The scenic and touristic attractions of the Pyrenees are infinite. In the summer too! The highest mountain range in the country long ago has long since ceased to come alive only in the winter months and a summer visit is anything but boring. Hiking is just one of the varied activities on offer in this incredible landscape.
We will begin our getaway in one of the most unusual regions in Catalonia: Garrotxa. Dotted with volcanoes, the region is one of great natural beauty and has plenty of charming villages to lose yourself in. Since you will not find volcanoes just anywhere, we suggest you spend the hottest hours of the early afternoon at the Museu dels Volcans (Volcano Museum) on the ground floor of the Torre Castanys in Olot. This centre belongs to the Science Section of the Regional Museum of the Garrotxa, and despite its small size, it offers detailed and up to date information on both volcanoes and earthquakes.
Now, we will leave town and head for the Fageda d'en Jordà, a unique forest where we can walk in the shade of the beech trees, but we should not dawdle since we have booked a visit to the La Fageda yoghurt cooperative. In about three quarters of an hour (and if you have requested it the visit can be dramatized) we can see the facilities and the cows at this company that has a significant portion of workers with mental disabilities or mental illness and that produces 18 varieties of yoghurts and dairy desserts.
Walking among volcanoes is a great experience, but perhaps we cannot see the wood for the trees. So, we would like to take in the landscape from another perspective, flying over it in a hot-air balloon! In Sant Pau Vol de Coloms is a company that will provide us with this new adventure. Seeing volcanoes like Santa Margarita from the air is quite an experience. The flights last between one and one and a half hours and you are provided with a good breakfast and a diploma as a souvenir.
With our feet once more on the ground, we can head for another county - the Ripollès - and specifically for the town of Camprodon. This was the birth place of one of Catalonia's most prestigious musicians -Isaac Albéniz. The museum dedicated to him is very near his house and next to a famous bridge over the River Ter, and is full of personal objects, musical scores, photos, the pianos on which he composed his works, and even the bed that he took with him on sea journeys to ensure a good night's sleep. This is an unmissable visit for music lovers.
Since we started the day travelling in unusual style, this afternoon we aim to continue with another uncommon form of transport, the rack railway. Maybe you have already travelled on the cog railway line between Ribes de Freser and Núria, but if you have we are sure you feel like repeating the experience. On one side you will see the steep path followed by the train along an incline of more than 1,000 meters that is full of images to photograph, and on the other side lies the plateau holding the sanctuary and the lake, with mountains all around the horizon, and a number of walks awaiting...
After visiting Núria and making the return trip, we will not have a lot of time before dinner. But we have booked a visit to the Scriptorium in Ripoll, where we can learn all about the city's past and the importance of its monastery, for both the region and the country as a whole. We will also find out how the monks wrote using goose feathers producing marvellous scripts. This monastic atmosphere will provide the perfect ending to the day.
This trip will take us to the edge of the Cadí-Moixeró natural park. So, we will make an early start towards La Pobla de Lillet, where, a short distance from the village, we will find a garden designed by Antoni Gaudí, named Jardins Artigas. The great architect's imagination seems to have no limits, as he demonstrated once again with this lovely space in 1906. Stones, water and vegetation combine elegantly, creating different atmospheres and elements, from bridges to sculptures and artificial caves.
A few kilometres below Berga, on the road from Cal Rosal to Olvan, we will find the Centre Mundial del Guarà Català Fuives, a centre for the preservation of the Catalan breed of donkey. Guided tours are on offer on which we can see the donkeys and get to know about the history of the breed, which was in danger of extinction a few decades go.
We will spend our last afternoon of our trip in the Cerdanya, another inusual region which the River Segre crosses from east to west and that offers unlimited opportunities for leisure activities. Since we have already done a lot today, we will opt for a quiet stroll around the lake in Puigcerdà and Schierbeck park. The kids will have a lot of fun playing among the trees or taking a boat ride on the waters of the lake.
The last place on our itinerary is Llívia, a village in French territory that nonetheless belongs to Catalonia. You should not miss its streets and church and it has a number of places to go for a meal. But perhaps the most famous place here is a chemist's shop -farmàcia Esteve-, considered to be the oldest surviving chemist's in Europe and probably dating from the 15th century. It has been converted into a museum and has a valuable collection of boxes, jars, and laboratory, as well as a library, where we will turn the final page on this getaway.
By train: Getting to the starting point of our trip, in Garrotxa is difficult, if not impossible, by train. The only option is to travel by train to Vic or Girona and then make your way to Olot by bus.
By bus: Teisa offers a bus service to various localities in Garrotxa from Barcelona, Girona, Figueres, Ripoll, Vic.... (972 20 48 68 / www.teisa-bus.com).
By car: The C-17 and the C-37 will take you to Garrotxa, which is also accessible by taking the AP-7 and then the C-63, or the AP-7 and then the C-66.
Where to eat
One of the best restaurants in the area, worthy of its mention in the Michelin Guide. Catalan cuisine with signature touches and home-made ingredients. Try the rice dishes or the calf cheeks.
Plaça del Roser, 1, Gombrèn. Tel 972 73 04 04. www.fondaxesc.com.
Fixed price menus between €39 and €68. A la carte: €50. Open at lunchtime Tuesday to Sunday and at dinnertime on Fridays, Saturdays and the eves of public holidays.
Modern local cuisine with homemade dairy products. Try the slection of cheese with tomato and vanilla preserve or the Galician style cod with a light cream of potatoes and scallops.
Pla del Ro, s/n, Gorguja (Llívia). Tel 972 14 62 79. www.laformatgeria.com.
A la carte: €40. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Here you can try black peas from Gòsol, shepherd style potatoes with wild mushrooms and pig’s trotters with chestnuts, as well as grilled meats. In summary: quality local cuisine.
Plaça de la Farga, 10, Guardiola de Berguedà. Tel 93 822 76 72. www.elrecodelavi.com.
Diverse fixed price menus. A la carte: €25. Closed Mondays.
Where to sleep
Modern and functional hotel with a different look to that of typical mountain establishments. Well located as a starting point for exploring Ripollès. 21 rooms, each one distinct, meeting room and bicycle hire.
Carrer de la Fulla, 12, Campdevànol. Tel 972 71 28 36. www.lasequiamolinar.com.
Double room from €90 including breakfast.
High mountain hotel-restaurant that is pretty and welcoming. Open since 2009 and located 300 metres from the Nuria rack railway station. Eight bedrooms and a restaurants serving home-style cooking.
Carretera de Ribes, 15, Queralbs. Tel 972 72 73 69. www.hostalroquetes.com.
From €43 per person including breakfast.
A modern elegant establishment with 21 rooms, a garden, a heated outdoor pool, located near the interesting historical centre. Restaurant with simple cooking serving dinner.
C/ Cereja, 4, Llívia. Tel 972 14 62 06. www.hotelbernatdeso.com.
Double rooms from €110 breakfast included.