Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park

For those who like their nature sublime, Ordesa is hard to beat, a place of deep canyons, towering cliffs, lush forests and Alpine flower meadows. In short, this one of g the most awe-inspiring landscapes anywhere in Europe. At its centre the limestone massif of Monte Perdido, which is cut through by two deep glacial valleys (Ordesa and Pineta), and two vertiginous gorges (Añisclo, and Escuain), forming one of the most breathtaking landscapes in Europe, certainly the most spectacular in the Pyrenees. The park was founded in 1918 and is together with the Picos de Europa, the oldest nature reserve in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe, although in its early years the idea was to protect the stunning scenery from logging to promote tourism rather than to save the wildlife.

Alpine birds such as ptarmigan, wallcreeper and snow finch can be seen in the high altitudes, although it is a strenuous hike to get up to them. Moving down. there are extensive beech and pinewoods home to capercaillie, black woodpecker and crossbill. Ordesa is also renowned for its raptors, in particular the lammergeier or bearded vulture. A visit to the feeding station and viewing areas along the Garganta de Escuaín in the southern edge of Ordesa offers close-up views of this rare vulture, accessed by a short 2km walk along the gorge from village of Escalona.

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The demise of the Pyrenean ibex

Ordesa was home to the last remaining bucardo or Pyrenean ibex. On 6 January 2000, a gnarled tree crashed down on Celia and killed her, bringing to an end the subspecies that had for millennium grazed the high Pyrenees between France and Spain. A total and utter disaster in terms of conservation management, despite decades of official protection. But it might not be quite the end for Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica. An expensive cloning project was set up using DNA, extracted from the last living goat. In 2003, a clone was born alive, but died several minutes later due to physical defects in the lungs, making it, albeit briefly, the first time an extinct subspecies had been revived anywhere. The project and the bucardo’s DNA is currently on the shelf, awaiting resurrection somewhere in a research lab in Zaragoza. Celia herself is on display along with the story of the bucardo at the Ordesa interpretation Centre in Torla.

Monte Perdido’s melting glacier

Monte Perdido, the Lost Mountain, (3355m) is the third highest peak in the Pyrenees and boasts one of the highest waterfalls (400m) in Europe. It is also home to the one of largest glaciers in the Pyrenees; the biggest is on the flanks of the nearby Aneto. All are slowly melting. Photos taken in the late 19th century by the pioneering French mountaineer Lucien Briet show a glacier far larger than that of today. A huge glacier spread across Ordesa’s valleys during the last Ice Age but today’s glaciers may well be relatively young, probably dating from the Little Ice Age. They have been retreating since this cool period came to an end in the late 19th century, which finished off the last true glaciers of the Sierra Nevada and the Picos de Europa. The speed of loss has greatly accelerated in recent decades as human-induced climate change has kicked in. Current estimates predict that all of the remaining ten Pyrenean glaciers will be gone by 2070, most well before, unable to withstand the range’s rising temperatures, currently twice the world average.