Visit the Vall de Núria in the Pyrenees

Spectacular, stunning, awesome, breathtaking, beautiful, jaw-dropping. Nature regularly throws up vistas that have me reaching for the thesaurus to try to find a word to describe a view that has stopped me in my tracks. I'm guilty of overusing many of those words. What can I say? The world is beautiful.

Every so often nature excels herself, presenting us with something extra special. The vision that greeted my blinking eyes as the little train I was travelling in emerged from a dark tunnel to reveal my first sighting of the Vall de Núria was one of those magical moments.

It is an incredible place.

View of the Vall de Nuria, Catalonia, Spain

The Vall de Núria sits 3000 metres above sea level in a perfect little valley hidden from view, until the last moment, by the the mountains which completely surround it. The valley is part of the Queralbs area of Catalonia, but most people travel from Ribes de Freser to reach this Pyrenean Shangri-La.

In the centre of the valley lies a quite austere building that looks more like it should be lining a plaza. In a way it adds to the impact, contrasting against emerald pastures and the sparkling, petrol coloured lake that sits calmly in front of it. The building contains a hotel, exhibition centre and restaurants and is the focal point for many activities in the Vall de Núria.

How to get to the Vall de Núria

Even getting to the Vall de Núria is fun; a rack railway climbs 12.5km from Ribes de Freser via Queralbs through the sort of wild mountain scenery that would make the journey alone worth the price of a ticket. That's the easy way up. Mountain paths lead through ravishing countryside to the valley. In my view, it's better to enjoy the train journey up and then walk down, following the stream that dances from the lake all the way through the ravine to Queralbs and Ribes way, way below.

Rack railway to Vall de Nuria, Pyrenees, Catalonia, Spain

Activities in the Vall de Núria

In winter, when snow carpets the valley, the Vall de Núria is a skiing and snowboarding resort like many other areas of the Catalan Pyrenees.

In summer, the range of activities is nearly as long as the trails which wend their way through the rugged mountains and dense forests.

Around the central area is a picnic zone, there's canoeing and boating in the lake and beside the main building is a small farm with animals. Behind it is a children's adventure park, archery and mini golf.

Lake at Vall de Nuria, Pyrenees, Catalonia, Spain

If all you want to do is lounge about in the sun at the water's edge, the Vall de Núria is an idyllic spot for just chilling out and doing not a lot. On the other hand, whilst the view from lakeside is a feast for the eyes, heading along one of the trails that climb above the valley is worth the effort to enjoy panoramic views of the valley at its impressive best.

There are ten marked trails. A few come in around the 2km mark, so within the range of anyone who's reasonably fit. Alternatively, jump into the saddle and explore the countryside by horse or pony.

I spent a couple of days wandering the paths, hoping to see marmots and chamois. I didn't spot either, but I did enthusiastically overdose on craggy mountains with small patches of defiant snow still in the deepest crevices, lush green pastures and gushing mountain streams.

Relaxing at Vall de Nuria, Pyrenees, Catalonia, Spain

It was uplifting and simply some of the best walking I've experienced in the Pyrenees. I'd return for more of the same in an instant.

For suggestions on other scenic walks in Catalonia, read our 'Best areas for walking in the Spanish Pyrenees' blog.

How much does a visit to the Vall de Núria cost?

A return trip to Vall de Núria on the El Cremallera rack railway costs around €22 (adult). Throw in forking out for some activities once you get there and costs can soon mount up. There are family packages available offering decent discounts. Check the Vall de Nuria website to find the best one to suit your needs.