I have seen a fair number of places in this world, yet the little town of Benasque, which sits in the shadows of the Pyrenees, is utterly enchanting. This summer, I was treated to its lush (yes, even in Spain) green valley, perfect weather, and access to an incredible series of trail runs. Life here – at least as a traveler – is easy: people are kind, curious and warm, the food is delicious, and bus transportation and other amenities are excellent. Driving from Barcelona airport is probably the easiest way to get here, but, at least in July 2021, you could also take an Avanza bus from Barcelona to Barbastro and from Barbastro to Benasque (although likely requiring an overnight in Barbastro).
Trail running and rambling in Parque Natural Posets Maladeta
One of my favorite discoveries has been the trails that run through the Parque Natural Posets Maladeta (which you can reach by bus connection from Benasque). For a perfect introduction, start from Hospital de Benasque (not a hospital now, but rather a hotel) and follow the ‘Nordic Walking’ signs or the main road to la Besurta. From la Besurta, where you can pick up some refreshments, you can run up to refugio La Renclusa and then down to Plan d’Aigualluts and back to la Besurta. These trails are all very well-marked, and the stretch from la Besurta to refugio la Renclusa and back is something a 5-year-old is likely able to do with some patience. While not overly technical, the large boulders on the way down to the Plan from la Renclusa prove a challenge and there is some decent ascent and descent. Above all, the views are fantastic and, in the early morning, you will likely be alone other than a few stray climbers on their way to conquer Aneto, the highest peak in the Pyrenees. Another challenging run with equally rewarding views over the glacier is to follow the marked footpath to Puerto de Benasque from Hospital de Benasque. Or, if you want to combine a series of runs in this park – and venture into France – the Trail2Heaven itinerary will bring you through 50 kilometers of the top hits of this park and the valley (or better yet, join the race!). You can find a trail map for this run here.
For accommodation just outside Benasque, Camping Aneto has great amenities if you are with kids (a pool, supermarket, and beautiful views). There is also a sweet old farmhouse that you can rent, with the option of a small 2-person apartment or a larger loft-style apartment that sleeps more. Both are steps away from the GR11, which offers some wonderful day trips. I have not had a chance to complete this one yet in full, but one suggestion is to venture from Camping Aneto/Puente San Jaime to Refugio de Cap de Llauset and back, which could be a challenging round-trip for the initiated hiker.
Sport climbing near Benasque
There are also several locations to rock climb around Benasque. These crags are undoubtedly less popular than other areas of Spain, which has the benefit of quiet, deliberate climbing. We started with sector “Sacs“, which is in walking distance from Benasque if you do not mind lugging your gear a few kilometers. The crag is very exposed to the sun (no shade other than some brush), so probably best to climb on an overcast or semi-overcast day or to start in early evening during the summer. It was also a bit hard to find the good routes, although thecrag.com has helpful descriptions on how to access the sector. We parked here, and then walked along the river towards Benasque on a marked trail until we saw the first section of climbs on the right. As they looked too easy and short, we skipped them and continued down the walking path. Shortly after, we scrambled up the slope on the right-hand side following some poorly marked footpath until we hit a significantly higher section of the wall. We eventually found some fun routes in the 6’s in Sector Central – Derecha (thecrag.com has some very helpful graphics for each sector). Be careful, we noticed that some of the carabiners fixed to the bolts on the wall were very, very worn and not suitable for use. Further, the sector is poorly marked so finding routes was difficult, and it’s not a great place for kids. That said, the views were spectacular and we were alone.
We also tried a bit of sport climbing in sector “Ampriu,” which is about a 25 minute drive from Benasque. This sector was also very hard to navigate, although thecrag.com, once again, includes some very helpful graphics. We parked here, and made a beeline (rather than following the 4×4 road) for the distinctive wall that juts out from the surrounding landscape (featured in the picture below). Once you cross the river on foot, you should see some cairns that will then lead you all the way up through the trees to the beginning of the wall. We jumped on the first route we saw to our right, just as the wall began, which was relatively easy and likely in the 4s or 5s. We were soon joined by others, so this may be a busier section than Sacs. Fortunately, if you’re seeking shade, you can hide in the forest for some relief. Climbing aside, the views from this sector were sweeping and phenomenal.