Looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Barcleona, even for just a few hours? Then do I ever have a fantastic day trip idea for you. Why not go to Vall de Núria. Vall de Núria is located in the valley of the Eastern Pyrenees within the municipal area of Queralbs. It sits above one of the highest points of the Ribes Valley and is surrounded by peaks of almost 3,000 meters from which flow a multitude of water sources and torrents. What makes this so incredibly special is the only way to get there is by rack railway or by foot (a 4 hour hike up the old pilgrim’s road). This rack railway covers 12.5 km and takes you up an incline of over 1,000 meters through unspoiled mountain landscape views – full of deep narrow gorges, rock, river and trees. Sounds amazing right?
The Shrine of Núria
Vall de Núria has a fascinating legendary tale, and here is how the story goes. San Gil (Saint Giles in English), born in Athens, arrived in this area around 700 AD. He lived the life of a hermit in caves and spending his time with the local shepherds. He was thought to have carved the painted image of the Virgin Mary, and for safe keeping hid the carving in a cave when he later had to flee from prosecution. In 1072, some would say by divine inspiration, a pilgrim named Amadeu was called to this area to help build a chapel and search for the Virgin Mary. He and the local shepherds discovered the image and carried it to Queralbs. However, many believed it needed to remain in Núria, and so a procession was organized to bring the carving back to Núria, and this is how the Shrine of Núria came to be. The religious symbols of Vall de Núria are the cross, which San Gil brought with him to the valley, the cooking pot which he used to cook the meals he shared with the shepherds, and the bell with which he summoned them at meal times.
Arriving at Vall de Núria
The train brings you to the location of the original church sanctuary and hostel to house the Pilgrims from centuries ago. Today what stands is a large building that includes a hotel, restaurant, information center and gift shop. Immediately you are taken aback by such a large complex, in this remote high valley of the Pyrenees. It is incredibly scenic, framed by the mountains in the background with a large grassy area and small lake in the foreground. Today, hiking and skiing are the two major draws to this area.
You can catch the rack railway to Vall de Núria from one of 3 places: Ribes-Enlaac, Ribes-Vila or Queralbs. For us, we joined a small tour (with 3 other couples) that had a private shuttle to Queralbs, which also included a quick stop in the historic and picturesque village of Vic along the way.
The hiking routes
There are numerous hiking trails, starting at Vall de Núria, that you may choose from depending on distance, altitude, estimated walking time and starting point. The Shrine of Núria, is a popular pilgrimage route, the same path that the Pilgrims took from the town of Queralbs to Núria from centuries ago, where you will find stone crosses, churches and artifacts littering the route. This was our starting point, before branching off to another route, Cami de les Coves, which reached a maximum altitude of 2,134 meters.
Vall de Núria is a peaceful place. Whether you are a spiritual person or not, you leave feeling inspired, grateful and a longing to return. Maybe one day, and perhaps by walking the Santiago el Camino I hope to return.