Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Grass Snake

Saw this grass snake - Natrix natrix - in the Selva de Oza here in the Hecho Valley on July 1st 2008. It felt threatened when I took the photo and puffed itself up to look more menacing. Even though I know they are completely harmless I didn´t want to get too close!
Their scientific name Natrix natrix refers to their excellent swimming ability. Their main prey are frogs, other small reptiles and small fish. The valley here with its healthy river and mountain streams is an ideal habitat for them.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Los Chotos in Sandiniés

Sandiniés is one of our favourite villages to play. They call us to entertain at their fiestas every August. It´s the most authentic village in the Valle de Tena as it has escaped the worst of the building boom which has spoiled most local villages.
From left to right: Enrique vocals and acordion, Sylvia percussion, Lulu percussion, Bolis vocals and guitarrico (ukelele), Kike vocals and squeezebox and Richard mandolin.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Kitchen Boys

Montxo and David, two of the Kitchen Boys, the hottest country band in Alto Aragón!

Griffon Vulture

Snapped this Griffon (Gyps fulvus) as it came over the village. The Griffon lives in the Pyrenees all year round nesting on South facing cliffs and eating carrion. They depend on traditional hill farming for much of their food - cows and sheep which die on mountain pastures.
Winter is a hard time for them with freezing temperatures (it can drop to minus 30 degrees where they nest) and not much food available. Amazingly they can live more than 100 years.

Los Fastuosos New Album!

Los Fastuosos de La Ribera have a new LP out.
R&B, Country & Allman Brothers style rock from these Bilbao phenomenons.
Playing country style acoustic gig on 28th December too. Watch this space!


Went up the valley on XC skis yesterday afternoon and saw these. If the cold continues ice climbing will soon be possible up the walls of the Boca del Infierno (Hell´s Mouth) Gorge. Despite the vicious, cold Cierzo wind I saw Chaffinches, a Robin and a Dipper braving the cold torrent of the River Aragón Subordán.

Grey Leaved Cistus

The beautiful Grey Leaved Cistus (Cistus albidus) can be found in the dry, rocky gullies of the Pre Pyrenees.
This shot was taken on 26th April near San Martín de La Val d´Onsera - a wild landscape of cliffs, Arbutus trees, and Holm Oak woods.
There is a magical medieval hermitage a few hours walk/scramble away which has a chapel built under a rock overhang and a spring 50 metres above it which cascades down next to the chapel.
Best time to go is Spring and Autumn. It´s way too hot in the Summer.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Wood Ants

These Wood Ants are now snug in their nest a couple of metres below the snow which fell all weekend. Having spent the summer collecting food - mostly grass seeds as far as I have observed- they should be cosy (if that adjective can be applied to ants!) and safe until the spring melt which is 5 months away!

Monday, 15 December 2008

Camino de Santiago in Aragón. New Guided Holiday

One week walking, culture & nature
Stunning High Pyrenees and Foothills scenery

Wonderful accommodation at Casa Sarasa
for details of accommodation see: http://www.casasarasa.com/

For details of our company see: http://www.altoaragon.co.uk/

For nearly 1000 years The Camino de Santiago has been Europe´s most important pilgrimage route in Europe. The Via Tolosana crosses the Pyrenees at the Somport pass, and descends through Aragón to link up with the main route at Puente la Reina in Navarra.

This unusual walk takes in the lesser known routes of the Camino Aragonés, one of the most authentic pilgrimage routes to Santiago. Discover the spectacular mountain scenery of the high Pyrenees and Foothills, the marvellous Romanesque cathedral at Jaca and the mysterious monastery of San Juan de la Peña, legendary resting place for the Holy Grail.The holiday is based at a single location, the Casa Sarasa in Berdún, on the very Camino itself. The idea is to explore the highlights of the Aragonese route, with deviations off the beaten track to hidden sights that the ordinary pilgrim can never visit. We use ancient footpaths, from a Roman road onwards to discover the most original, exciting and unknown parts of Northern Spain.

We provide transport to and from the day’s walk, the services of an experienced guide, and all meals. Walks are 15 to 20 kms a day, and curiously, mostly downhill!

