Looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Barcelona – even for just a few hours? Then do I ever have a fantastic day trip idea for you. Go hiking in Vall de Núria.
Vall de Núria is located in the valley of the eastern Pyrenees mountains 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 (or 10,000 ft). What makes this so incredibly special is the only way to get there is by rack railway or by foot (a 3 hour hike up the old pilgrim’s road). Either way you decide to get there you will be graced with some amazing views 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’s how the story goes. San Gil (Saint Giles in English) arrived in this area from Athens around 700 AD. He lived the life of a hermit, living in caves and spending his time with the local shepherds. He was thought to have carved the painted image of the Virgin Mary. For safe keeping he hid the carving in a cave when he 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. So, a procession was organized to bring the carving back to Núria. Thus, this is how the Shrine of Núria came to be.
How to get to Vall de Núria
Instead of the 3 hour hike, we opted for the rack railway. It 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’s an incredibly scenic area – framed by the mountains 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 private tour (with 3 other couples), leaving from Barcelona and driving to Queralbs, with a stop along the way in Vic, a historic and picturesque village.
This rack railway covers 12.5 km (or 8 miles) and takes you up an incline of over 1,000 meters (or 3,200 ft) through unspoiled mountain landscape views.
Hiking in Vall de Núria
There are so many hiking trails you can choose from, all starting at Vall de Núria. Clear descriptions of distance, altitude, estimated walking time and experience level are clearly marked.
The Shrine of Núria, a popular pilgrimage route, is the same path that the Pilgrims took from the town of Queralbs to Núria. Here, 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 (or 7,600 ft).
Here were some of our views along the way…
We also did Cami del Bosc which started from the cable car, which we took to the summit of 2,122 meters and walked down.
Here were some of the views. along this trail…
Many of the trails have connecting points with the Santiago el Camino, the famous pilgrimage route. The flag signifies a main intersection and marker for hikers.
This is the high Pyrenees, close to the border with France, and you can see the path that people used during the Spanish civil war to pass from France to Spain.
Vall de Núria is a peaceful place. Whether you are a spiritual person or not, it will leave you feeling inspired, grateful and a longing to return. Hopefully one day, and perhaps by walking the Santiago el Camino.