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Pyrenees - Andorra's Three Best Peaks for Walkers

© Miguel Ibanez

Pyrenees-based guide Miguel Ibáñez describes Andorra's three most interesting peaks - all nearly 3000m high, and yet each suitable for rope-free summer walkers.


The tiny Pyerenean principality of Andorra is only 464 square kilometres, but that area is mostly made up of mountains - over 100 of them. After the ice age glaciers retreated they left behind 80 lakes in the mountains, and today these are one of Andorra's main attractions. With easy access to the trails, and big peaks that don't require climbing skills, this is one of the premiere walking destinations in the Pyrenees.

High on Tristaina peak  © Miguel Ibanez
High on Tristaina peak
© Miguel Ibanez

Coma Pedrosa peak (2942m)

Also spelled 'Comapedrosa', this is the highest peak in Andorra, so in summer it can be busy. There are two things worth noting: the views from the summit, and the elevation gain of 1400m. If you make the hike shorter, I advise you to stay overnight at the Comapedrosa mountain hut (2267m) the night before. Staff at the hut prepare dinner, breakfast and packed lunches.

En route for Coma Pedrosa  © Miguel Ibanez
En route for Coma Pedrosa
© Miguel Ibanez

When to go?

From late spring until late October. The rivers carry a lot of water and there are still some snow patches starting at 2400m, so crampons and ice axe are advisable if you climb before mid-July.

The route

You start at Arinsal ski resort (1467m) and follow the GR11 trail, pass by the Comapedrosa hut and leave the GR11 at Estany Negre lake (2591m). From there, you reach the summit following the south-west crest line. From the summit there are excellent views of Pica d'Estats (3140m), the highest peak in the Catalan Pyrenees, and Carlit, in France, the highest peak in La Cerdanya. If you do stay overnight at the Comapedrosa hut, the following itinerary allows you to reach three more peaks, and views over the Vallferrera valley and Monteixo range:

  • Descend to Forat dels Malshiverns (2826m),
  • Reach the Baiau peak (2885m)
  • Descend to Baiau pass (2756m), where you will find the GR11
  • Scramble to the Agulla de Baiau peak (2859m). Pay attention! Loose rocks
  • Go to the either summit of the Sanfons peak (2886m)
  • Follow the crest line between Andorra and Catalonia to Portella de Sanfons pass (2588m)
  • Walk a signposted path which descends to Truites lake and then Comapedrosa hut

This is the basis of a wonderful circular route - not to be missed!

Tristaina peak (2882m)

Climbing Tristaina peak is now a half-day hike, or nearly, thanks to the road which goes to Vallnord-Arcalís ski resort. This peak is situated between France and Spain, in the North of Andorra. Tristaina is one of the peaks I love most for several reasons. The hike takes you past three beautiful lakes, the Tristaina lakes, situated on terraces, each at a different altitude. The summit is small, with bird's-eye views; the peak is slim and beautiful, and easily recognised from the south.

One of the beautiful Tristaina lakes  © Miguel Ibanez
One of the beautiful Tristaina lakes
© Miguel Ibanez

When to go?

From late June until late October.

The route

You should park your car beside the road in a small parking area before La Coma restaurant. There is a signpost which informs that you are on the HRP (Haute Route Pyrénéenne, in French), a signposted trail which crosses the Pyrenees, similar to the GR11 and GR10. You should follow the HRP marks to the highest Tristaina lake. There, you turn left and head to the pass situated on the left of the summit. Steep slopes before the pass with some screes! Once at the pass, turn right and follow the crest line to the summit. This crest line runs between France and Andorra. From here there are excellent views over the lakes in France, with Forcat lake the biggest. Also infinite views to the East, South and West. Often the French side is covered by clouds. You can either come back on the same path, or:

  • Follow the west crest line to the Petit de l'Estany Forcat peak, also called Costa Rodona peak (2821m)
  • Follow the crest line to the South to the Port de Tristaina pass (2636m)
  • Then walk down a path to the first Tristaina lake.

One of my best memories of this peak is the view of the Forcat lake, in France, above the clouds so often present on the French side of the Pyrenees.

Looking into a cloud-filled France from Tristaina peak  © Miguel Ibanez
Looking into a cloud-filled France from Tristaina peak
© Miguel Ibanez

Estanyó peak (2915m)

Estanyó peak is known as the view point of Andorra because it is above 2900m, and located far from the Andorra borders. One of the highlights of this ascent is the Sorteny Valley. There are only three nature reserves in Andorra, and Sorteny valley is one. The diversity of flora is worth a visit. On the way up you can visit the small Botanic Garden, where you can see the main flowers of this mountain. It will take 15 minutes.