B=Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner

Day 1 Casa Sarasa, Berdún D
Arrival. Transfer from Pau/Zaragoza/Bilbao to Casa Sarasa in Berdún. Casa Sarasa set at the foot of the village of Berdún is a charming and comfortable casa rural with very nice en-suite rooms each looking out onto the garden and fields. Casa Sarasa makes a very comfortable and relaxing base for the week. Excellent breakfasts are provided and dinner is in the village in a restaurant providing good aragonese food. We provide superlative picnics using local ingredients (grown by ourselves). No dry sandwiches here!

Day 2 Somport to Villanua BLD

Following the Camino de Santiago from the French - Spanish border at Somport (1640 m) to the village of Villanua (953 m) the walk follows the Rio Aragón on a path through alpine pasture, woods and fields. After the walk we make a trip to see the ancient church of San Adrian.

Highlights: The Hospital de Santa Cristina – one of the most famous pilgrim hostels of the middle ages is now a ruin (being excavated) in the high pastures just below the Somport pass.

Canfranc International Railway Station built in the 1920´s to serve the rail tunnel to France. An amazing Belle Epoque building in alpine scenery!
Romanesque pilgrim bridges over the beautiful Rio Aragón.
San Adrián Church. Hidden in a beautiful valley this Lombard/Romanesque building founded in the late 900´s was once an important monastery church and was the base of the earliest aragonese bishopric at the start of the Reconquista (reconquest of Spain from the Moors).

Day 3 Castiello to Jaca BLD

The Camino follows the drovers road (cabañera) from Castiello on a short and picturesque walk (7.5 km) to Jaca, the first large town medieval pilgrims would have come to when walking into Spain. A bustling provincial town, Jaca has a magnificent Romanesque cathedral and the Ciudadela fortress started by Philip the second in 1595 and built with an impregnable star shaped design.
After having a good look around Jaca we make an optional walk to Peña Oroel – the mountain to the south which dominates Jaca and has been a place of magic and worship since before the Romans came to Spain.

A pretty and easy 7.5 km walk approaching Jaca along the drovers/pilgrim road.
Jaca Cathedral The first cathedral built in Spain. Founded in 1058 by Sancho, king of Aragón and Navarre. This pilgrim church was built under the influence of the Benedictine monastery of Cluny in France. The church has many wonderful sculptures (capitals and timpana) made by the Maestro de Jaca between 1065 and 1080. In the cloister, there is a superb museum with Romanesque frescoes and sculptures from hermitages and churches in the Jaca area.

Peña Oroel the sacred mountain. This is a beautiful walk to the top of the mountain dominating Jaca to the South. There are magnificent 360° views over the surrounding mountains and valleys and the walk to the top takes us through superb silver fir and beech forest. Peña Oroel has always been a sacred spot and we visit the cave/hermitage of the Virgen de la Cueva where the local people of the area venerate the Virgin Mary with a Romeria (pilgrimage) every May as they have done for over 1000 years and possibly well before when the cave was most likely a place of pagan worship.

Day 4 The Monastery of San Juan de La Peña BLD

A fascinating walk on a rarely trodden path that once would have been taken by medieval pilgrims as a detour from the main Camino path to see the holy relics (including the Holy Grail) at the monastery of San Juan de La Peña. The views of the Pyrenees are magnificent on this walk.

A walk in a magical landscape, unchanged since the middle ages, with ancient oak forest, honey coloured cliffs where vultures nest and, at the top of the Peña (hill/mountain), views for miles north and south.
The Monastery of San Juan de La Peña. The monks of San Juan knew how to pick a good spot for their monastery. The earlier monastery founded in the early 1000´s nestles under an overhang in the cliffs by a holy well and has an open air cloister with fantastic Romanesque, sculpted capitals. The newer Baroque monastery set in meadows at the top of La Peña was built after a disastrous fire destroyed most of the first monastery. San Juan de la Peña was founded and sponsored by the kings of Aragón and many of them are buried here in the Royal Mausoleum. The monastery was one of the richest in Aragón with and was a centre for painting and the arts during the middle ages.

Day 5 The Camino de Santiago down the Hecho Valley BLD

Todays walk is along another branch of the Camino de Santiago which comes into Spain over the Col de Pau and along the Roman road down the Hecho Valley – one of the most beautiful valleys in the Pyrenees.

