Who Are We ?
In 1984 a small walking holiday company was created, based in the beautiful Val d’Azun in the heart of the French Pyrenees. This company, named « La Balaguère » after the warm breeze that blows upwards from the Sahara to the Pyrenees, offered guided walking trips led by a small group of friends with a huge passion for the mountains.
Little by little La Balaguère expanded and more than 35 years later we help over 13,000 people every year enjoy walking and cycling holidays in the Pyrenees and further afield, to the most unspoilt areas of the world.
In 2018 we launched a new and exciting project. Purely Pyrenees is the English language branch of our business, offering self-guided and guided trips, walking and cycling from Spring to Autumn and snowshoeing in the Winter. Using our decades of experience we created a new range of holidays designed for English speakers who come, maybe for the first time, to experience the best the Pyrenees has to offer. Our focus is always to provide highlights, iconic places to visit, wonderful itineraries, authentic hotels and, of course, tremendous cuisine.
Purely Pyrenees and La Balaguère are now owned by the UCPA (Union des Centres Sportifs de Plein Air) which is a non-profit organisation in France that specialises in making outdoor sports holidays available for all. We are still based where we have always been, in the Pyrenean village of Arrens-Marsous.
We are very proud of our Pyrenean chain and of the knowledge that we have of it, amassed over years of providing guided and self-guided holidays. You can be sure that if you travel with us we will do everything we can to make sure you have a wonderful trip.
If you can imagine a harmonious collection of mountains, lakes and valleys, interspersed with lush green meadows, thick forests and crystal clear streams, huge rock walls and beautiful waterfalls, an area with a particular geography and many different microclimates, then you can imagine the National Park of Aiguestortes and the lake Saint Maurice, the Spanish Lakeland.
Nestled in the heart of the Spanish Pyrenees, the Park is situated in the province of Lérida, to the west of Andorra and to the south of the town of Viella. It was the fifth National Park to be declared in Spain and the second in the Pyrenees, after Ordesa.
Over the years the Park has grown in size and there now exists two zones with different statues, the central zone, which covers an area of 14,119 hectares, and a buffer zone which covers an area of 26,733. The Park is managed in accordance with Catalan legislation and agreements have been established for coordination between the administrations of Spain and Catalonia.
The name the « Spanish Lakeland » comes, of course, from the huge number of lakes within the Park. It is the area of the Pyrenees with highest concentration of bodies of water, over 450 of which nearly 200 are real lakes, with a surface area of over half a hectare. They do not all have the same origin or the same characteristics.
Some lakes caused by overdeepening of glaciers, often called cirque lakes or tarns, are deep and located in high areas. The water in these lakes is typically dark blue and examples of this type of lake are Lake Negre at Peguera and Lake Contraix. Other lakes were formed when rock barriers were left by terminal moraines. This is the case of Lake Llong in the Sant Nicolau Valley or, later in the glacial epoch due to geological accidents, such as Lake Llebreta which was formed by a rockslide.
The water in the Park is usually very low in nutrients ; the low plankton density means that it is extraordinarily clear and the species found here are typical of these environments, known as oligotrophic. The reasons for this lies in the features of the parent rock (mostly granite, which is highly insoluble), and the low temperatures, which prevent the decomposition of organic matter.
As you walk amongst the spectacular scenery of the Park you need to keep a sharp eye out to catch sight of one of the 200 species of vertebrate that call this place home. You may be lucky enough to see a Pyrenean chamois, a wild boar, astoat, a marmot or a deer. Turn your gaze upwards and look out for a griffon vulture, a golden eagle, a yellow billed chough, or in the forests the rare Tengmalm’s owl or a black woodpecker. Brown trout swim in the cold clear water of the lakes.
The climate in the Park is characterised by long snowy periods, normal in a high mountain area such as this. The peaks range from altitudes of 1200m to 3029m. In the winter the lakes freeze and nature takes a well earned rest. By May the snow has usually gone from the lower parts of the park but will stay in patches over the mountain passes until late June. Summer days can be hot but the weather can also be unpredictable, with sudden heavy rain or storms, walkers are best to be prepared for every eventuality.
There are still many local dishes in this part of the Pyenees, including olla aranesa (Aranese stew) vianda pallaresa (a type of soup) confitat (local pork preserved in oil) girella (sausage made from lambs intestines and rice). In the hunting season there is plenty of game, fruits of the forest, trout, and sweets such as crispells (a type of biscuit) . The traditional liquer is ratafia, and if you are in the area in the right season any dish that is made with the plentiful wild mushrooms is to be recommended !
If you are tempted to visit this spectacular Park, and why wouldn’t you be ? The easiest way to get there is to fly to Toulouse airport (but you could also consider Carcassone, Barcelona, Perpignan or Girona). The best time of year for a walking trip is from mid June to mid September.