Affordable mountain escape from Barcelona: The Pyrenees
I’m sometimes asked why I chose to live in Barcelona instead of Madrid. A big part of my reasoning was Barcelona’s proximity to things I love: the Mediterranean Sea, France, wine regions and the stunning Pyrenees Mountains on the border of Spain and France.
To get out of Dodge (or Barcelona, in this case) and see the wild side of Catalonia, you might assume a rental car is needed. Not true. The train in Spain does not travel only on the plains, it also heads up into the Pyrenees Mountains passing the timberline and reaching a gorgeous alpine valley. Welcome to the Vall de Nuria.
Exploring Vall De Nuria
In the valley there is a lake, a hotel and countless activities for families including pony rides, boats, playgrounds and plenty of winter sports when the snow falls. Apart from all the kiddie stuff, there are also extensive trails that spread out from the hotel into the Pyrenees. This is a hiker’s paradise.
Hiking the trails
You’ve got two options for getting up to the Vall de Nuria: You can take the zipper train (‘cremallera’) or you can hike a trail from Ribes de Freser or Queralbs. When I went to Nuria, I walked. At the trailhead in Queralbs it read three hours, but it took us four. Of course, we stopped often to take photos and rest. The trail cuts up through a trough leading into the valley and hugs a river, crossing it several times and offering up spectacular waterfall views.
If you choose to do the trek, make sure to have sturdy boots and lunch packed. Also, it’s important to look at the weather before you go as this area is much colder than Barcelona and can be stormy. Trust us, you don’t want to be in Nuria during a thunder and lightening storm.
Though it took us four hours to get up to Nuria, it only took us three hours to return to Queralbs, the village where our car was parked. Still, it’s a smart idea to get an early start if you’re not going to spend the night. We drove to Queralbs, but we could have taken the train to Ribes de Freser from Barcelona, which only takes about 2hr 15min.
Going by zipper train
If you’re not up for the slog, then simply take the train from Barcelona, get off at Ribes de Freser, and then get on the cremallera (zipper train), which will take you all the way up the mountainside, and leave you at the door of the hotel in the valley. Also look for specials on the Valldenuria.com website. For example, they’ve got the ‘Pack Cremallera Dinar Al Restaurant de L’Hotel’ for €35.00, that consists of lunch at the hotel’s restaurant plus a round-trip ticket on the zipper train from Ribes de Fresser.
The hike up to the Vall de Nuria is going to be prettier than taking the zipper train, but in the winter, the zipper train is the only way to access the area (cars are not allowed). If you plan to visit Nuria in a day, then set out as soon as the sun is up, estimating four hours there and four hours back to Barcelona by train (maybe a little less). Trying to do the hike and train travel on the same day is probably overdoing it. If you want to hike, treat yourself and stay the night at the hotel.
The Vall de Nuria is gorgeous and will give you the chance to see another, perhaps unexpected, side of Catalonia and Spain.
To learn more about services in and around the Vall de Nuria, check out the website.