GR 11 Update – crossing the state of Andorra
The next few days were even more exciting because we would hike into Andorra and cross it in only 2 days. Andorra is one of the seven European microstates and we were super stoked to check it out! Also, the scenery changed back to alpine terrain, yay!
Dream hut, here we come!
In the morning, we left the campground early in Àreu. It was a special day for us and we changed our whole plan to make this day work. This day we would walk to Refugio Baiau, which is located at 2500 meters and surrounded by beautiful lakes. It was the same as Refugio d’Anglios, I saw it in the Guidebook and immediately wanted to stay there! The hut is quite popular in the summertime though, that’s why we left at 6.30 am to get there by lunch and reserve a spot. We hiked the first hour or so on a dirt road along the stream. The trail went later on off the road and through the forest uphill. It was a beautiful morning. The sun hit us at about 8 am as we were walking through some meadows!
We walked past a few more horses, which we saw already in the morning in town. Around 10 am we had our snack break at a nice meadow with an actual picnic bench. Shortly after we sat there, we were surrounded by at least 10 very curious cows. Sara loved it, but I was intimidated! There was no other option than to leave. It was the last push up to the hut. The trail went steep uphill and the valley opened up. We were back in the mountains and gosh, it was gorgeous! We met Thomas again and crossed some other people along the way. On a large meadow, there were more horses and they came towards you very quickly. They were big and powerful – just beautiful. We still ascended and it was about time for lunch when we came across that pretty lake.
paradise all for us (four)
While Sara and I were eating already, Thomas didn’t hesitate long and jumped into the lake. It’s to be said that the lake was freezing cold. We only took a short break and continued. The hut was already in sight and it took us about 30 min to get there. When we got there, nobody was there! We would say Glückspilz (lucky mushrooms, hah!). We checked out the cool hut and left most of our stuff there. Just a few meters below the hut, there were two big lakes and we planned to chill there. So we packed our food, towel and some other small things. It was quite windy at the lake and therefore hard to find a protected spot. We cooked lunch and chilled in the sun. Clouds were covering the sun on and off, so it wasn’t always super warm.
Before taking a nap we wanted to take a quick dip in the lake. It was so cold that I only got in up to my knees. Sara was tougher and really went in for a few seconds. The nap afterward was great, although I didn’t have such an amazing spot as Sara. When I woke up, everything hurt haha. It was already 4 pm when we got back to the hut and it was windy. There we met Camille, who was hiking the HRP (High Route Pyrenees) solo! Both Sara and I were immensely impressed because the HRP was supposed to be harder and we hardly saw any other solo female hiker. We did some stretching outside and I wrote in my journal. When it got really cold we went inside the hut. It was warm and cozy in there. We had dinner and a nice evening chatting.
We slept like babies in this beautiful hut. In the morning, we took it slower than usual and hit the trail at 7.30 am. Thomas left earlier because we wanted to climb a peak. The three of us made our way to the pass, which was the border into Andorra. First, we descended to the incredible lake though. It reflected the mountains so clear like I’ve hardly seen before, truly magical! Then it went up through loose scree with almost no trail markings. It took its time and it was hard work to get up there. But when we finally made it, the view was outstanding. Looking back, you could see the tiny Refugio and the lakes. It was a long descent to Arinsal, the first town in Andorra.
While descending to Lake Nero (black lake), we saw a whole herd of deer or even wolves (not quite sure) running down the mountainside. They were far away, so it was hard to tell what kind of animal it was. Sara and Camille chatted most of the time; I was behind them just enjoying nature. At the junction of the Refugio Compedrossa, we said goodbye to Camille. The trail went steeply downhill to Arinsal. We were always excited about food! Arinsal was a quite fancy ski resort town, there were nice hotels and restaurants all over. The supermarket we bought food from was called St.Moritz, which is a famous place to ski in Switzerland. We bought way too much food and sat on the grass in front of the shop. I had a whole baguette with hummus and fresh tomatoes, enough said!
