The lake possesses a mysterious beauty and quiet power that makes me consider it in much the same way as prehistoric man must have viewed fire – with awe, admiration and respectful apprehension. Its still, obsidian surface hypnotises. In the near distance I hear the thunderous roar of the Ratera Waterfall. It announces its presence arrogantly as it cascades through the forest and over boulders whose rough edges have been worn away by centuries of the Ratera’s forceful touch.
The world holds many wonders and this little spot amidst the pines and lagoons in the Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park near Espot in the Pyrenees is one of them. I don’t know about the existence of celestial beings or gods but there is something ethereal about this magical place; something that grabs your heart and gives it a squeeze telling you that this is a landscape that transcends simply being spectacular scenery. There is an overwhelming sense I am gazing at the source of life itself.
The Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park is full of enchantment and wonder. From the moment we set foot at the edge of the Lago de Sant Maurici, it’s obvious that the snow clad peaks and emerald forests inhabit a world where trolls and creatures long forgotten in other parts could roam. Legends abound here. High above us we can see two petrified hunters silhouetted against the sky between Encantats’ twin peaks; the punishment for hunting chamois. Rockfall rivers are said to be the work of the ‘little men in a box’ whose job it is to level the Pyrenees (see bottom of post).
The truth is the Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici doesn’t really need magic and myth to make it special. Fickle chameleon lakes taunt the forest, sky and mountains by reflecting each at their whimsy, the air is crisp and pure and the water icy and glacial fresh. Our path skirts the Sant Maurici lake whose alpine-esque beauty is enhanced further by the presence of tiny waterfalls on its banks and pines that look as though they’re lining up at its shores for a taste of the sweet water.
For a while we walk parallel to the lake before heading upwards and away from the still waters. The trail snakes through the pines, passing the first narcissus of the season, before it emerges at the base of the Ratera Waterfall. The powerful cascade roars a rumbustious welcome that threatens to engulf our camera equipment with its fine spray. The sheer power of this dense wall of foamy whiteness thrills. A narrow path leading to a platform right underneath the falls sets the imagination off on another flight of fancy; it would be a perfect spot for Holmes and Moriarty to battle it out.
It’s not easy to drag myself away from a scene such as this but we’re promised that more of nature’s wonders lie ahead. A brief picnic stop beside a trickling stream provides the opportunity to catch my breath (caused by an overload of breathtaking vistas, thin mountain air and a huff ‘n’ puff ascent) and allows time to absorb the snowy peaks of the surrounding mountains in between enthusiastic bites of a chunky, chorizo bocadillo.
Almost immediately the track changes from a springy forest path to a terrain carpeted with hard-packed snow. We slip-slide our way along till we finally descend to the banks of the Ratera Lake and the surprising climax to a hike already overflowing with nature’s treasures.
At this altitude, somewhere around the 2,000 metre level, spring’s warming fingers have only just begun to caress the landscape. Winter is still clinging on stubbornly and the lake’s surface is a two-tone combination of clear jade water and a blindingly white ice floe whose purity is broken only by a pair of waddling mallards. Once again nature holds me spellbound.
To be greeted by this idyllic mountain scene at the end of May in Catalonia is… well, the icing on a particulary luscious cake.
It’s a unique vista that should come lovingly and proudly stamped with ‘Made only in the Pyrenees’.
Buzz Trips hiked this spectacular part of the Pyrenees as an enchanted guest of Catalunya Tourist Board and in the company of an incredbly knowledgable National Park guide. A half day guided hike costs €7.20 and a full day costs €14.20. 4×4 taxi transport can be arranged in Espot near the park boundary (+34 973 624 105)
The Little Men in a Box – the very, very short and probably totally inaccurate version.
Little Catalan men have to work constantly to keep happy. If they don’t they’ll probably kill something. A wealthy nobleman found a way to use them by keeping them working during the day and putting them in a box at night (a bit like the way to keep a parrot quiet). Unfortunately the box broke. The nobleman realised that if he couldn’t keep the little men working 24/7 they’d probably kill him, his wife and his family so he came up with a cunning plan – a job they could never complete. ‘Level the Pyrenees,’ he told them. And off they happily went.
If you see fresh rockfall in the Pyrenees, you know the little men in a box are in the vicinity.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+