The Spanish Pyrenees are packed with ways to get your blood pumping. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ottsworld)
A region filled with mountain villages, snowy peaks, and dormant volcanoes is bound to be full of adventure — and the Pyrenees definitely are. Whether you’re looking for soft adventure, cultural adventure, or heart-pounding adventure, you’ll find it here.
Don’t be surprised when you come across an old church tucked away deep in the woods. It’s so much like a fairy tale here that you might expect a little gnome to walk out and greet you. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ottsworld)
Experiencing the rural cultures and day-to-day life on two wheels is a super way to get to know an area. I biked through the dirt roads and forest trails in the Les Preses area with Bicicarill, and while we started in town we soon wound our way down farm roads and into forest trails. If you would like a little help on the hills, try out the electric bike options around the Pyrenees. I rode with www.cercleaventura.com through the backroads and fields near Bolvir, along the Sant Jaume road. They offered electric bikes, which were perfect for cruising and providing just a little boost to get you up and down the hilly terrain.
My hike up to Vall de Nuria took me past waterfalls, across little bridges, and around steep rocky cliffs . (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ottsworld)
There are plenty of hiking options in the Pyrenees. In fact, there is an extensive, long-distance trail system (550+ miles) traversing the length of the mountain range called GR 11, also known as the ruta Transpirenaica in Spain. But if you are looking for something a little shorter, then try hiking around Vall de Nuria, a magical little valley and winter ski area nestled among the peaks. You can take the train up and hike the three and a half hours back down on a stunning trail, or you can hike both ways and skip the train.
If you want to go higher up in Pyrenees and even stay overnight, then head to Lake Malniu near Meranges. We had a personal guide and a well known ‘personality’ in the area, Eduard Jornet. Eduard is father to phenom ultra runner Kilian Jornet as well as the founder of one of the most grueling ultra races in the world, the Volta Cerdanya Ultra. As we hiked with Eduard through the last remaining snowpack from winter, we traversed Malniu Lake finishing at the Malniu Refuge where Eduard managed, lived, and raised his family for years. You can rent rooms there and enjoy the mountain air as well as a number of hikes in the area.
Ride a Horse
Trust the horses: They know their way around these mountains. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ottsworld)
Giddy-up through the Pyrenees with Mas Rodonell. The horses took us through farmland, rivers, and up some rather steep hills to see the best view in Llivia at the remnants of the old fort.
Take a Balloon Ride
There’s something poetic about experiencing a region from above, it’s like seeing the puzzle all put together as opposed to the little pieces that you digest one at a time on the ground. Float above the mountaintops and medieval villages while sipping Cava with Vol de Coloms Balloon Rides. After the morning hot-air balloon ride, they whisk you back to the starting point and treat you to a massive brunch with the typical Catalan meats, cheeses, wines, and sausages.
Stay in a Farmhouse
The farmhouse is filled with antiques, and each room is unique. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ottsworld)
Get a feel for rural life in the Pyrenees by staying at Mas Garganta near Olat in the Vall d’en Bas. Sit on the patio, lie on the grass, take a swim, sit by the fireplace, walk in the woods, pick vegetables from the garden, gather eggs; this is your place to relax and unwind. It’s also your place to eat: The food is hearty and, as you’d expect, it’s sourced from their own farm.
Visit a Medieval Village
I loved Beget for its remote location and because it was a functioning village with more real life than manufactured tourism. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ottsworld)
Beget, one of the most special villages in the region, is tucked into the mountains and reachable only by winding, narrow, nail-biting roads. Visit the Romanesque church of St. Cristòfol de Beget, a historical and artistic heritage site. Then wander through the cobblestone streets where time has stood still: Cars can’t enter the village and its streets and houses are the typical stone structures of a medieval village. Head to the town square for the chance to hear some musicians and learn the history of the local music man. If you are lucky you may even hear some tunes by local singer-songwriter Monik Bargalle, who puts Catalan poetry to music.
Enter an Ancient Portal
The portal of the Santa Maria de Ripoll monastery is an example of Catalan Romanesque sculpture. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ottsworld)
The town of Ripoll is home to the Santa Maria de Ripoll, a monastery created in ninth century and the first monastery of Catalonia. Today you can see remnants of the old building and entryway, which features a relief from the mid-13th century divided in seven horizontal bands. It’s the type of relief where you can sit and stare for hours and still keep finding something new. Also take a moment to pop into the cloisters, which contain more of the original monastery structure than the church itself.
Dance with Giants
Sometimes the giants all gather for giant festivals, and luckily we ran into one in Puigcerdà. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Ottsworld)
Gigantes y cabezudos — roughly translated “giants and big-heads”, or, in Catalan, gegants i capgrossos — are cultural staple in the region. Each town has its own giants that represent some overarching local theme and much like a town mascot, they are seen dancing at festivals and events. They are hollow figures several feet tall, with a painted papier-mâché head and arms.
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