Of course, we also bought olives and fruits, and it was too much. After a short nap, the trail was calling. First, we crossed Arinsal, and then it went steep uphill. It was too steep for me with my belly full of food. I had a slight “bread concussion” haha. We were slow and, damn, it was hot too! After an hour of suffering from the good lunch, we eventually made it on top. The trail went down to Arans, but we decided to make a tiny shortcut to La Cortinada. It was again a steep trail with a lot of pine cones potentially to trip over. La Cortinada was a very cute and beautiful village! The only difference from Spain that I could tell was the quality of the roads. We stopped at a fountain to fill up our water bottles for the last climb.
It was harder to find a camp spot here because we weren’t that high up. That’s the crux when you’re close to civilization but it’s not impossible. On the map, it was also hard to see if there’s any flat spots, so we just hiked up. After about an hour we found some grassy meadows and a few houses. A guy was sitting in front that looked kinda like Thomas. Sara yelled over and it was actually Thomas. What a coincidence 🙂 We walked just a bit further only to see that the forest began shortly after. It was about 7 pm when we set up the tent and prepared dinner. We ate in the waning sunlight of the day and planned the next upcoming days.
We left camp at 6.40 am that morning because we had a long day planned with a resupply stop. And also we were at a lower elevation, which means it’s warmer in the day and I love hiking in the early morning. First, the route went up and down in the forest for a bit. Then we crossed some dirt roads and then we ascended steeply Coll d’Ordino. I could really feel the warmth down during this stretch. On top, we had our snack break after three hours of hiking. There was also a road going up the pass, therefore lots of people. We wanted to make it before siesta to Encamp and it was already 10.20 am. It was steep and super hot while descending. The trail was fully sun-exposed and the terrain was very dry. Encamp was another Ski Resort town with lots of hotels and restaurants.
First things first – resupply shopping! The second stop was the pharmacy for sunscreen and tiger balm. There was also a medieval market on the streets, where Sara even bought more snacks. The market was quite cool, old flags were hanging and people were dressed like in the 15th century. We only had to buy food for two days though. Andorra isn’t in the EU, so neither Sara nor I had any Wifi there. We decided to go into a restaurant to surf a little. I ordered myself some nachos because why not?! I only had a ton of food in my pack haha. Once more we stayed longer than we should have before hitting the trail. It was about 3 pm when we left Encamp. The trail went steeply uphill to a lake which was quite popular. Then on a wide tourist path up a small pass.
beautiful hut, too many people
There we chose the high route instead of going down the valley and up again. It was a nice trail overlooking the beautiful valley. Four hours later we arrived at the bothy we planned to stay at. It was located on a meadow next to a stream. When we arrived a few people were already there. We weren’t sure if we wanted to stay inside or camp outside. But first, we cooked ourselves fancy pasta with tomato sauce and lentils. We had a little bath in the stream and more and more people arrived. With this in mind, we looked for camp spots in front of the hut and set up the tent. The sun was setting just when we went to sleep at 9 pm. Good night guys! The most important thing I forgot, I found Skittles in Encamp!! Life is good 😀
Bye Andorra, Hello Catalunya
We were back at 1800 meters and it was a cold morning. That’s why we had breakfast inside the hut, where it was cozy and warm. In there we met another solo female thruhiker and chatted a while. Consequently, we left a bit later than usual. Shortly after the hut, we met Thomas again. Fun fact, we kinda never knew if he was behind or ahead but we always ran into each other which was really cool! We were back in the alpine territory and actually the last day according to our guidebooks. The trail went up to Refugio d’illa which is right at the Spanish border. Hiking up there the scenery was stunning. We had a short snack break at the hut and asked about the weather forecast.
And then we were already back in Spain, or to be even more specific, Catalunya. It was a long and partly steep descent. I began to notice my right knee a little. It had been behaving so well for so long, that I forgot to do the exercises on some mornings and now the pain was back. I stopped right away and did some rolling with my trekking pole and some stretches. From then on, I took it a little slower. The trail went all the way down into the valley and back up the other side. Before going up again there was a trail sign where the end was written! It was only 233 km to the Mediterranean, WOW!! It just sounded crazy… A little further we had our lunch break. Thomas cooked eggs, yes real eggs, and bacon. I had my usual of bread with hummus, yum!
