Fascinating Pyrenees: the most beautiful villages

The mountain range that separates Spain from France is one of the most important borders in Europe. A stone wall that has been a key element in warfare and pilgrimages such as the Way to Santiago. Its many valleys live in the shade of spectacular massifs. The most beautiful villages in the Pyrenees unfold there. From Navarre to Girona, these towns are perfect for avoiding the heat and enjoying nature at its most mountainous side.

Lanuza, Huesca

Lanuza reflejada en el embalse homónimo

Lanuza reflected in the reservoir of the same name. | Shutterstock

This small village disappeared due to the construction of the reservoir to which it gives its name at the end of the 70s. However, after the reservoir was lower than previously thought, it was able to resurrect itself, becoming one of the most beautiful villages in the Pyrenees; in the already attractive Tena Valley since the 90s. The church was the first space rescued and then houses were restored. Nowadays it shows the typical architecture of the area and has accommodation and restaurant. It is also the venue for the Pirineos Sur festival, which has its main showcase on a floating stage.

A route of about eight kilometres surrounds the lake, allows you to see a spectacular dam and connects, in three, Lanuza with Sallent de Gállego. The latter is another typical village that leaves good postcards. The proximity of the waters also allows for water sports. Meanwhile, to the north is the Formigal-Panticosa station, so there is the option of skiing during the winter season. The villages of the same name or Baños de Panticosa are also almost mandatory visits.

Seu d’Urgell, Lleida

La Seu d'Urgell

Streets of La Seu d’Urgell. | Shutterstock

The County of Urgel was an influential political force in the Pyrenees of the Middle Ages . Directed from La Seu d’Urgell, it extended to Andorra and had its own bishopric. Its surroundings have always been prosperous. They were once prosperous thanks to the waters of the Segre and its tributary, the Valira. Today it is partly thanks to the passage to Andorra. Also because of its beauty and how interesting its long history makes the place. The most outstanding point in this respect is the Romanesque cathedral, from the 12th century. The purity of its style has been preserved despite having served as a fortress on several occasions. Thus, it is a unique example in all of Catalonia.

Isaba, Navarra

Isaba, parte del tratado de las Tres Vacas

Isaba, part of the Treaty of the Three Cows

Close to the French border, this Navarrese village is one of the spearheads of the Pyrenees in the Autonomous Community, along with Ochagavía. The Belagua and its successor, the Esca, offer routes with which to discover this mountainous environment. Although at first glance less impressive than the Aragonese part, the mountains impose the creation of deep valleys. Roncal, for example, is where Isaba lies. The late medieval temple of San Cipriano and the temple of Idoya are worth mentioning. Its most famous folkloric element is the Tribute of the Three Cows, considered the oldest treaty in use in Europe. Other nearby Navarrese places to spend the day are Sangüesa, Javier or Lumbier with its gorge.

Aínsa, Huesca

Aínsa y su corte medieval

Aínsa and its medieval court. | Shutterstock

Two rivers define the appearance of one of the most beautiful villages in the Pyrenees: Aínsa. These are the Ara and the Cinca, which converge here before the second one continues its course south. It is part of the Sobrarbe County and it is necessary to take some slopes to reach its high part, the historical one. However, it is worth it as it holds a large medieval site. For example, the church of Santa Maria, a perfect example of the local Romanesque. Its tower is, however, a 16th century addition. Not far from it is the main square, with arcades. Finally, we reach the castle, which mixes medieval and modern stages. The latter was commissioned by Tiburcio Spannocchi, who was responsible for designing the Citadel of Jaca or reinforcing Hondarribia.

Queralbs and Vall de Núria, Girona

Vall de Núria en el entorno de Puigmal

Vall de Núria in the surroundings of Puigmal. | Shutterstock

The inhabitants of this Girona municipality are proud to be part of a “millenary village“. Not in vain, mentions of the place go back to the 9th century. Queralbs is located in perfect terrain for livestock farming, as are many other towns in this review. Taking advantage of the valleys and the pasture that these entail, Queralbs continues maintaining in this activity one of its signs of identity. Its church, dated in the tenth century, is a testimony of the local history. Beyond the charming atmosphere of the typical stone houses of the Pyrenees, the village has enviable surroundings.

Of all the corners it has, the Vall de Núria is the most striking. Although in the 20th century it stood out as a centre for political meetings, it is the sanctuary it has that makes the small valley extraordinary. Surrounded by some of the highest peaks of the mountain range, you can get there thanks to a high mountain train, of rack railway. It awaits a religious complex, originally from the 11th/12th century but reconstructed several times, next to an idyllic reservoir. The carving that gives its name to the whole is medieval and has experienced many vicissitudes: from being moved to avoid being burnt during the Civil War to a robbery with subsequent return.

Benasque, Huesca

Benasque en invierno

Benasque in winter. | Shutterstock

At the eastern end of the Aragonese Pyrenees, Benasque capitalises on the Valle Escondido. Together with Tena or Ordesa, it is one of the best known in the area. Posets-Maladeta and Aneto provide the natural backdrop to this village. As it happened in Panticosa, the thermal waters of the place attracted the attention of the Romans. Here it is certain that they took advantage of them. Later, the village was part of the county territory of Ribagorza, one of the original members of the Kingdom of Aragon. Its church, with a characteristic square tower, or a military tower are medieval legacies. Drains like the one in Aigualluts, lakes like the one in Gorgutes and several tresmiles complete its offer.

