Just wanted to give a heads up about a couple of places that are worth visiting if you’re spending some time in Catalonia.
Morena and I recently visited Ribes de Freser and Vall de Nuria, up in the Catalan Pyrenees.
Just a few miles from the French border, Ribes de Freser is a town of about 1800 people at the confluence of three small rivers. If you live in Catalonia, you’ve probably had the bottled water called Aigua de Ribes – the bottling plant is just outside of town.
And Vall de Nuria is a small valley deep in the mountains, with a couple of churches and a hotel in the middle of it. In winter it’s a ski station, and in summer it’s popular with hikers.
How do you get there using public transport?
I’m glad you asked.
Transport to Ribes and Vall de Nuria
You can get to Ribes de Freser from Barcelona city center by train. It takes about two and a half hours. We took the R3 train from Arc de Triomf in the direction of Puigcerdà. I should note that at Ripoll we had to get off the train and get onto a bus.
Apparently there’s some construction and remodelling going on. I don’t know how long it’ll last for, but if you go in summer 2022 at least you’ll be doing the last leg of your journey by bus.
After that, the transport to Vall de Nuria is by “tren cremallera”. Apparently the English word for this is “rack railway” – it’s a type of train that drags itself up steep inclines with a rack and pinion system.
You can buy tickets for the rack railway online, or at the station. It’s 30€ round trip.
Another option is to walk from the town of Queralbs, which (I assume) is a pretty difficult 8 km hike, with about 800m elevation gain.
Interestingly, there’s no road access to Vall de Nuria. The hotel is supplied by refrigerated train cars, and I guess the people who work there either live at the hotel or come up by train every morning.
Restaurants in Ribes de Freser
We stayed at a hotel in Ribes de Freser, in order to have the big city amenities.
And of course, the big downside to these small towns is often the food. If you’re a food snob (and I sometimes am) it can be difficult to find something you really enjoy.
On this occasion, the best place we found for dinner was La Taverna de Nit, which has good pork trotters (peus de porc) and embutidos. The house special was onion soup which I tried and hereby DON’T recommend. But the peus de porc were surprisingly good, if you’re into fatty bits. (I make a lot of bone broth at home, but I’d been avoiding actually eating pork trotters up till now.)
La Taverna de Nit is only open – as the name suggests – at night. For lunch we went to a few different places that were hit or miss.
Up in Vall de Nuria, the hotel has a buffet restaurant (which kinda sucked) and a bar that serves hot-dogs and such. I’d been imagining fine dining at some fancy ski lodge, so I was a bit disappointed by the food, but the location was so spectacular that it didn’t matter.
Other than that, Ribes has a dozen restaurants, some bars, a few butchers and some nice deli/supermarkets. You won’t go hungry.
Hiking in Vall de Nuria
The highlight of the trip was the walk we took up from Vall de Nuria in the direction of the French border.
Despite the high altitude, the hike wasn’t very difficult. There are some marked trails going up to the different peaks and mountain passes, and a hike to the border should be doable – at least in summer. (We had limited time and weren’t sure which way the weather was going to go, so we didn’t push ourselves all the way up.)
The cool thing on the side of the mountain, though, was the animals. Not only did we see the usual eagles and vultures floating around, but a whole crowd of marmots popping out of their holes, and some Pyrenean Chamois (a sort of goat-antelope local to the area).
Of course, we went in summer. I’m not sure what the hiking situation would be like in winter, with all the snow. (I’m sure somebody out there does long snowy treks in the mountains, but I usually don’t.)
All in all, the Vall de Nuria area is highly recommended – at least if the weather’s nice.
I’m sure at 12 degrees below zero it’s a whole different adventure.
That’s all I’ve got today.
Keep it real, y’all.
Daniel AKA Mr Chorizo.