A few days ago I didn’t know that Spain was 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.
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 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. Or, 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
The Pyrenees are well-known for outdoor sports. The wooded snow-capped mountains are wonderful for a weekend of skiing or hiking. And spring, melting snow turns the rivers into frothy fast-moving water that are perfect for an exhilarating day of river rafting. A full wet suit, a little courage and a love of adventure is all you’ll need.
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.
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.
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 on the grazing on the hills with cow bells 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 largest accordion festivals in Europe. The tiny town is overrun with thousands of folk festival – accordion enthusiasts that 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.
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.
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 sources cured meats, briny olives and cheeses. L’Alt Urgel is also home of 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.
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.
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