Lakes of the Vall del Riu (from Els Plans)
This extraordinary valley, which perfectly preserves its ice age origins, is home to one of the best lakes in Andorra, with a surface area of more than 4 hectares, and two other minor lakes that bring added value to the route.
The landscape in Canillo embraces relief marked by the movement of glaciers, which became up to 400 metres thick at the height of the Quaternary Period, as you may guess looking at El Quer rock. Mountain pines (Pinus uncinata) dominate the landscape, and are only interrupted by small clusters of deciduous trees such as silver birch (Betula pendula), aspen (Populus tremula) and goat willow (Salix caprea). Alpine meadows are found in the upper reaches of the parish, and right below are meadows of wild grain.
Dry stone walls, so typical of Andorra, are found along the route, accompanied by thorny broom (Genista purgans) and juniper (Juniperus communis). As you walk on, you’ll discover sprawling pastures and typical Andorran huts. Forests of mountain pine stretch before you for most of the route and, at 2,650 metres altitude, you can enjoy the Vall del Riu refuge, with capacity for 8 people.
Ransol: The name of this high-mountain village might seem to come from Arans, and from a diminutive for the same, Aransol, by means of an evolution from Romanesque. Instead, the etymology is Basque and comes from arantze, arantza.
The Gall path
This easy hike begins in the village of Canillo, located on the shady side of the Valira d’Orient valley. Although it covers a distance of 7 kilometres, the incline is very low, making for an ideal hike to do with the family.
Leaving Canillo at 1,530 metres altitude, after about a hundred metres difference in elevation, you’ll arrive at the Canal path, at 1,640 metres altitude. Without losing hardly any altitude you’ll head for the Ransol dam.
The route has signs pointing the way to different panoramic views, like that of the village of Canillo and its surroundings, or that of the church of Sant Joan de Caselles and La Cabaneta peak, among others. You’ll be able to make several stops along the way (9 exactly) where you can see different forms of vegetation such as Scots pine (Pinus silvestris), alpenrose (Rhododendron ferrugineum), bearberries (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), dandelions (Taraxacum pyrenaicum), beard lichens (Usnea barbata), alpine pasqueflowers and sheep’s bit.
As for wildlife, keep in mind that it is difficult to observe it directly, although you may be able to detect its presence through different signals such as food scraps, droppings or the tracks of animals such as the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), the squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), the raven (Corvus corax) or the capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), which is found in the forests of the parish and has come to symbolise this route. You may also hear the singing of various types of birds
Canillo: From the Latin cana-canae, meaning “white”.
Ribaescorjada: From the Latin ripa, a word designating a riverbank
Juclar lake is in northeastern Andorra, in the parish of Canillo. With a surface area of 120.76 km2, it is the first parish in order of protocol, and the largest in Andorra.
Framed by Siscar? peak and Escobes peak, the route to Juclar begins in the same valley as other routes in this guide: Incles valley, of ice age origin. This lake, with 21,3 Ha, its deep blue waters, is the largest in Andorra and the perfect place for a magnificent day of hiking. All types of hikers can enjoy it. There are climbing walls for experts and easy-access hikes for children and families.
It is important to note that this route also takes you to the Juclar refuge, which was restored in 2009 to turn it into a full accommodation refuge with capacity for 45 people. The facilities are very modern and have adopted the latest developments in terms of lighting, hot water, waste disposal, hygiene, etc.
As for wildlife, you may spot the Pyrenean brook salamander (Euproctus asper), which can only live in pristine waters, or an Egyptian vulture (Neophron pernopterus) may fly overhead. Plants you’ll see may include the buttercup (Ranunculus lanuginosus), alpine pasqueflower (Anemone alpina) and alpine clover (Trifolium alpinum), among others.
Juclar: Clar, from the Latin claru, “bare massif, without trees”. As for the prefix ju-, it might seem to come from the archaic form jus-, “under”. In reality, the entire county is under the heights of Juclar.
La Serrera peak
At 2,912 metres altitude, La Serrera peak is the fifth-highest summit exceeding 2,900 metres, out of a total of six in Andorra.
Due to its strategic position, the peak makes for a good observation point above all the Andorran summits. Especially prominent are the views of the Comapedrosa and, lying beyond Andorra’s borders, of the Pica d’Estats mountain and the Maladeta massif. La Serrera peak is famous for its magnificent southern “shovel”, and you can get there through Ransol valley and Sorteny valley.
Just before reaching the top of the summit, you’ll pass through Els Meners pass, one of the most important sites for extracting iron ore in Andorra from the 17th to 19th centuries. Unfortunately, the mine galleries are closed to the public due to the danger, as they have been poorly conserved. However, you will be able to visit the remnants of the Llorts mine, where workers used to arrive at the end of May or the beginning of June and were in charge of extracting, selecting and transporting ore to the mining industry market, where it was then weighed and distributed to carriers.
The aim is to show visitors the importance that this operation had in the history of iron in Andorra. All along the way, the mines’ links with the cultural landscape are explained, such as how humans have sculpted the landscape and aspects related with local flora, geomorphology, minerals and water, among others.
Serrera: From the Latin serra,“uninterrupted chain of mountains”.
The Toll Bullidor path
This route runs through the parish of Canillo and begins very close to the town of Meritxell. As its name indicates (toll is Catalan for “pool”, and bullidor means “boiling”), the route passes by an impressive waterfall. The path takes us from the huts of Molleres, located beside the Sanctuary of Meritxell, to the Toll Bullidor waterfall.