The trail went first through the forest and then it became rockier and rockier. When we thought we were at the top it wasn’t, but the trail went gradually up the open field. It looked like what I imagine Scottland would be like. Finally, at the top, Thomas was sitting up there and planned to stay there. The view was fantastic, below us there were a few lakes and it all looked very rocky. We said goodbye to Thomas and this time it was actually the last time we saw him but we didn’t know then. The trail descended down to the lakes and further to a small bothy. Originally the plan was to stay there, but when we got there around 4.30 pm we weren’t sure anymore. Sara told me right in the beginning that there was a vegan-friendly Refugio on trail.
That Refugio was only two hours away then, but we had already had a long day and that would make it ten-hours of actual movement. Well, what’re the chances to find a hut like that again? To be honest, they were very low. So, we said fuck it and hiked on! There was another climb in front of us but first, we had to find the trail. Gladly it didn’t take that long and we were back on track. Shortly after, it followed along the side of the mountain. The trail was narrow and not well maintained. We could already see down to the biggest valley in the Pyrenees. Tomorrow we would be hiking through there. Finally, it went downhill to the Refugio Malniu, but that wasn’t our goal for today. We passed it around 6.30 pm and had to go on for another 45 min.
Then suddenly we hit a dirt road. All of a sudden the forest opened up to a large meadow, horses were grazing and next to it was the Refugio de la Feixa. It felt like walking into heaven <3 We called them in advance to make sure they had food and to expect that we were coming. It was 7.30 pm when we arrived and then the food came. Let me tell you, it was the best food of the whole trip I would say! Local and vegan, what else do you want? Haha a beer, of course! We had a starter, main dish, another starter, and dessert 😀 The hosts were also the kindest people. It was SO WORTH it to hike 10 hours (not including breaks) to get there! Exhausted but incredibly happy, we set up our tents behind the hut.
Into the heat
We didn’t order only dinner, we also ordered breakfast! It was a bit later in the morning as we packed our things and got into the hut. The breakfast was delicious! They served toasted bread, tomatoes, dried fruits, a whole avocado, some peanut butter, chocolate, and coffee or tea. HEAVEN. When we hit the trail around 8 am it was quite warm. That day, we hiked first down into the valley to Puigerda. First, the trail was going through the forest but then it opened up and we were sun-exposed all day. The lower we got, the hotter it got. We followed the road to Puigerda and I called my parents. We had lunch next to the road in a shady place at a stream. What a great feeling to dip your feet in cold water!
Shortly after we arrived in Puigcerda. Sara needed fuel and therefore we walked to the fereteria (hardware shop), but sadly that and the rest of the shops were closed. We learned from a lady in the supermarket that there was a local holiday. There was no way that we would hike out in this blazing heat. So we bought half a watermelon, vegan yogurt, and frozen berries and had our first Siesta. We also went to the pharmacy to get some electrolyte and Tumeric tablets. That combo yogurt with frozen berries was absolutely delish! For about two hours we laid in the shade under a tree. At 4 pm it was still hot, but we had to get some k’s in. We filled our water bottles at the next restaurant and hiked on.
The trail went along the road to the next village and then changed onto a dirt road. It wasn’t a super exciting trail, but it was okay. We walked back into the forest and higher up. I was super sweaty going uphill. At about 6.30 pm, we set up the tents close to the dirt road. It looked like it would rain soon, but it didn’t. For dinner, we had pasta with olive tapenade! The heat made me super exhausted.
That was it for this week’s post! We get closer and closer to the Med. Hope you had fun reading this. If yes, I’d love to hear more in the comments.
In next week’s post, you’ll read about my birthday and the highest pass of the whole GR11. Hope I’ll catch you there 😀
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