As a photographer, the Pyrenees have always been a place I have been drawn back to time and again. The majority of my workshops have been on the French side around well-known areas such as the iconic landmass of the Cirque de Gavarnie with its large amphitheatre-like construction which towers above everything else in the area.
I have intended to explore the Spanish side with the view of running a workshop there, which as the crow flies, is a hop to the other side. However, to drive it is a much longer process. There are no straight roads through the mountains to the Spanish side and it involves almost a 200km drive from Gavarnie on the French side to Torla which is the gateway to the Ordesa Valley and Monte Perdido National Park, or to give it its correct name (Parc Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido). As luck would have it, I had the opportunity to visit the park along with my good friend Sebastià Torrens, (a professional nature photographer based in Mallorca) in late October to shoot the autumn colour. I was amazed by the topography of the landscape and the abundant forests of beech, pine and oak (somewhat different from the French side) that cover the valleys punctuated with countless rivers, streams and an abundance of waterfalls which abound virtually everywhere in the park.
The Valle de Ordesa was Spain’s first National Park; designated in 1918, it was later expanded to encompass the entire region in 1982. The park is around 169 km²; more than enough space to accommodate photographers and tourists. It is also classified as an IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Category II National Park and has also been recognised by UNESCO as part of the Pyrenees- Mont Perdu World Heritage Site.
The park has over 150 species of animal and has many endemisms on the flora and fauna checklist. Soaring peaks with deeply incised gorges, glacial lakes and waterfalls are just some of the natural features the park has to offer. There are many different walking trails of all lengths and levels to explore. Spring is naturally the best time for the flora and fauna, Being there in October to photograph the autumn colour meant we had no time to explore the woodlands in any great detail, however, I did recognise the potential they had for a spring workshop.
The climate of the Pyrenees varies depending on the altitude and where you are. We were extremely unfortunate to have encountered a large storm that engulfed the western side of the Mediterranean during our whole time there; this had a considerable impact on travel and photography. Our second day was so bad that it was virtually impossible to photograph at all and much of our time was spent in the vehicle. One of the few advantages of persistent heavy rain is the increased flow of water in rivers and streams. We took advantage of this and the conditions worked well for photographing the many cascades, streams and rivers we encountered in all of our locations. However, the heavy overcast skies deprived us of many of the amazing views in the gorges. We also explored the Cañon de Añisclo and Valle de Bujaruelo which had many photographic possibilities in the right conditions.
Overall I was impressed with the Spanish side of this iconic mountain range and plan to run some workshops in the very near future. Although we were overwhelmed with the colour and beauty of the region it is a challenging place to photograph. We had to deal with large variations in exposure and the elements including thunderstorms and lighting but we did not allow the conditions to dampen our enthusiasm for this great location.