Torla, sitting alongside the Rio Ara, just about qualifies as a Trailhead. Torla is smaller than many of the towns listed here but it is important because of its location — it is an important resupply and rest stop for anyone walking the GR11 or who has crossed over the mountain ridge from France.
The upper section of the Ara Valley is a stunning place, high, lush, green and unspoilt by civilisation. You will see a stunning display of wild flowers and soaring birds of prey. It is the ideal wild camping spot. Access tends to be from those taking a high variant of the GR11 and from those who have made their way over the Cols des Mullets from Cauterets of the Refuge Wallon. Many people descend directly to the refugio at Bujaruelo but if you have the supplies the upper vallée is a grey place to spend a summer evening.
As the river descends it begins to cut its way steeply through rocks creating some impressive white water which is prized by kayakers. From the refugio down this is not quite as wild and inaccessible as you might think; an access road descends from above the refugio and follows you down though the woodland on the opposite bank to the footpath. Descending on the East side of the river your walk follows woodland trails, stretches of road and more woodland before emerging in the greener lowlands. A very good campsite sites on this side of the River. Torla itself is reached over a small and ancient stone bridge.
Old Torla is mainly a single street and the new village is made up of small clusters of housing that sen to have been constructed during the 50s or 60s. The Town is on the tourist circuit but is never too busy. Torla has developed a sires of tourist related craft industries with a lot of needlework and bead work on display, however, much of the produce seems to be at the esoteric and arty end of the spectrum rather than the tackier tourist end.
There are a couple of good food and general stores here and you may be able to get gas. I don’t particularly remember Torla as being a major place for outdoor goods so its best to be carrying supply with you but in all other ways it is a greta place for a rest day.
Torla has 8 or 9 hotels which cate for a range of different budgets. The most prominent (but not expensive) of these is the Hotel Russell, yes that man again, which sits on the narrow main street. The campsite (mentioned above) is friendly and excellent. It is a large site popular with many Spanish families but with lenity of space for backpacking tents. There is a useful small store here and a great, friendly, bar which serves descent meals.
If you do spend a rest day here it is worth taking time out for lunch. There are a couple of very descent looking places which won’t turn their noses up at hikers. With flew expectations I had one of the best lunches I have ever eaten here. I guess and evening meal would be quite spectacular.
Walk through the narrow main street you will find a sizeable coach station with good connections into Spain and to the rail system.
From the bus station a coach runs up to the Ordesa Canyon and national park. Many hikers walk through the Canyon on the GR11 or en route to Spain via the Breche du Roland. However, the canyon is best tackled as a circular day walk if you have time. You walk up the sheer rock wall at the head of the canyon before turning back and climbing high above the stream on the opposite side of the canyon from the walk out. This return stretch has some stunning, stunning views back to the canyon and lots of trees which will give you shade. A knee crunching descent takes you back to the car park to take the coach down. I thoroughly recommend this not least because you can take a light pack and properly enjoy this horseshoe walk. If you do decide to take the coach up to the Ordesa catch an early coach — they start running very early in the morning way before the sun begins to make its mark.
You can always rejoin the long distance paths by walking back up to the Ordesa or by taking the coach back up.
Earlier or later in the season the Breche can be hit by a lot of snow. Although this is not mentioned in the guidebooks I have often seen the guardian’s at both the Spanish and French refuges turning walkers back. If you have to get back to France walk up to Bujaruelo and take the old trade route over the border and down into Gavarnie. This old route doesn’t have a glacier but it is a fine day’s walking and gives you _ to my money — the best views of the Cirque de Gavarnie as you descend to the heart of the village.
If you are not in a hurry a night at Bujaruelo is no bad thing at all. The Refugio has a large camping field in front of it which will cost you a few euro to stay in. Spanish Refugios are very different to French refuges. This one serves greta, fresh food and has a magnificent bar. Your fellow residents will be from all corners of the globe.