Bohí, Lleida

Iglesia de San Juan de Bohí

Church of San Juan de Bohí. | Shutterstock

Part of the municipality called La Vall de Boí, this Pyrenean town in the Iberian Peninsula is famous for its church of Sant Joan. It is part of a group of churches in the valley that were declared a World Heritage Site. The mural paintings it preserves, such as those in Tahull, are extraordinary. Likewise, the structure, which is largely repeated throughout the complex, is also very characteristic. Only part of the bodies of the high tower remain, as the rest were lost in a medieval fire. The building is complemented by the urban framework, with a notable popular architecture, as well as a green and aquatic natural environment.

Os de Civis, Lleida

Casas en Os de Civís

Houses in Os de Civís

Although it is within Spanish territory, this small village of Lleida has a unique curiosity: it can only be reached from Andorra. This geographical circumstance is called “pene-exclave”, being Os de Civis the only one in the country. On the verge of disappearing in the 20th century due to its isolation from the rest of Lleida‘s populations, a neighbourhood association turned the situation around in the 80s. The relationship with the other side of the border is very good and they share services. Not in vain, geologically they are on the same side in the Pyrenees. The town’s most outstanding feature is its Romanesque church, dedicated to San Pere i Santa Margarida. As far as nature is concerned, the Os valley is the centre of perfect hiking routes.

Biescas, Huesca

Ermita de Santa Elena en Biescas, en la ruta por los pueblos más bonitos del Pirineo aragonés

Hermitage of Santa Elena. | Shutterstock

Next to the Santa Elena gorge and the entrance to the Tena Valley, Biescas is a perfect place to discover the Aragonese Pyrenees. At a local level, different routes allow you to go deeper into the Alto Gállego or to go to lakes such as the one in Tramacastilla de Tena. Likewise, the path that goes to the hermitage, dolmen and fort of Santa Elena is of great beauty. To the south are the curious churches of Serrablo, a pre-Romanesque site with Arab and Visigothic elements. Jaca, Sabiñánigo, Broto, Torla or Fanlo are other spaces that are close by.

Local architecture, with many examples of the chimney decorations called espantabrujas, or churches such as San Pedro and El Salvador create a perfect postcard in combination with the local mountains. On the eastern side of the Gállego is the charming town hall square, surrounded by streets with bars. There is also the other side, with more alternatives to eat or drink.

Prullans, Lleida

Prullans

Prullans. | Shutterstock

Part of the Lower Cerdanya, this village of Lleida has a variety of attractions. Not very large, it extends along the Prat de Vià stream, which flows into the Segre shortly afterwards. This low terrain contrasts sharply with the higher terrain in the north. There, the mountain makes its presence felt and provides very striking karstic phenomena. The best example is the Cova d’Anes, of great geological value. The route that reaches it shows the assets of Prullans: it passes by isolated farmhouses while crossing wide valleys. It also has dolmens, Romanesque and more caves to see in the Pyrenees.

Broto, Huesca

Broto, Huesca

Broto | Shutterstock

Once again it is a river course that defines the figure of this Huesca village in the Pyrenees. This is the Ara, already mentioned. Most of its old town is on the eastern bank. Of its structures, the old prison is the most striking. By appointment, it can be visited to contemplate the engravings left by its tenants over time. Between Gothic and Romanesque, from the end of the 16th century, the church of San Pedro stands out for its size and elegant cut.

However, the most wanted place is the walk along the Ara River. At one point it turns into a small meadow with direct access to the riverbed. At the north end of the village, the remains of the old bridge that used to cross it are another point of interest. Villages like Oto or the nearby Torla, access to the Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park, expand the options for a break to Broto. Finally, we must mention the local cheese. There are traditional cheese shops where you can buy it, from the freshest to the strongest, including mushrooms.

Roncesvalles, Navarre

Colegiata de Roncesvalles

Collegiate Church of Roncesvalles. | Shutterstock

Known as the Spanish head of the French Way to Santiago, Roncesvalles is a sparsely populated municipality of great beauty in the Pyrenees. Its Gothic complex, with the collegiate church of Santa María at its head, has been a Jacobean reference since medieval times. Together with the temple of Santiago and several hospital facilities, they add up to a whole that fits in perfectly with the mountainous environment in which it is located.

The nearby Ibañeta, a mountain pass that has been used since classical times, and Valcarlos were identified as the scene of the Battle of Roncesvalles. There the Basques took revenge on Charlemagne by destroying his rearguard. As well as stealing a great booty from him, they killed one of his favourites, Roland. Something that would go down in history thanks to the Cantar de Gesta to which it gave its name and which is remembered in the town with a monument. In any case, walking through these valleys or areas such as the Irati Forest is a great experience for hiking enthusiasts.

Llivia

Vista de Llivia

View of Llivia. | Shutterstock

If Os de Civis was a pene-exclave Llivia takes this situation to the limit. It is an exclave, that is, it is completely surrounded by foreign territory. In its case, it is France in which it is embedded. A treaty from the middle of the 17th century is responsible for the fact that this village remained in Spain, unlike the rest of Roussillon.

Located at more than 1,200 metres above sea level, in the heart of Cerdanya and watered by the Segre river, it is a beautiful mountain village in the Pyrenees. This is largely due to the good restoration of its houses, in which the characteristic slate roof, spread all over the Pyrenees, has been preserved. The Bernat tower or the Mare de Déu church are monumental landmarks to be aware of.


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