Saturday, January 10, 2015

Hiking in Catalonia Spain

The Catalan Pyrenees can be reached in just three hours or so from Barcelona and are popular with hikers in the summer and skiers in the winter. These imposing peaks cut off the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of Europe, creating something of a cultural break as well as a geographical one. Each year, many people choose to enjoy this wild and rugged landscape; its peaks of over 3400m, its fiercely flowing rivers and lush, green valleys, its age-old villages and historic rural churches.

There are countless excellent hiking trails and mountain passes threading this area, including two extensive long distance trails, the GR11 and the Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne (HRP). Both of these routes traverse the Spanish Pyrenees from end to end, the former starting in the Golfo de Vizcaya (Bay of Biscay) in the Basque region and ending in Cap de Creus, near Cadaqués in the east, the latter covering higher, wilder and rougher terrain deep in the mountains, criss-crossing back and forth on the Spanish-French border. The Catalan stretches of these are highly regarded though the full routes are really only for experienced hikers and mountaineers.

If you are not quite up to these difficult long-distance trails or simply don't have the time for such a far-ranging excursion, there are plenty of other shorter hikes and gentler walks in the Catalan Pyrenees. Ripoll, easily reached from Barcelona, is a gateway to the mountains of this area. Just north of Ripoll is Ribes de Freser, where you can take the breathtaking cremallera railway journey to Núria. Accessing this region opens up a whole world of hiking and trekking in these mountains to the north-west of Ripoll during the summer months.

Further west, the Serra del Cadi offers a range of hiking options that centre around the recognisable peak of the Pedraforca. To the north some flatter walking in the valley, La Cerdanya, which is extremely popular with outward bound enthusiasts. The capital of the valley is Puigcerdà, a lively town. Nearby are the popular ski resorts of La Molina and Masella with stretches of mountainside that are as perfect for hiking in summer as they are for skiing in winter.

Further west still, the mountainous terrain around La Seu d'Urgell is said by many to offer some of the very best hiking in the Pyrenees. If you would like to combine your hiking with another outdoor adventure then river rafting on the white waters of the Noguera Pallaresa valley could be just the adrenaline-fuelled activity you are looking for.

The final area excellent for hikers is the rugged far north-western section of the region which is covered by the Parc Nacional d'Aigüestortes I Estany de Sant Maurici, another skiing region that doubles as a hiker's paradise in the summer months.

With all these areas to explore, the Pyrenees could offer you a lifetime of hiking opportunities. But even

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