The Val Fosca

The long valley of the river Flamicell is one of the most unspoilt in the upper Pyrenees. Tranquil villages set amid green meadows which provide grazing for dairy cattle (and, one must say, horses destined for the table) couldn’t be more different from the olive groves and open woodland which surround Fígols and its goats! The valley is a popular base for mycologists hunting the numerous edible mushrooms, which form such an important part of Catalan cuisine. From September until Christmas the forests ring to the shrill voices of family groups from the cities as they discover a hoard under the leaf litter while canny locals who’ve known these woods since childhood appear from hardly visible tracks laden with baskets of fredolics, llanegres, rovellons and the rest. NB if you do go mushrooming check the species with an expert – the local pharmacies will help – we don’t want to lose anyone!

The narrow entrance to the valley is at Senterrada and one could easily miss it and pass on up the Coll de Perves and onwards to France. There is a small trout farm here where for a small fee you can catch your own supper with a rod and line direct from the feeding tanks – the children love it! If you stop in Senterrada a visit to the Fonda Leonardo is a must. It used to be the old village shop and café and has been painstakingly restored by the present owner, granddaughter of the last shopkeeper! Ask to see the shop itself, it’s complete down to the boxes of Saxa salt on the shelves!

Decision time

The next village, La Pobleta de Belvei, is in effect the capital of the valley. It hosts an annual farmers’ and shepherds’ fira in October when, where as well as viewing the livestock with an expert eye, the rural community gathers to buy (and sell) the traditional tools of the trade, crooks, sheers, cow bells, stout walking sticks and all the rest. It’s a great place to seek traditional country cheeses, patés and sausages and see local characters who hardly ever venture down from the remote hamlets high in the surrounding mountains. From here this guide describes two distinct areas: one van either divert here and go east over mountain pastures to make a round trip back to la Pobla de Segur or carry on up the valley to get access to the high mountains well above the tree-line.

The ‘Pla’ de Peramea – a mountain hideaway

One can get a good idea of the isolated community by taking a detour across the high alpine pastures to the villages of Montcortes and Peramea. The lake at Montcortes is the largest ‘natural’ lake in the Pyrenees, it’s fed by springs and supports a wetland habitat. The One of our favourite picnic sites is just by the side of the road, overlooking the eastern end of the lake. Below this, and all around the lake in fact, fisherman’s jetties set among the reeds make good sites for bird and butterfly watching, not to mention the numerous dragonflies that hunt insects among the rushes. The small campsite on the opposite side of the lake has picnic tables for use for a small fee. The car park there is also the centre of a small network of marked footpaths, including a longish one with views over the Congost de Collegats and into the Noguera Pallaresa valley. Peramea, the ‘capital’ of the plateau, apart from having has a small bar that does hot food is worth a break to explore its little squares and alleyways, look out for the dates and escutcheons over the thresholds of the houses, a rarity in these parts and an indication of former glory!

Moving on from Peramea, follow the road down a rather hair raising descent to Gerri de La Sal in the Noguera Pallaresa valley. Cross the vertiginous single span bridge on foor to visit the twelfth century monastery. There are lovely walks along the east bank of the river (See our Favourite Walks guide). Back in the village there are two restaurants on the roadside and a visit to the preserved saltpans, which lend the village its name, by sampling and buying real ‘sea salt’!

James Bond 007!

Back in the Val Fosca, the road follows the dark valley floor (fosca means shady in Catalan) until at its very head the tiny village of Cabdella clings to a spire of rock. As you progress up the valley you’ll notice signs of one of the earliest hydroelectric generating schemes in Spain. The scheme was the brainchild of a local man, Emili Riu (1871-1928), and was built in 1916 taking advantage of the fast flowing waters and natural lakes to be found among the surrounding peaks. Tunnels drain eater from the lakes and lead it to the top of a conduit, which plunges the water over 800 metres to the turbines in the ‘Central’ on the valley floor.

Despite its antique appearance and equipment the original power station is still in use and part of it houses a museum and a fascinating piece of industrial archaeology. Ask there for times of tours of the ‘Central’ (see Museum Guide). The real goal of the trip, however, is much further up beyond Cabdella and is light years away from the quirkiness of the 1916 vintage installation. An abandoned narrow gauge railway clings to the mountainside high above. This can be reached by the cable car, part of the modern system of dams and tunnels draws water from a huge area and appears like a set for the latest James Bond film! The cable car, which is open in summer only, gives access to the southern flank of the Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Lac Sant Maurici. The car operates from July 1 to September 30, and does two return trips a day: Up – 09.00 and 13.00. Down 12.00 and 17.00 The car does more journeys if there is a quorum of visitors, however, especially in the August peak season.

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