The walk in beautiful alpine scenery follows the course of the Roman road built by Caesar Agustus 2000 years ago.
Neolithic and early Bronze age dolmens and stone circles dated at 4 - 5000 years old are testimony to the first inhabitants of the valley who would have spent the summers here with their flocks.
Alpine flowers and birds of prey. The Hecho Valley is unrivalled for its huge variety of flora and fauna. We will see many birds of prey soaring above us, including the magnificent Lammergeier the ´Condor of the Pyrenees´, the rarest of the vulture family with an 8 feet wingspan. The alpine meadows are studded with many alpine flowers, orchids especially, in early summer.
The Boca del Infierno gorge is really impressive with limestone pinnacles towering above the best preserved part of the Roman Road.
We end the walk at the lovely village of Siresa where we visit the Monastery church of San Pedro de Siresa. The monastery was founded by Charlemagne in the late 800´s when the valley was a Frankish foothold in a country mostly controlled by the Moors. The church itself dates from the 1100´s and is a beautiful Romanesque constuction with some exceptional and very rare medieval sculptures.

Day 6 On the Camino from Hecho to Biniés past the Hermitage of the Eleven Thousand Virgins BLD

Todays walk from Hecho to Biniés follows the Hecho branch of the Camino up and over the Sierra de Los Dos Rios to descend to Biniés in the Veral/Ansó Valley. The walk is through open mixed, mountain woodland and fields and descends on a dramatic path above the amazing Biniés Gorge (Foz de Biniés). At 25 km this is the longest walk of the week with a 425 metre ascent.

A fascinating route taking you back in time. These hills are nowadays rarely visited but until recently were used as winter farms by the people of Hecho. We´ll see the old farms and fields and the ruins of a Romanesque monastery called the Hermitage of the Eleven Thousand Virgins!
Fabulous views from the Sierra de Los Dos Rios and down into the Biniés Gorge.
Birds and wildlife are fascinating in this virtually deserted corner of the Pyrenees. We often see wild boar, many birds of prey soaring above us and we´ll look down on the Griffon Vultures in their nests in the Biniés Gorge.
The Biniés Gorge is a majestic landscape of high cliffs carved out by the River Veral. At the end of the gorge lies the village of the same name with its traditional houses and castle dominating the entrance to the valley.

Day 7 The Camino from La Virgen de La Peña to Escó BLD

The final walk of the trip starts at the Ermita de La Virgen de La Peña – a chapel dramatically perched on a cliff edge 600m above the Escá Valley and follows a dramatic limestone gorge out of the High Pyrenees and into the gentler terrain of the Canal de Berdún – for milenia the main east-west route for Celts, Romans, Moors and, of course, for pilgrims on their way to Santiago. The last part of the walk follows ancient walled pathways through abandoned fields to the fascinating abandoned village of Escó. We continue by car to the Leyre monastery to hear Gregorian chants sung by the monks in the beautiful Romanesque monastery church. A magical finale to the week.

The Hermitage of La Virgen de La Peña. Perched on a cliff edge 650 metres above the Escá Valley, this chapel is still used by the Cofradia (brotherhood) de La Virgen. The local villages have long disputed the ownership of the Ermita and there are stories from the middle ages of fights and killings over ownership. These places were very important!

We Walk the Sigües Gorge along the old path a few hundred metres above the river. There are many vulture nests, huge stands of box trees, high cliffs and gorgeous vistas over the valley.
Perhaps the most authentic, untouched part of the Camino. On the last part of the walk it is easy to imagine that you are back in the middle ages as there is nothing to suggest the 21st Century. Ancient walled tracks through farmland take us on a gentle route to the abandoned village of Escó which is a mysterious and fascinating relic of preindustral Spain.

Gregorian Chants at The Leyre Monastery. Leyre is one of the most important monasteries of Northern Spain and has a Romanesque church with a stunning doorway and a unique Crypt dating from the 9th Century. Each evening the monks practice Gregorian chants/plainsong in the church and it is a moving experience to hear sacred music which has been sung here since the Camino de Santiago was first trodden by pilgrims in the 11th Century.

