Epic border crossing arriving to Andorra on GR11 and the Tour of a Typical Refuge | Day 3 – Vallcivera, Refugi de l’Illa, Refugi Fontverd
On our third day of hiking GR11 in Catalonia we did around 16kms from the Cabana dels Espravers, crossed the border from Spain to Andorra and arrived to the Refugi Fontverd.
We slept in for half an hour because the sound of the river we camped by was quite loud and thus we didn’t hear the alarm. So we woke up at 7am instead of 6am but tried to move quickly and get out on the trail in time and escape extreme hot hours. Also we wanted to do our uphill until 12am. On the map we saw that we’ll have to conquer a 6km 800m uphill that seemed to be quite gentle and then we planned to descend down as far as we possibly could. So the day was promising to be very interesting and exciting.
We camped in a nice secluded place away from the trail and the night was quiet so we could rest very well. In the morning, we started to hear the cow’s bells getting closer and when we got out of the tent we saw many of them pasturing surrounding our tent as if trying to chase us away from this place.
The third morning in the row we were glad to see that there was no condensation forming on the flysheet nor on the tent body itself. Maybe it was because of the good ventilation system with quite a lot of mesh around or maybe it was because of the weather conditions. In any case we were happy that we didn’t have to deal with it.
So we had our breakfast that was a leftover from the previous dinner, collected the water from the river that turned out to be very clean and tasty and wrapped up our tent and all the camping gear.
When we got out on the trail the sun was still low on the horizon hiding over the mountain ridge and so we could enjoy having these first hours walking in the shade and breathing the fresh morning air. We actually managed to begin our day at 8am as planned which was a good start. We met our first GR mark stating that the town Encamp is in 20kms so we knew we won’t get there that day. Also we noticed there the other GR mark of GR 107 – Cami dels Bonnes Hommes leading to the other direction.
So the first few kilometers the trail went quite gently up following the course of the river and there wasn’t any particular difficulty in it. We crossed several river streams and walked in the shaded forest.
There on the riverbanks we met quite a lot of nice flat plains where it would be nice to camp at and if we knew that there are such idyllic spots we probably would stretch further up the trail the day before in order to stop there.
The day was going to be clear and sunny, third day in the row with the stable weather and we were glad to know that there were no rains or storms expected. But the hot weather in the middle of the day was a real killer so we continued to move forward keeping up a steady pace.
At one point we came out of the forest and started to go in the direct sun following the steeper uphill. It seemed like day after day we were repeating the pattern of hiking in the shaded forest at the start and then coming out to the clear terrain closer to midday. But this was how the trail went and we could do little about it.
The landscapes around us turned to the quite rugged ones with high mountain rocks in front of us. We faced the steep ascend in few kilometers until the mountain pass and the border crossing to Andorra. That last uphill was certainly more challenging than the previous easy and gentle part but wasn’t too extreme nor long. And we actually didn’t notice how we came to the lake d’Illa which was already on the Andorra side. So it turned out easier than we expected looking at the map the day before and getting ready for the hard trail. The time on the clock was only 10am which was great to conquer the uphill till this hour and we had still a lot of powers left.
The lake d’Illa was a medium sized mountain lake surrounded by the rugged rocky and deserted landscapes. When we did a semi-circle around it we saw an interesting looking building below on the trail and it turned out to be the guarded Refugi de l’Illa. From the outside it looked like a big building made of metal sheets and we haven’t seen such a unique refuge before.
The pictures around and panoramic views were truly beautiful and breathtaking. The morning sunlight was enhancing its beauty even more. The mountains were shining in front of us in all their glory as if demonstrating how massive and monumental they truly are.
While hiking the third day around we’ve noticed that the tiredness was accumulating all over the body as the days go by. Especially we could feel the aches in the shoulders and back after carrying much weight. But when we read about other people’s experiences before getting on the trail most of them agreed that after 5 to 7 days of hiking the GR11 your body won’t get recovered fully no matter how many hours you rest. So we were mentally prepared for that and knew that this is the challenge of this hike.
As we crossed to Andorra – an interesting country located between Spain and France surrounded by high mountain ranges from all sides we think it is appropriate to mention here several facts this small kingdom is famous for. It has 3 official languages spoken there – Catalan, Spanish and French with the Catalan being the most popular. This country is famous for its commercial business and a lot of people prefer to open their shops here because of the free or low tax politics. And most of locals living in Spain and France prefer to go shopping there buying lots of things in bulk which turns out to be very economical because of the low prices on most stuff. But of course there are limits for every product of how much you can take and cross the border with. Also the excellent ski resorts are another specialty of this region.
So we got through several lakes walking quite easily down the trail and enjoying magnificent views. We did filter some more water in the clear river we met to resupply. And on the way we encountered several rocky shelters which were free of charge and non-payable ones. There are quite a lot of them along the trail so it is good to know for someone who is looking to stay at the refugees. To us these buildings were serving more for the winter cold times when it is not that comfortable to sleep outside. In summer though we believe it is better to enjoy outdoors and stay in the tent, this is our opinion anyway.
The trail continued to go flat and easy with a gentle downhill and soon the path started to go in the shade of the forest which was even more enjoyable giving us a break from the hot sun. Then at the wide open field close to the river we decided to have our lunch break as it was just about time at 12am. We had a bit of a rest in a shade of the tree there and continued down the trail.
At some parts, the trail turned to the rocky steps and bricked route as if specially made by humans and it was a nice change of different terrain. There were some clouds on the sky appeared out of nowhere but it was fine as it gave more bearable conditions to walk in in the middle of the day. Also the cool wind was helping a lot too. The path was twisting along the river and felt like a peaceful walk in the forest. So at that moment we could say it was a perfect weather for hiking.
When we arrived to the refuge Fontverd it was already 14pm and we felt like stopping there and searching for the place to camp. Because we knew that to continue hiking in such hot period of time could have the bad consequences even though we didn’t make our planned distance for the day. So we ended up doing 15kms and stopping in around 8kms until the village Encamp. We could have stretched a bit further but we already felt we did enough for that day.
So we did find the spot in between the trees and rocks in the nearby forest. We had a nice chill out time there, doing yoga stretching to release the sore muscles, taking a shower, cooking and eating our delicious dinner. Then we studied our hiking map and plan for the next day using the combination of Maps.Me, Mapy.cz and Google Earth apps on the phone. We planned to get to Encamp and go shopping there as we needed to resupply some food. And then continue further up the mountain depending on the weather and time restrictions. After that it was already time to go to sleep.
We enjoyed that hiking day very much and it ended up being our most favorite our of 3 days we had been on the trail. The weather conditions were nice and the landscapes were very beautiful. The trail wasn’t too challenging at all. We would even recommend this hike to do if some of you happen to stop in the town Encamp and will be searching for the day hike to do. It is a perfect walk in our opinion, apt for all levels and accompanied by postcard looking pictures all the way through.