Spain isn’t the first place that comes to mind when I’m thinking about going somewhere to spend time and relax with nature – at least it wasn’t until I was introduced the province of Lleida. Its location just south of France will explain the amazing food and wine there. You won’t find the bustling streets of Barcelona or Madrid with their tapas bars and fascinating architecture. Those sights are replaced with more serene settings with snow-capped mountains and tiny villages made up of stone houses topped with black slate tiled roofs. It’s a quieter Spain, but quite robust in its own way. But in order to discover it, you’ll have to travel a little off the beaten path, but you’ll be well rewarded for your effort.
Soar with the eagles
High in the Pyrenees mountains you can visit the Zoo Del Pirineu. The word “zoo” doesn’t really feel like an apt description of this small intimate family-run facility. Here you can get an up-close view of the animals who call the zoo home. And home is really a much better description. Being invited in to for an afternoon here is like spending time with a close neighbor who happens to care for wild animals – lots of them. The zoo specializes in birds of prey. You can see a show where you can learn more about the birds and watch them in flight. Be sure to duck your head during the show – I’m not kidding, these birds come in very close. And also beware of the friendly pig, who is apt to knock you over in enthusiastic greeting if you decide to join him in his pen. There is also an area where baby birds, who are injured or abandoned are taken in and raised by the zoo’s founders. Being able to see and interact with the animals was something I’ll never forget. The whole experience of visiting this intimate family zoo is made even better by its setting high in the mountains.
Paddle like an Olympian
The Olympic Parc del Segre is a water park built in 1990 as the setting for the whitewater events in the 2012 Barcelona Olympics. Since then it has been converted into a park where you too can paddle a kayak or bounce down the river in a rubber raft and finally express the Olympic athlete within you. Or, opt for less glory but just as much fun by being carried in your water craft up the electric conveyor belt from one section of the water park to another.
Meet the Cheese Maker
We had some of the best cheese that we’ve ever tried at The Formatgeria Mas d’Eroles. Master Cheese Maker Salvador Maura took us through his working dairy and cheese factory. We met the cows who produce the milk, saw how he fermented and set the cheese, and placed the bundles in his cellar in order to age to perfection. And it does. We were able to taste several of his favorites along with some locally sourced bread and rustic red wine. As a bonus, the award winning cheese maker demonstrated the local technique for drinking wine from a decanter (Porron) – Catalan style.
Nature that inspired the masterpieces of Gaudi
Whenever we think about Barcelona one of the first images that come to mind are the buildings designed by the master, Antoni Gaudi. Even when he was in the process of creating his masterpieces he would often state that Barcelona would become known for his buildings. And it certainly has. But what in the world inspired his odd, futuristic looking (even now) works? As it turns out, his inspiration was found in nature, right here, in Lleida.
And the best views in Spain
Lleida is home to the largest natural park in Catalunya, the Parc Natural De l’Alt Pirineu. The area is a playground for winter sports lovers during the winter, and a haven for hikers and nature lovers all year round. You can take multi-day hikes that will bring you over the steep glacier-formed Pyrenees mountain peaks. Or you can take an easy stroll through the woods and be treated to stunning views of snow-capped mountains and the feeling of mist from occasional waterfalls that swell and thunder down the mountain in Spring. It is simply spectacular.
Want to learn more? Read on! The Legends and Flavors of Solsona
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You can find your way to the province of Lleida by traveling by car two hours outside of Barcelona. If you are inspired to visit you can find more information by visiting Contrast Trip or the Lleida Board of Tourism, who sponsored our trip through the area.