Day 8 B
Transfer to Biarritz airport for those who require.

DATES 2009

Sat 18 April – Sat 25 April
Sun 21 June – Sun 28 June
Sun 13 Sept – Sun 20 sept
Sat 17 Oct – Sat 24 Oct

PRICES£920 Land Based only

£70 Single Supplement
Max 2 singles Min group size 4 people

Contact us for prices if you would like to do this holiday with a group of friends


Monday, 1 December 2008

La Senda de Camille - New Trek in the Pyrenees

6 day circular trek hut to hut
Stunning mountain scenery in France & Spain
Guided or Independent
Start any day June – September

A trek set to become a classic - La Senda de Camille follows the footsteps of Camille, one of the last Pyrenean Brown Bears, on a 6 stage hut to hut trek in fabulous, wild mountain country on both sides of the border in the Spanish Parque Natural de los Valles in and the French Parque National des Pyrenees.

After each days stage you can relax, enjoy a good dinner and a get a good nights sleep in the huts which are all set in breathtaking scenery.

Each stage is 6 -7 hours long with an average daily climb of 800m and you need a good level of fitness to enjoy the walks.


The finest scenery in the Western Pyrenees. Limestone predominates with alpine pastures, blue glacial lakes, jagged ridges and layer on layer of hills stretching into the distance.

Birds, flowers & wildlife. Camille the Pyrenean Brown Bear usually keeps well out sight but there´s no better area to see a huge range of alpine flowers, birds of prey and many wild animals. There are striking contrasts between the flora on the north and south sides of the border.

The Refuges are great places to stay. They all provide good meals with generous portions to keep you refuelled along the route. You sleep in bunks in a dormitory or in small 4 person rooms. There is a friendly atmosphere in the huts and you´ll likely find yourself making friends with fellow trekkers. All huts except Arlet have hot showers. Blankets are provided so you only need to carry a sheet sleeping bag.

The Route

FROM GABARDITO TO LIZARA Gabardito – Salto la Vieja – Plandániz - Col de Foratón –Refugio de Lizara. Optional ascent of Bisaurín. Walking time: 3:30 h.With ascent of Bisaurín: 6:30 h Total height gain: + 620 metres Total height loss: - 500 metres. With ascent of Bisaurín: + 1320 / - 1200 metres

FROM LIZARA TO SOMPORT Lizara.- Mistresa- Valle de los Sarrios- Ibón de Estanés- Col de Somport. Walking time: 6:30 hours Total height gain: + 700 metres Total height loss: -700 metres

FROM SOMPORT TO ARLET Col de Somport – Gave de Aspe – Cabaña de Escuret – Cabaña Espelunguère – Col de Lapachouae – Refuge de Arlet. Walking time. 7:00 hours Total height gain: + 600 metres Total height loss: - 100 metres

FROM ARLET TO LESCUN Arlet – Puerto de lo Palo – Cabañas de Bonaris – Cabaña de Penot Pont d’Itchaxe – Lescun Walking time. 7:00 hours. Total height gain: + 100 metresTotal height loss: -1.000 metres

FROM LESCUN TO LINZA Lescun – Pont de Lamary – Cabañas de Ansabère – Col de Petrechema – Refugio de Linza. Walking time: 7:00 hours. Total height gain: + 1000 metres Total height loss: - 700 metres.

FROM LINZA TO GABARDITO Linza, Zuriza, Achar de los Alanos, Collado Baxo de Lenito, Puente de Santana, Gabardito. Walking time: 8:30 h. a 9 h. Total height gain: + 1200 metres Total height loss: - 1100 metres
On this day you have the option of making the route 3 hours shorter by getting picked up and taken to Gabardito by minibus.


Fri 24 July – Fri 31 July

Sat 22 Aug 27 – Sat 29 August


£775.00 Land Based only

No Single Supplement

The price includes: Airport transfers, qualified mountain guide (english/spanish speaking), 7 nights full board (Bed, breakfast, good picnic lunches from Alto Aragón and dinner with wine and coffee included) map and route notes, a sheet sleeping bag, a booklet to be stamped on completion of each stage and an exclusive Senda de Camille T shirt.

