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The Spain You Don’t Know, But Should – The Pyrenees

The Spain You Don’t Know, But Should – The Pyrenees

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A few days ago I didn’t know that Spain was a wonderful hiking destination. I didn’t realize that within a few hours of Barcelona, you could enjoy whitewater rafting, explore small medieval towns, and sample world-class food and wine. 

But I do now. And before your next visit to Spain, so should you. 

Spanish Pyrenees 

The Pyrenees is a mountainous area just south of France. Even though the range begins just two hours away from Barcelona it is an area that is ignored by many tourists.

It contains the only National Park in Catalunya and is credited as the natural inspiration for the works of the acclaimed and quirky architect, Gaudi. With a little sense of adventure, you can uncover some off-the-beaten-track gems of Spain before the masses.

Let’s begin with…

A City of Mystery

Solsona Church Doors

Solsona Church Doors

Solsona is a picturesque town in the providence of Lleida in Catalonia, Spain. It’s one of those places that propels you through the winding streets from one interesting discovery to another.

But some of the most interesting facts about Solsona, such as what lurks behind these church doors, must be discovered by finding a local who can reveal to you the legends of the ancient city.

If you can’t wait for a visit, you can take a peek and learn more about the city of mystery, carved rafters on high, a donkey, a deep well, and a miracle.

Spa in the mountains

Too much stress? Sampling a little too much of the fantastic Spanish tapas and sangria? Every once in a while we all need a quiet time to reflect, rejuvenate, and undo the damage of eating too much rich food and skipping a few days at the gym.

The resort of Bany de Sant Vicenc may be your answer.

This tiny resort and spa is in a quiet mountain setting with plenty of hiking trails where you can ease back into your exercise routine while breathing in the fresh air.

They also have a warm mineral salt spa and other treatments to help you relax. Follow all of that with their seriously delicious detox menu and after a few hours you’ll find yourself in a whole new frame of mind.

Or, if you feel you haven’t sampled enough of the local delicacies – including some of those famous Spanish wines – they have you covered. It’s up to you, as it should be.

Thrills and Chills

Rafting in the Pyrenees

Rafting in the Pyrenees

The Pyrenees are well-known for outdoor sports. The wooded snow-capped mountains are wonderful for a weekend of skiing or hiking.

In spring, melting snow turns the rivers into frothy fast-moving water that is perfect for an exhilarating day of river rafting. A full wet suit, a little courage, and a love of adventure are all you’ll need.

River Rafting the Pyrenees

River Rafting the Pyrenees

Once you climb into the raft and start paddling with a trained guide (and finish wondering exactly what you’ve gotten yourself into), you’re already on your way.

The river takes over and you are left to laugh and scream until the trip is over, way too soon. After concurring the river you can celebrate by having a picnic lunch with traditional Catalan fare with a spectacular view.

Fresh Grilled Cuttlefish

Fresh Grilled Cuttlefish

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Step back in time

As you travel through the province of Lleida you’ll find picturesque little towns of stone buildings with slate tile roofs. They each beckon you to come in and wander through their tiny narrow streets.

Give in to this temptation, at least once along your journey. The little town of Arseguel is one of these places.

Arseguel

The picturesque town of Arseguel

Wandering through the peaceful town surrounded by mountains feels like you have just stepped back in time.

The quiet of the place is disturbed only by the sound of horses grazing on the hills with cowbells hanging around their necks.

But if you come in the last weekend in July the sounds in the air will be much less tranquil. During that time every year, the place is transformed into one of the largest accordion festivals in Europe.

The tiny town is overrun with thousands of folk festival enthusiasts who transform Arseguel into a mini Woodstock.

It was hard to imagine on the day that I was there, but looking around and imagining the spectacle you think, if you’re going to have an accordion festival, this would probably be the place.

Arseguel

Resident enjoying some time relaxing in the sun

Floating in the saltiest water in Spain

The salt mine of Cambrils dels Pinineus recently reopened after a 50-year hiatus and is now once again producing salt high in the Catalan mountains.

The salt they are extracting was trapped deep beneath the surface millions of years ago when the area was part of the Atlantic Ocean.

Rain water runs through the salt caverns below the surface and the water that comes from the earth is 30% saltier than the Dead Sea. The sight of the water running along rustic wooden pipes with drippy salt stalagmites is an unexpected discovery.

The mine has further developed the property so that you can visit and learn more about the history of salt production in the area and even relax (or bob along) in the salty pool while taking in the view.

They also hope to have a restaurant and bar soon to add to the experience. And you can take home a packet of salt from the mine as a gourmet souvenir of your day.

The Salí­ de Cambrils

The Salí­ de Cambrils

Plush rooms in quiet surrounds

The L’Alt Urgel is a picturesque medieval city in the middle of the providence of Lleida. This quiet peaceful city is a wonderful place to wander around and enjoy the architecture.

If you decide to go on the weekend you will be rewarded by the appearance of a huge market full of clothing, fruits and vegetables, and artisan locally sourced cured meats, briny olives, and cheeses.

L’Alt Urgel is also home to Parador de la Seu d’Urgell – a hotel with stunning views of the town and snow-capped mountains, and a restaurant where you can sample traditional Catalan dishes.

Catalan food in the Pyrenees

Catalan food in the Pyrenees

While all of these sights, activities, and flavors are more than enough to inspire a visit, this is only half of the story.

You’ll be able to meet a baby eagle, sample artisan cheese directly from the farm, and take in the best views in Spain. Read Unleashing Spain’s Wild Side In Lleida & The Legends and Flavors of Solsona Spain

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Thank you to Contrast Trip and The Lleida Board of Tourism for introducing us to this area and sponsoring our travels. As always, our story and our opinions are our own.

David

Tuesday 1st of March 2016

Great Photos! Loved the Pyrenees! We had one multiple long hikes and the landscape is mind blowing!

chelsea

Friday 24th of July 2015

Don't mean to get political but this is Catalonia :)

Sean

Saturday 25th of July 2015

Yes, we know! But while most people know Spain, they don't know nearly as much about Catalunya. Regardless of the politics (or whether it's part of Spain or not), it's a beautiful place to visit.

Nic from Roaming Renegades

Tuesday 16th of June 2015

I always felt a little bored with Spain as a kid/ teen and have never been back since. But I wish that this was the Spain I saw back then, it really does tick all the boxes!

chrysoula

Monday 15th of June 2015

Although I have heard about the Pyrenees before I didn't know al the above activities. Your photos are stunning and I really like medieval villages!

Simone

Saturday 13th of June 2015

This looks breathtaking - my kinda place to explore! :) Beautiful photos too x Simone www.theaussieflashpacker.com

Sean

Saturday 13th of June 2015

Yep, the Pyrenees were a great find! Thanks for the good word on the photos.