You will likely be interested in visiting the Sanctuary of Meritxell. Built by Ricardo Bofill and opened in 1976, this temple aims to reflect some symbolic elements highlighted by the particular connotations of this unique site: the inlaid floor in front of the altar is intended to signify the name Meritxell, which, according to the philologist Coromines, comes from the Latin word meridiem, meaning “mid-day”; the two crossed naves are meant to evoke the confluence of paths and roads going from one border to the other and from Valira del Nord valley to Valira d’Orient valley; the walls, cut horizontally at the top, suggest the fire that struck the temple; and the uncovered cloister symbolises the protection of the Blessed Virgin, who watches over the skies of Andorra.
Beside the sanctuary is an old chapel of Romanesque origin that was turned into a memorial after being destroyed by a fire in 1972.
A little farther on, you can enjoy views of the Valira d’Orient river and the surrounding plant life, such as the mountain orchid (Orchis sambucina).
Molleres: From the Latin molliare, “to soften”.
Bullidor: From the Latin bullire. This is said of a place where a fluvial stream becomes tumultuous because of the form of the bed, as if the water were boiling.
El Siscaró (Baix lake)
Baix lake, also know as Siscar? lake, with a surface area of one hectare, is located at 2,325 metres altitude, in Incles valley, which embraces relief marked by the movement of glaciers from the Quaternary Period. A pleasant car trip brings you to the car park at Baladosa bridge, where the route resumes.
The mountain is gorgeous all year round and you can see vegetation such as the mountain pine on the lower part and perhaps hear or spot the goldcrest (Regulus regulus). At the higher reaches, you may see the white-throated dipper or the water pipit (Anthus spinoletta), the alpine accentor (Prunella collaris) or the northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe). The most common mammals include the squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), the roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) and the king of the scree surrounding the ponds of Siscar?, the marmot (Marmota marmota). These small animals live in family groups, a fact that helps us to see more than one of them at a time, especially when they come forth to eat and get some sun. The whistling sounds they make are very distinct.
One peculiar aspect of the lake is its reeds, which give the water a different tone of blue and the lake its name, Siscar? (the Catalan word sisca means “reed”).
Siscaró: From a plant called sisca, a graminoid of the species Phragmites australis (the common reed) which grows in swamps and swallow lakes. Etymology: From the Celtic sesca.
Cabana Sorda lake
Cabana Sorda lake is located at 2,290 metres altitude, in one of the glacial cirques of Incles valley, in the parish of Canillo. This route will take you through the most important glacial valley in Andorra with regard both to its width, in the shape of a U, and to its state of conservation.
The beauty of the landscape will treat you to great meadows of wild grain and subalpine settings. According to the time of year, the most prominent flora includes the English iris (Iris latifolia), the alpine pasqueflower (Pulsatilla alpina) and the original poet’s daffodil (Narcissus poeticus), the typical flower of Andorra, among others.
As for fauna, it must be mentioned that this valley is home to more than 100 different species, including the palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus), the brown frog (Rana temporaria), the sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) and the friendly marmot. Due to the relatively undemanding character of the route, it has become rather busy and family-oriented. Alongside the lake is a refuge with the same name. It has capacity for 20 people and water is available.
Fishing takes place in this lake from April to September, and you can practice highmountain diving thanks to its depth of 18 metres.
Cabana Sorda: Sorda: Said of a closed space, such as a large corner surrounded by very straight slopes
Casamanya peak rises between the parishes of Ordino and Canillo. It is one of the most common climbs in Andorra because of its exceptional location right in the middle of the country. At 2,740 metres, this mountain provides unique views of the whole country.
To reach the point of departure, take the Ordino pass road until the top. Then, a path marked with a wooden sign will point you to the beginning of the route.
The recommended time for observing flora and fauna along this route is at the end of spring and the summer. The ascent can also be made in winter, provided that you take mountain skis or snow shoes.
Casamanya: From the Latin casa, “cabin” and magna “very large”. A place of idol worship, it was probably the centre of prehistoric, pagan Andorra.
(from Sant Miquel de Prats to Sant Miquel d’Engolasters)
The inter-parish route passes through the parishes of Canillo, Encamp and Escaldes-Engordany. Even though it is 11.6 km long, it is practically flat, making it highly advisable for a calm walk with the family. It should be mentioned that this route is equipped with resting places and water points, and that it can be completed whole or in stretches.
This pleasant stroll connects the churches of Sant Miquel de Prats and Sant Miquel d’Engolasters (a 12th-century Romanesque Lombard-style building whose most characteristic architectural feature is its square-shaped bell tower with three floors of twin windows) and passes through the Canal path, Les Pardines road, which has a botanic garden, and the fountain circuit.
The alternation of open areas with magnificent panoramic views over the valley and wooded areas makes it very interesting from a landscape perspective. In terms of plant life, you will see grassy meadows throughout the route, with the most dominant trees being the mountain pine, the Scots pine and the birch. The more substantial vegetation of the understory is made of boxwood, bearberry
As for wildlife, it is easy to hear the singing of the blue tit (Parus caeruleus), a small, 11-cm-long bird with a sky blue head and wings and a yellow breast, and the common wood pigeon (Columba palumbus), a wild relative of the dove. Grey in colour with white spots on its sides, this bird is about 40 centimetres long.
Meritxell: From Mereig (from the Latin meridiem “mid-day”,“sunny”).
Engolasters: From the Latin in aquale aster, meaning “irrigation channel”.
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