energy levels high.
  • A main meal - sandwiches, pasties, pasta dish, fruit (bananas,apples).
  • Enough water in strong bottles or containers/flasks.
  • Compass to help get your bearings if you stray off trail.
  • Detailed map with clear routes marked.
  • Dictionary or glossary of local language - you don't want to stray into hunting territory or military ranges.
  • Sun Cream.
  • Have a planned route in mind and try to stick to it.
  • If in a party stay together, always know where your group members are.
  • Optional - camera, binoculars, sunglasses, sketch pad, notebook.

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Looking down towards Santa Engracia and the Tremp basin.
Looking down towards Santa Engracia and the Tremp basin.

Santa Engracia and the Tremp Valley

A half hour out of the village you look back having climbed up along what we call Golden Ridge to an outcrop of sculptured rock. From there the vista opens up, the village recedes and you begin to realise that this is what the big birds must experience each time they take flight, only on a much grander scale.

Time for a rest as we climb higher. Backdrop of massive pink sloping mountain.
Time for a rest as we climb higher. Backdrop of massive pink sloping mountain. | Source

Nothing To Spoil The View

The higher we climb the better the view. It may be hard work going uphill but the beauty of it is you get to see different perspectives, you're rewarded with breathtaking panoramas that words hardly get close to describing.

Temperatures rise too! The body starts to heat up. Those breakfast calories are burning up at quite a rate! This is turning into one of the best workouts you've had for ages.

Remove your jacket and thermals. Take on water, nibble a snack. Keep telling yourself that a mountain side always looks a much bigger challenge from a distance than it is in reality. Once you're actually up there walking, the mountain doesn't seem so big. That's my theory, and I'm sticking to it!

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Looking north towards France.
Looking north towards France.
After a five hour climb, the joy of reaching the summit.
After a five hour climb, the joy of reaching the summit.

Snow on the Peaks: When To Climb

Mountains above 2300 metres or so keep most of their snow til August or September. In October the first of the winter snow appears and climbing becomes more dangerous. If you want to climb the highest peaks in the Spanish Pyrenees you should make the attempts in the snow-free months. Be sure to book in advance if you need accommodation in hotels, hostels and refuges (smaller hostels on the mountain ranges)


Pic D'Aneto .. 3,404m (11,168 ft)

Monte Perdido ... 3,355m (11,007 ft)

Pic du Marbore.. 3,248m (10,656 ft)

Pic du Tallon... 3,144m (10,315 ft)

Cirque du Marbore 3,006m (9,862 ft)

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A dry river bed. In winter this would be a raging torrent
A dry river bed. In winter this would be a raging torrent
Gurp dwarfed by mountains.
Gurp dwarfed by mountains. | Source

Mountains Near Gurp

Not far from Santa Engracia is a tiny community - Gurp - which has a church, a farm or two, an abandoned ermita and a ramshackle house that sells wild honey. Behind this village the grey orange mountains rise. You follow a cliff path tunnelled out of the sheer face where once shepherds kept their sheep and, during the civil war, the guerra civil, brave locals fought the advancing Fascists, in 1936-38. You can find bits of shrapnel still scattered about the place.

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A spectacular pattern to this green rock plant.
A spectacular pattern to this green rock plant.
Exquisite tiny narcissi on the way up.
Exquisite tiny narcissi on the way up.
The church from a lower track.
The church from a lower track.
A markersanta engracia, catalonia, spain -
25636 Santa Engràcia, Lleida, Spain
get directions

All images by chef-de-jour unless otherwise stated.

copyright chef-de-jour@Hubpages

Help stop plagiarism. Stolen content should be reported.

© 2013 Andrew Spacey

Comments

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  • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

    Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK

    Very good advert for mountain and hill walking, for the Pyrenees, and for Santa Engracia - your love of this part of the world shines through Andrew.

    I'm not sure I would have the stamina for all that climbing, but the opportunity to look upon and photograph scenery such as this may just make it worthwhile! And any encouragement to travellers to go off the beaten track and explore little known villages and regions such as this must be welcomed.