A Week in The Snow - A New Holiday


For February and March 2009 8 days in the snow with cross country and back country* skiing and snow shoeing in the winter landscapes of the Hecho and Aragón Valleys.
Aimed at beginner and intermediate skiers this week features cross country skiing on pisted cross country circuits and stunning off piste winter excursions along gentle slopes and valleys in the Hecho area on back country skis. Anyone can enjoy XC skiing as you can go at your own pace and you do not need to get down steep slopes. There´s no need to go flat out if you don´t want to!
We´ll also do some snow shoeing to explore some otherwise unreachable places of great beauty.
We are based for the week in the village of Hecho which gives us access to some exceptional areas for skiing and snowshoeing, most a short drive from the village and well away from busy ski resorts.

*back country skiing is off piste cross country skiing and is a magical way to explore the mountain valleys in winter. We don´t take you on steep slopes, but stick to gentle gradients and the valley floors. Equipment is similar to cross country ski equipment but the boots are sturdier and the skis are wider and shorter in order to ski more easily on deep ungroomed snow. Metal edges, absent on cross country skis, also help when turning and when traversing across slopes.

B = Breakfast L = Lunch D = Dinner

Day 1 Hotel de La Val, Hecho D
Transfer from Zaragoza airport to Hecho (2 hours). This is a lovely mountain village in one of the best valleys of the Pyrenees. It makes the perfect base for winter sports and there are plenty of bars for the all important apres ski.

Days 2 and 3 Hotel de La Val, Hecho BLD
Cross country skiing on pisted tracks in the midst of the mountains. A couple of hours class in the morning (if you require it) sets you up to enjoy practicing your skills at your own pace during the rest of the morning and afternoon with an instructor on hand throughout the day to offer tips and encouragement.

Day 4 Hotel de La Val, Hecho BLD
We venture off piste with back country skis in the Hecho valley. Skiing is a magical way to experience the grandeur and tranquillity of the mountains in winter.

Days 5 and 6 Hotel de La Val, Hecho BLD
Two days out on snow shoes which allow us to explore two idyllic routes that would be difficult on cross country skis and impossible on foot. You can, of course, keep skiing if you prefer but it is well worth trying this brilliant way of tramping the winter hills.

Day 7 Hotel de La Val, Hecho BLD
Choose between more snow shoeing or cross country skiing.

Day 8 B
Return to Zaragoza airport.

Sun 22 Feb – Sun 1 March 08
Sun 15 March – Sun 22 March 08

£850 (Land Based Only) No Single Supplement.

Discounts available for groups of 4 or more people
To enquire or make a booking Please contact us at altoaragon@arrakis.es or call (00 44) (0)1869 337339

First snows in the Valley

Winter is here with a big snow fall in Alto Aragón above about 600 metres.

We took back country skis up the valley yesterday and skied around the Selva de Oza forest with fellow guides Patxi, Coco and JuanMa.

Back country skis, being a bit wider and shorter than normal cross country skis, are ideal for skiing on ungroomed tracks and exploring where you will. They are fine on gentle slopes and having metal edges means that you can traverse steep slopes with real confidence. Fantastic!

The Hecho valley is one of the best areas of the Pyrenees for back country skiing and snowshoeing - huge extensions of hills, valley floor and forest without ski resorts and crowds. Yesterday, Sunday we only saw 4 people in the whole morning.

To try backcountry skiing and snowshoeing here contact www.altoaragon.co.uk for short breaks and winter weeks.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Red Backed Shrike (Lanius collurio). A beautiful photo of the beautiful Butcher Bird - so called for its habit of impaling its insect prey on thorns. They´ll be back in Alto Aragón in the spring. Many thanks to Josemi (ornithologist & photographer)for the picture.

Los Chotos - Mountain Music

We were invited to play at the Dolmen de Tella Fiesta which was misty and atmospheric by the neolithic stones. Great traditional music and a brilliant dance after dinner. The Chotos sounded great.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Virgen de la Peña, Salvatierra de Esca

I'm not a religious person, but I can really understand why the people of Salvatierra de Esca chose this place to worship their God....
Twenty years in the Pyrenees and there´s lots to share. Watch this space