Great views over Andorra from Estanyo peak  © Miguel Ibanez
Great views over Andorra from Estanyo peak
© Miguel Ibanez

When to go?

From Early July until late October.

The route

Best to drive to the car park not far from the Sorteny staffed mountain hut, though you need a 4WD vehicle. Once in the car park, follow a path that is barely marked, following the Estanyó river valley. Eventually you reach the Estanyó lake (2399m), a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. It's a peaceful place. In early summer you will see hundreds of different flowers. Turn left and walk up the crest line of the Roca del Rellotge range. The path is marked with cairns. Follow the crest line to the summit. From there you can overlook Andorra in all directions. If the weather is good, it's worth staying there for a while to enjoy the views. To come back, follow this itinerary:

  • Follow an easy and wide crest line to La Cabaneta peak (2863m).
  • Continue north along another crest line, until you reach Cap de la Serrera peak (2724m). Pay attention here! The path crosses steep scree and sometimes is not easy to follow. Some points are a bit exposed.
  • Eventually you get to the Meners pass (2713m), where you find the HRP trail
  • Follow left the HRP to the Sorteny mountain hut. This descent is the perfect end to a challenging though amazing hike.

High on Estanyo peak  © Miguel Ibanez
High on Estanyo peak
© Miguel Ibanez

Fast facts about Andorra

The currency is the Euro, and Catalan is the official language. Andorra is well used to tourists, so you can easily communicate in other languages such as Spanish, French and English. To learn more about Andorra in English, click here. I don't agree with everything on this site, but most of the information is correct.

Maps

Unfortunately, there are only two maps which cover all Andorra. Their scale is 1:40000 though. A scale of 1:25000 is more suitable, but apparently that doesn't exist. One of the maps is produced by Editorial Alpina. Another publishing house, Editorial Piolet, has produced the other one. Editorial Piolet also has another map scaled 1:15000, but it covers only a small part of the country.

When to go

From the middle of summer – see the details above for every peak. Some peaks can be walked in winter, but the paths are different. Winter walking is the subject for a separate article.

Guided or solo?

It depends on your experience in high mountains. If you are not very used to walking above 2500m, you should hire a guide. You should also have good navigation skills if you want to go solo. Some parts of the paths are marked only with cairns. Even where there are painted marks, at some places the paint has vanished.

Rest days and sightseeing

There is not much to do in Andorra if you're not hiking, apart from shopping. If you like skiing, Andorra is full of ski resorts, but that's another story. Among other attractions, Ordino is a village worth a visit. It features in my blog as one of the Most Beautiful villages in the Pyrenees . Escaldes is a village well known for its sulphurous springs where the water rises at 61°C. You can relax at the Caldea spa.

Where to stay

I would say Andorra has the largest concentration of hotels in the Pyrenees. Hotels are full in winter, but in summer there is plenty of availability and lots of competition on price. If you feel comfortable sleeping in a dormitory, the Sorteny staffed mountain hut is a good choice. It's quite new, the facilities are in good condition and the food is excellent. The Sorteny valley is well known for its beauty and flora.

Getting there

You can fly either to Barcelona or Toulouse. Both are about the same distance and the same travelling time from Andorra la Vella, the capital. The journey takes about 2.5 hours. You can get to Andorra by bus from Barcelona. Take a look at:

From Toulouse, check out these websites:

Getting around

Renting a car is the cheapest option, letting you move around freely and avoid having to pay for taxis to the starting point of hikes. There is also a local bus service, but it mostly doesn't serve the points most interesting for hikers. More information here, though it's only in Catalan.

Guidebooks

The best are in Catalan, Spanish and French. Of the English language guides, try:

The Mountains of Andorra by Alf Robertson and Jane Meadowcroft (Cicerone)

Walks and Climbs in the Pyrenees by Kev Reynolds (Cicerone)

You can also find useful information published by the Andorra Government here, which has details of some walking tracks.


About Miguel Ibáñez

A qualified mountain leader based and born in Barcelona, Miguel manages guiding firm TrekPyrenees, and has a deep knowledge of the mountains of Catalonia and the Pyrenees.

"For 5 years I have been leading treks in the Pyrenees" he says, "I quit my job as an IT Manager in 2011 because I am passionate about mountains and meeting people. When I gave up my job to devote myself to what I really love doing, it was a leap into the unknown. However, I can safely say that I am now happy taking you off the beaten track to show you the undiscovered attractions of our mountains."

TrekPyrenees organize walking holidays in Spain, mainly in the Spanish Pyrenees, but also in France and Andorra. They also explore other scenic mountain ranges in Catalonia such as Montsant, Ports de Beseit and Montseny - all protected natural parks. Their tours last from 2-8 days.


More information TrekPyrenees blog

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