Valley of Dreams
Vall de Nuria is known as the last real high mountain valley of the Eastern Pyrenees. No cars are allowed in Núria – visitors and locals have to take the rack and pinion railway “la Cremallera” to get there. Of course, there are a few ski-lifts scattered about the landscape, but still the valley is a natural paradise between high and impressing mountains. On a national holiday in August, we decided to look and see. We left early, heading for the Pyrenees, eager to explore the Vall de Nuria.
At 5.45 am we had settled down in the car already. We took off in the direction of Besalú, Olot and then to Ripoll and Ribes de Freser. The new road between Besalú and has just been finished; we are alone on the 4-lane motorway. By and by, the sun rises, casting a hue of red light onto the morning sky. Behind Olot, we take the old national street N 260 up into the mountains. We are surrounded by solitude and romantic villages. Slowly, the sun leaves the sea, but has yet to reach the mountains’ peaks. We reach Ripoll and are greeted by empty roads – it is a holiday after all, and days start late then.
In the tiny Pyrenean town Ribes de Freser, we find the rack and pinion railway “la Cremallera”. Still, we drive on to the next village, Queralbs, which is located at 1220 metres height above sea level. Here, the road ends. It is the last opportunity to take a seat la Cremallera. Thus, we park the car in front of the station. It is now about 7.45 am. A few wanderers are already waiting for the day’s first train, which leaves Ribes de Freser at 7.42 am and arrived at Queralbs five minutes later. We buy a ticket and are handed some additional information. As our guide promises great views and spectacular landscapes, we decide to master the return journey by foot. A ride on la Cremallera, however, has its very own charm too. Slowly, the train follows the winding rails, through tunnels, close to steep abysses and then up the
mountain it goes…beneath us, the wild waters of Rio Nuria hiss and whisper. We pass an impressing waterfall, which is called Salt de Cua de cavall (horse’s tail). Everywhere along the rover, wild lupines and thistles stand abloom. Two chamois, disturbed by the train, jump up from the thicket and vanish out of sight.
Hiking through the valley of dreams
Currently, a new tunnel for the railroad is under constructions, as a part of the old railroad is often affected by falling rocks. It takes about 20 minutes to reach Vall der Núria by railroad. Then, at 1967 metres above sea level, there is a huge building from the 19th century, including a hotel, a restaurant and a place of pilgrimage. From the outside, it is not precisely beautiful, but still this religious place if a well-known place of excursions for Catalans. Part if is being restored now. Nothing compares to the landscape. Cradled by high mountains, a storage lake lies in silence – and shadows, so early in the morning. The mountains shine resplendent in the morning sun; horses and cows graze on the meadows. It is possible to book horse back riding tours. The grass has never been this green.
Leniently, we ignore the ski lifts. Behind the hotel, we are greeted by a donkey. Ducks and geese live here as well, and we also meet a family of rabbits. Boats can be booked for a journey on the storage lake. There are many hiking trails – up to the crests or around the lake. For a moment or two, we are tempted to take one of them instead of daring the steep way down. We keep to our plan – later, this gets back on our muscles. Nuria’s most frequently visited place is undoubtedly the pilgrimage church of Nuria’s Mother of God, guardian and protector of the mountain’s sheepherders. Legend has it, that she also helps those wishing for children. It takes us 3,5 hours to walk down into the valley. It is a difficult, stony route, and we try to be very careful, pausing to marvel at wild raspberries, blossoming meadows and picturesque views. The closer we get to the valley, the more often we meet other travelers – on their way up! We are utterly out of shape and slightly green with envy. Our path ends in Queralbs. The medieval town is very inviting with its typical stone houses, cozy restaurants and hefty cuisine.
We soon learn that it would have been clever to book a table in advance. Exhausted, we finally find a place in a bar behind the town hall and enjoy ice-cooled water and coke. In a small shop we buy an excellent pick-nick: fresh feta cheese and goat cheese, tasty regional sausages, crunchy stone baked bread and fresh tomatoes. Thus equipped, we begin the retour journey towards to sea.
We hope to come back soon. Even during the summer months, the temperature in the mountains remains moderate and is ideal for taking long walks – provided that you are a morning person.
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