Tuesday, September 2, 2014

THE PYRENEES

visited August 2014


Not exactly beaches and islands. But any visit into Barcelona for someone who likes mountains and walking should include nearby locations like the Pyrenees and Montserrat if time permits.
My time was quite limited so I decided on a day-trip and one which would lay on some expertise in knowledge and getting there and back quickly - so instead of doing myself I chose Viator's paid offering.

Girona and France have been included for perspective - other places are included in Viator's tour.

Viator offers excursions in many European and other countries. Its operator for the Pyrenees trip is Explore Catalunya. Kick off was around 0830 from its central Barcelona office only 10 minutes walk from Pl Catalunya and even closer to Via Laietana Urquiaona metro station.

VIC
First stop was Vic, a service town of about 40000 people in the sub-Pyrenees region. It's about 70km from Barcelona and a nice call in for a) people who have not breakfasted because of the early start and b) a chance to check one of the better old-town areas of central Catalunya.  Our very good guide (who filled the trip from Barcelona with an excellent commentary on that city and the areas we were passing thru - lots of  new info for me plus stuff I knew made more interesting) took us on a walk thru of some of the more interesting sights and then gave us an hour or so of free time.

This is the placa major (main square) - Viator tries to co-ordinate its visits with market days. Plenty to see and buy here including no shortage of food. Some excellent food shops in the nearby alleys too.
If you click expand you may see the Catalunya independence flags hanging off the sides of some builidings - there were hundreds around the square; apparently the independence movement is much bigger in the regions than Barcelona.


Vic old town also has a famous cathedral. First construction was in the 7thC - lots of sackings, reconstruction and additions sees a real hodge-podge of styles. The exterior is nothing to write home to mum about but inside looked pretty impressive to me...


...as did the exterior of the 2ndC Roman temple.

QUERALBS
Leaving Vic we travelled on to Ripoll. This 35km trip on good roads is relatively flat for the first half and then starts a steady climb into the lower Pyrenees proper - Ripoll is over 700m (2300ft) above sea level. The tour itinerary mentioned a stop in Ripoll, but we rolled thru this town of 1200 people and continued another 22km up the alpine river valley to Queralbs - a fair bit higher at 1236m (4050ft),
What appears to be cloud north of Queralbs turns out to be snow after a closer look at Google Earth from which this image is modified. I didn't add a distance scale - it is 16km in a straight line from Ripoll place marker to Queralb's.





Queralbs is a sweet alpine village with a permanent population of only 200 people - this is expanded in winter when transhumance graziers (it seems cattle is the go in this region rather than sheep and goats) bring their animals down from the heights and ski bunnies move into their converted town apartments. Apparently the latter trade has been knocked around by the opening of accommodation higher on the slopes.
The town is one of stone walled slate roofed houses and narrow streets, very attractive.


Our guide told us school holidays start a week or so before adults' traditional summer break. Therefore many activities are organised for kids. This group look to be well equipped for an overnight trek somewhere higher up.


Queralbs is literally the end of the road to Nuria. To get there you need to walk (lots of trekking trails start here - Nuria is about 3  hours) or catch the rack railway - inclusive in Viator's price. That's the approach to the station above - the track heads up that valley to Nuria. Note the rack railway starts at Ribes de Freesser a few km down valley, but that makes a tour of Queralbs town more difficult.


The train to Nuria is Spain's highest rack railway - the rack is the central cogged track which the train hooks into on steeper parts. The line snakes up the valley, often some distance above the river. The best views are from the right hand side for at least 3/4 of the upwards trip.


It's a little over 5km in a straight line from Queralbs to Nuria. Gaps in the yellow track rout are tunnels. The train climbs over 700m (2300ft) between the two points - Nuria is 1964m (6442ft) above sea level.

NURIA


The ski resort at Nuria was our final destination. We had a bit less than 3 hours here - plenty of time to do the lake walk from which this was shot, take the ski lift up to the right for some panoramic views and to have some eats/drinks at the resort's several restaurants and cafes (although our guide advised the cost-conscious among us to buy some eats down in Vic - I'm cost conscious but always default to no lunch when travelling: I tell a lie - it's usually a liquid lunch. Beers at the ski resort were not over the top price-wise.
Note, fine, warm non-windy day in the lowlands, decidedly chilly and sometimes VERY blowy up here; even a few spots of rain - I had my warm jacket as advised by Viator. Definitely needed.


A 10 minute detour off the lake circuit gets you to this rather good viewpoint, although wind gusts were so strong up here that I had to wait to take a steady shot. The French border runs across those ridge tops in the background - only 2.9km center-right and 2.5km up the valley background left. There are many trekking paths leading away from the resort flats - one would be sure to go to the border. I didn't realise I was so close or I would have been tempted to check it out.


Turn 180 degrees from the previous shot for this view down-valley towards Queralbs.


Remnant snow high up - not bad for the start of August.


Ski lift price included in Viator deal. I rode up, walked back.


Cafe and accommodation top of the ski lift. about half a dozen trekking tracks left from up here but I wasn't sure how long they would take - I did want to do the lake circuit/lower viewpoint. Some panoramic views up here but not unique - kinda like higher versions of the one 3 above.


Panorama half way down the slope - these are usually good shots to click-expand.


On the return run to Queralbs I found the outlook up front pretty interesting.

In all a good day. We were back in Barcelona by 1830, plenty of time to take a cruise thru the town's old gothic quarter which is close to Explore Catalunya's office..

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