Today's walk is a perfect introduction to the 'Coronallacs' Trail. Although almost constantly ascending, the gradient is steady and for the most part, on good paths. You will quickly be out of the busy, built-up town of Escaldes and into the peaceful UNESCO World Heritage site of the Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley.
Starting at the Tourist Office in the town of Escaldes (be sure to pick up your Passaport del Recorregut - trail passport, to be stamped as you go!) before setting off. Follow a steep stone path out of the town, which soon starts to ease off a bit and remains at a pretty steady gradient for the rest of the day. Walking on former dam and forge paths, pass through tranquil meadows dotted with Pyrenean cows. Make a couple of easy and small river crossings and climb rocky zig zag paths to grassy bowls, where you will find an abundance of Pyrenean and Alpine flowers, as well as the first of many lakes of the trail! Follow the picturesque Madriu river up stream to Refugi L'Illa, your overnight stop where you can enjoy a delicious, hearty meal washed down with some tasty red wine.
Remember to pick up your 'Trail Passport' from the tourist office in Escaldes, get it stamped by all four huts and you'll receive a small gift and diploma at the end of your tour!
Due to the protected status of the area, there are no roads and therefore no options for an 'escape route' today. However, the walk is straight-forward and not overly exposed to the elements.
Weather conditions can change quickly in the mountains - always be prepared and carry appropriate clothing; warm as well as waterproof layers, hat and gloves etc. Please see your information pack for a detailed packing list.
Today you will be walking past a few different areas where cows graze. Although generally very docile and used to walkers, keep your distance and never turn your back on a cow that is behaving strangely or aggresive. Be particularly vigilant around cows with calves.
Good waterproof boots are a must and walking poles are highly recommended, they are helpful not only for managing ascents and descents but also to help with the river crossings. Make sure to bring plenty of water and a snack or packed lunch.
There are no places to stop en route for snacks or drinks so you should bring a packed lunch with you today. Your hotel may be able to provide this for you (order upon check-in and payable locally), or pick something up from the bakery in Escaldes. While there is a spring available for topping up your water supply today, we recommend still carrying at least 2 litres of water per person and even more on a particularly hot day, as we can not always gurantee that springs will be running.
Points of Interest
The town of Escaldes is one of Andorra's seven communities known as 'parishes'. Its name has its roots in the Catalan for 'hot' referring to its hot springs. On the way out of the town you may well see steam rising from the drains or from the side of river, and you will most certainly notice the spa resort of 'Caldea', a towering (well by Andorran standards!) glass building which dominates the centre of the town, it has 18 floors and is Europe's largest spa. At 80meters in height it is also Andorra's tallest building.
The valley was declared a cultural UNESCO world heritage site in 2004 and is considered a 'microcosm' which demonstrates the way man has harvested the limited and harsh Pyrenean resources of the past millennia. The protected area makes up 9% of the entire principality and is considered an important window into the mountain culture of this landlocked country. There are no roads in the area, adding to its beauty and remoteness.
You will likely come across numerous plants and flowers on your hike in Andorra. The amount and what you will see will depend on the time of summer and the conditions. Generally, if it has been a wet summer, there will be an abundance of flowers, less so if it has been particularly dry and hot. Today you may well see the Alpine Clover (Triflium Alpinum), a purple flower with edible roots, tasting of liquorice, it is a popular snack of the Isard (Pyrenean Chamois).
Andorra's Mountain Huts
Andorra's mountains are dotted with 'Refugi' mountain hut. Only four of which are manned (which you will be staying at throughout this trip!). All other huts are unmanned and open to the public. They offer very basic overnight accommodation for the intrepid hiker who is willing to carry their own camping mat, sleeping bag, food supplies and stove. They are also a great shelter for passing hikers from unfavourable weather, and since there is usually a bench or two outside they are a good place to stop for a break. Most of them also have a basic first aid kit inside- good to know in case of emergency! Maintained by the government, local teenagers are usually given the job of checking them out at the beginning of the season to report any damages, tidy them up and restock the emergency supplies.
Today you will be on part of the GR7 trail which starts in Tarifa near Gibraltar, continues through France and Andorra and back into France, finishing in the North of France in Alsace. The entire trail is thousands of kilometers in length! Today you will be following the red and white markers as well as the Coronallacs signs.