Daytrip from Barcelona: Hiking in Vall de Núria

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?

Views from the rack railway, marking its incline in meters as seen from my window view

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.


The restored chapel where there is a copy of the wooden statue. According to a plaque, the restorations have been paid for by donations by all the women in Spain who are called Núria, which is a popular girl’s name.

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. 

Many of the trails have connecting points with the Santiago el Camino, the infamous pilgrimage route. 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.
On these mountain slopes, you might spot mountain deer and the marmot, as well as the mouflon, a wild sheep with curved horns. Look closely, and in the distance you will see some animals.
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. An abandoned cave high up in the mountain.

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.

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    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thanks so much Tabitha for reading the post, and your kind words. I hope you get to visit this place one day soon.

  • Lara

    What a beautiful place! I went to Spain years ago, but we did not go to Barcelona. As a hiker and lover of nature, this would be my kind of day trip, or overnight at the hotel and really have lots of time to soak up more of those views.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Yes, definitely we would have loved to stay longer and be able to do more hiking routes. It is not something you want to rush. Hope you get to visit one day. Thanks for stopping by Lara.

  • Ketki

    Wow I did not know there was an hiking place so close to Barcelona and it is such a welcome change to see this instead of the typical touristy photos. This is great find and your photos are lovely.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for the kind words. I am always on the search for non-touristy things to do. I will be writing an upcoming blog about another place we visited for hiking, but have to say there is nothing that compares to hiking in the Pyrenees.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      I agree! I would love to hike the Santiago del Camino one day too. This was just a little taste of that. Thanks for commenting.

  • Danik

    I do a lot of hiking in Europe but never in this region of Spain. And to be honest after reading this post and seeing the photos, I would very happily swap the hustle and bustle of Barcelona for the stunning countryside and mountains.

  • Susanne

    We were in Barcelona and did not discover this wonderful area. What a shame! Your pictures are great, I can imagine how beautiful it is there and would love to get on the plane and explore the area.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      It was amazing. The great part of visiting here is it offered hiking trails for all levels- whether you are a beginner or with a family or have been hiking for years- there was truly something for everyone. The great part is that you could take a ski lift up see the views and then back down again. Many people just walked around the lake and then had a picnic on the grounds. Hope you get there one day!

  • Milijana

    Actually, I do like the hustle and bustle of Barcelona. But, hiking the Shrine of Núria looks fantastic and I wouldn’t mind leaving Barcelona for a few days to enjoy all the gorgeous scenery, fresh air, and the company of mountain deer, marmots, mouflons, and wild sheep in Nuria area.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Completely agree! I love big cities too, but I also enjoy a good escape! We just went for the day and it was a great break.

  • Yukti

    I never knew that there are beautiful mountains nearby Barcelona. Though I never hiked so much but definitely try. Thanks for sharing a beautiful and offbeat destination to us.

  • Sandy N Vyjay

    Vall de Núria looks so enchanting. A hike here definitely sounds like walking through a magical land. Would love to hitch a ride on the rack railway too. Sounds such a romantic experience. Finally, the fable of Vall de Núria makes for fascinating reading and adds to the mystical aura of the place.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you so much Sandy, glad you liked reading about this magical place. I hope you get to visit it one day.

  • Melody Pittman

    Wow! Those views are incredible. I’ve never heard of this place before but loved that it is on the Santiago el Camino travelers’ route. 😉 That was one of my most special trips ever. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful place.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you Melody for taking the time to visit the post and commenting. Yes, while we were there, many hikers we came across stop in this area for a rest and/or overnight stay. I was in awe of their commitment and stamina! Thank you for stopping by and reading the post!

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