    A well written, well photographed and well presented hub. Voted up, Alun

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 4 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    old albion Thank you so much Graham. These mountains are awesome and the surroundings well worth a visit. Two hours inland from Barcelona.

  • old albion profile image

    Graham Lee 4 years ago from Lancashire. England.

    Hi chef. An absolute delight, so well done and informative. I have always looked down on these beautiful mountains when flying to Spain on holiday. It is lovely to see that it is just as I imagined, mountains and villages as well. Beautiful.

    voted up and all.

    Graham.

  • suzettenaples profile image

    Suzette Walker 4 years ago from Taos, NM

    What a great hub! I so enjoyed reading this. I love Spain, but have never been up in the Pyrenees. The town with the lovely Romanesque church is charming and I'd love to see it some day. What a lovely introduction to the Pyrenees. Your photos are stunning. Thanks for this information.

  • Sue Bailey profile image

    Susan Bailey 4 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK

    Love this hub. I wish I was younger and fit enough to tackle this trek. I will have to simply enjoy your stunning pictures instead. Voted up and pinned.

  • bac2basics profile image

    Anne 4 years ago from Spain

    Hi Chef.

    I have quite a few hubs on Valencia, one is a travellers guide to the area and then I have 2 on the wildlife here, which I hope are entertaining and funny ( although sad when my little orphaned red squirrel died)

    From my window I have a rock formation sticking out of the side of a hill which looks very like Santa Engracia, though smaller in proportion and without the buildings. This rock is called friars peak as part of the rock looks from certain directions and from a distance like a friar or monk with his hood up.

    Valencia is both stunning and beautiful and there are many places to take those long walks and enjoy nature in the raw.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 4 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    bac2basics - great to hear you have eagles over your house,I am envious,plain and simple! Have you a hub on Valencia.I'll check. Many thanks for the visit.

    Chitrangada - many thanks for stopping by. Creating this hub had me reliving the walks and views and great scneery. Take care.

    Katia - interesting to hear of your freelance adventure,hope you pull it off. Thanks for the visit and comment. Spain I love you.

    Mike -thanks for the comment and pin, always appreciated. A great area to explore, a short way from Barcelona.

  • Mike Robbers profile image

    Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

    Great hub and a wonderful tour to an unknown destination. Thanks for sharing. Voted and pinned!

  • Katiadejuan profile image

    Katia De Juan 4 years ago from London, UK

    I loved this Hub. I went to Santa Engracia many times with my parents when I was a child, and your hub has brought me back many good memories. Also, I do love hiking and I found your tips very useful. Great hub! Voted up! ^_^

  • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

    Chitrangada Sharan 4 years ago from New Delhi, India

    Very nice and interesting hub! The place is beautiful and the pictures amazing.

    Thanks for the travel guide to this Incredibly wonderful destination!

  • bac2basics profile image

    Anne 4 years ago from Spain

    Hi Chef.

    Catalonia is certainly a far cry from Wakefield and your love of this region shines through. The photographs are spectacular.

    I have a family of Eagles which I am seeing daily at the moment.

    I love the early mornings before the heat builds up and just now we have hundreds of swallows or swifts flying up and down the valley and over my house , the air is filled with them in the early morning. A couple of weeks ago we had a few thunderstorms and I had a spectacular view of an Eagle, steady as a rock in the air against a backdrop of boiling black cloud. I just wish I´d have had a camera and good enough skills to catch that image.

    One of these days you must make a visit to Valencia, it´s also spectacular and beautiful and I can recommend great accommodation where you are guaranteed a warm and hospitable Yorkshire welcome :)

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 4 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Thanks for the visit and comment. This is a beautiful part of the world.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 4 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Many thanks for the visit and comment. A beautiful part of the world.

  • Bercton profile image

    Bercton 4 years ago from United Kingdom

    very interesting and quite challenging!