Leaving home and taking a vacation in late summer is practically an official holiday in Europe. In 2016 62% of EU residents took part in tourism for a total of 1.2 billion trips. Amongst the most popular destinations: France, Italy, and Spain; Spain was the most common tourism destination in the EU (2016) and accounted for 22% of all tourism.
In August, the weather in Europe becomes unbearable. Tourists from all over the EU flood Spanish cities and coastal towns. Many of the locals know to seek cooler weather in Northern Spain. Our first stop was Benasque, a small mountain town nestled amongst the Pyrenees mountain range along the French border.
Benasque appears as if it were dreamt up in a fairy tale. Quaint with about 10 streets, we thoroughly enjoyed walking up and down the narrow roads lined with 500-year-old buildings all made of stone, furnished with wooden window shutters, and all brandished with beautiful boxes of flowers.
Benasque comes alive in the summer and winter. In the winter it’s a central location for the Spanish ski scene and in the summer, climbers flock to the region to scale serious peaks. These routes are experts only territory and require crampons, ropes, and years of experience. But for us mere mortals, there are a fair amount of day hikes.
During the day we drove up to the Llanes De Hospital, where you could park your car and embark on a few world famous day hikes. If it weren’t for the stunning vistas, the name “Hospital” would be enough to deter most from hiking, until we realized that the area was named after a military hospital from the 1600s that lay in ruins at the foot of the trails.
One hike, in particular, was absolutely mind-blowing and quite frankly a humbling introduction to European hiking. We hiked 9 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation up to a peak filled with small lakes, gorgeous meadows, and stunning views of snow-caps. At the top, hikers are rewarded with a view of France in between a narrow gap in the rocks. Towards the top, I began to suffer from a bit of vertigo from the height and steepness of the trail. If it wasn’t for my brave wife and the ethos of just putting one foot in front of the other, I may have turned back long before the top. I’m glad that I didn’t, as it was an experience that I’d never forget.
After a long day of getting your butt kicked by Mother Nature, Benasque is also the perfect place to unwind. We swam in freezing cold rivers, drank sunset gin and tonics surrounded by mountains and waterfalls, we ate pintxos (typical appetizers with various toppings served on a slice of bread), and we cozied up in 300-year-old taverns, with wall mounted animal skins and weapons from the Spanish Civil War.
We left Benasque feeling recharged, proud, and thankful for the gift of nature.