Vall de Nuria

Hike, hike, hike… that’s what we do lately. The trek up Kilimanjaro creeps quickly closer, we leave 4 weeks from today. Our latest adventure took us to Vall de Nuria in the Catalan Pyrenees.  A few short kilometers from the border of France is a sanctuary nestled into a valley between substantial peaks, it has served as a pilgrimage site for many years. The Spanish and Catalan seem to have a strong history of pilgrimage walks. Access is solely on foot or via cremallara from the towns of Ribes de Freser or Queralbs.  Even though remote, as you can see from the website, it’s quite touristic; yet despite the number of people it attracts, you still get that proper mountain feel.

Instead of doing a couple of hikes from the sanctuary, we decided to spend our first day hiking in.  After 3½ hours of FGC and cremallara transport, we made it to Queralbs for midday, not a smart time to start a steep hike in 33C weather.  The hike from here to the sanctuary was about 8kms with close to  900m of elevation gain all told, nothing technical but not an easy afternoon stroll. It roughly follows the line of the cremallara and climbs through the a river gorge.  We passed through scrub and forests, saw rockslides and waterfalls and were generally in awe of the scenery.  We arrived at the sanctuary in the later afternoon, refilled our water bottles with the best water I have tasted in months and then continued up to the Alberg, our lodging for the night.

It’s part of both Hostels International (HI) and the Youth Hostel Network of Catalonia (Xanascat).  It was super fantastic.  We had the option of just accommodation, half or full board.  We took half board which included dinner and breakfast (full added lunch too). The meal process was something to marvel at.  We had been assigned a table number and after a small lunch the 8pm dinner couldn’t come soon enough.  After the doors opened the dining hall filled quickly and we waited back a bit to see what the deal was.  We heard pretty much only Catalan and it was obvious most people had been there before. We followed suit and picked up our plates, cutlery and self serve salad and bread and headed to find our table where a bowl of soup was waiting for us.  We struck up conversation with the table beside us, learning a few new Catalan words and offering some English and then went to find the main course which was earmarked and waiting for us behind the counter. Roast chicken in lemon sauce, really simple and really tasty.  What might have been the most amazing part is that following dinner everyone actually cleaned up their own space, including wiping the tables and sweeping the floors. It was a bit of a sociological experience as we were able to just fall into the rhythm simply by watching and learning. Mostly the place was full of families and I can see why, it makes it both affordable and easy to stay in the mountains without having to haul up all of your own food.

The next day we opted to climb the Pic de Fontnegra, mostly because the trail was a continuation from where we already were, instead of having to go back down to the sanctuary and back up again.  I have particular trouble finding trailheads so after a 45 minute detour we were on our way.  Along the trail we encountered cows, horses and sheep, of which only the horses seemed to be completely wild.  The trail was easy to follow until Pic d’Aliga (2475m) and then tapered down to what at times seemed only to be an animal path except for the sporadic cairns.  Thankfully, being above tree level it was pretty easy to see the way in the distance.  We made it to the Pic de Fontnegra (2728m) and stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the view.

From here we hiked back down to the sanctuary and in the interest of arriving home before 10pm, opted to take the cremallara the full way down.  The views on the hike up were definitely better than those from the train car so I regret having taken no pictures on Saturday.  I’m learning though that hiking at a reasonable pace and taking tons of photos are somewhat mutually exclusive.  Though we did take quite a few on Sunday, which are here.

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