Come and immerse yourself in the beautiful mountain landscapes of the Pyrenees of Catalonia, with accessible peaks of up to 3000m high, leafy forests, countless lakes, and green grassy meadows; environments still untouched by humans. These are ideal places for losing yourself a little while discovering your inner self.
More than that, however, they are also the source of inspiration for writers and painters, as well as the cradle of the thousand-year-old Catalan culture, and are home to Romanesque churches and monasteries, castles, mediaeval villages, and archaeological sites.
The Pyrenees are full of mile after mile of well-marked trails – more than 1,000 of them. And the variety of landscapes and natural and cultural uniqueness they cover have made them a must for nature-lovers wishing to enjoy an exceptional experience. From the Val d’Aran in the west through the Aigüestortes I Estany de Sant Maurici National Park to the volcanic terrain of Garrotxa, and down to the Mediterranean coast, there is so much just waiting to be explored.
Here are five of the best hiking routes in the Pyrenees of Catalonia. Please note: all the routes shown are routes offered by local operators and therefore offer different services such as guides, luggage transport, accommodation/meal reservations, insurance... Some are self-guided, and others are accompanied by a local guide.
Cavalls del Vent
Time: 3-5 days
Discover all the corners of the Cadí-Moixeró Natural Park (Cadí-Moixeró Natural Park) with this circular route through beautiful Pyrenean landscapes.
A crossing between eight mountain huts, almost 100km long and with 10,000m of accumulated vertical, this is the best way to get to know every inch of the Natural Park and the trek includes 3-5 days of walking, divided into eight distinct stages, and staying at mountain retreats along the way.
The Cavalls del Vent are the Tibetan prayer flags that fly on the peaks of the Himalayas, a suggestive name chosen by the rangers of eight mountain retreats of the park (Rebost, Niu de l'Àliga, Serrat de les Esposes, Cortals de l'Ingla, Prat d'Aguiló, Lluís Theseen, Gresolet and Sant Jordi).
The route gives you an idea of the richness and variety of the natural park: pine, oak and beech forests; peaks such as La Tosa (2,537m) or Penyes Altes (2,279m); Alpine meadows such as Moixeró or Bagà; valleys and streams such as Gresolet or Bastareny ... everything under the imposing figure of the mythical mountain Pedraforca.
This route passes through the regions of Berguedà and La Cerdanya and through the provinces of Barcelona, Girona and Lleida. The longest stretch is the ascent in the Gosolans country (2,430m) from the Prat d'Aguiló refuge (2,010m. The most beautiful section is that of the ‘Empedrats del Torrent del Forat, near the Sant Jordi refuge.
Other highlights include the Farmàcia de Llívia (oldest pharmacy in Europe) and the chance to visit the Artigas Gardens designed by the architect Gaudi in La Pobla de Lillet.
El Cinquè Llac (the Fifth Lake)
Time: 5 days
The Fifth Lake is a circular hiking trail, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, which begins and ends in La Pobla de Segur. It is a mid-mountain route, accessible to all kinds of hiking enthusiasts, which takes in the counties of Pallars and L’Alta Ribagorça, at the foot of the Aigüestortes i Sant Maurici Natural Park, with the 100km itinerary divided into five stages.
This hiking trip takes you through one of the most unknown and astounding areas of the Pyrenees until you reach Montcortès Lake (known as the Fifth Lake), running through natural places of special beauty, such as the Pla de Corts, the Vall Fosca, the Manyanet valley and the Montcortès lake.
Glimpses of the Fifth Lake are caught from various peaks on the trail, as if it were a drop of water, until the final stage when hikers see it in its full glory. During the journey, you can learn about the people and culture of the area, and the legends that surround them.
A baggage transport service is available and accommodation is provided in each of the towns where the stages end, so you can relax and sample the local gastronomy. The company offers the possibility of doing the route with a guide, either on foot, on horseback, by bicycle or even with the Catalan ‘ruc’ (donkey).
One other highlight en route is the Mont-Rebei canyon, the only large-scale canyon in Catalonia that is still largely unspoilt, and uninterrupted by roads, railways or electricity cables.
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Del Pirineu al mar (from the Pyrenees to the sea)
Time: 5 days
This 112 km route, split into five stages, joins Camprodon with Cotlliure, two charming villages set in two contrasting landscapes: from El Ripollès, in the high valleys of the Eastern Pyrenees, to the Mediterranean coast, among cliffs and streets bursting with light and colour. Along the route, you will hike through the lush forests of Vallespir, La Garrotxa and l’Empordà, and trekking alternatively on either side of the Pyrenees, north and south.
This route blends nature with history, as one of the most poignant episodes of the Spanish Civil War took place in this part of the Pyrenees, the Republican withdrawal in 1939. You will follow in the footsteps of the exiles, using the very same points to cross the mountains.
One of the highlights of this route is the Garrotxa Volcanic Area Natural Park, with 40 inactive volcanoes and over 20 basalt lava flows - the finest example of volcanic landscape in the Iberian Peninsula. You can also visit the monastery church of Sant Joan de les Abadesses, which was consecrated in 1150, and which is one of the most beautiful and emblematic examples of the 12th-century Romanesque architecture of Catalonia.
Carros de Foc
Time: 5-7 days
Classic high mountain route linking up the nine mountain retreats in the beautiful Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park, the only one of its kind in Catalonia. The refuges, distributed between the Valle de Aran, Alta Ribagorça, Pallars Sobirà and Pallars Jussà, sit between 1,900m and 2,400m, and the highest point reached on the itinerary is Contraix Pass (2475m). Five to seven days are required to complete this route.
Highlights of this circular route include the Contraix pass, the Colomers lake, the Sendrosa pass, the Ratera port with its Lake, the Sant Maurici Lake, the Negre Lake, the Saburó pass and the needles of Dellui. Those who have enough time might also wish to climb Punta Alta, a peak of over 3000m.
The history of the Carros de Foc dates back to 1987, when a few guards from the mountain retreats in the area decided to do the popular Pallars-Aran-Ribagorça hiking trek in one go, in a single day.
The itinerary has no special marking. Some parts are shared with the GR 11, where you will find red and white marks. Other parts are marked with wooden posts painted in yellow, and most of the time you follow the route thanks to the milestones (a heap of stones) left by other mountaineers. Using a map is an essential requirement.
At the end of the tour, everyone who gets their ‘forfet’ or pass stamped at the nine mountain retreats receives a free official t-shirt as a prize.
Carros de Foc provides two modes of participation: Open, for any hiker, and Sky Runner, for athletes specialized in high mountain ultra-funding who want to face the challenge of completing the route in less than 24 hours.
The Route of the Cathars (Camí dels Bons Homes)
Time: 9-10 days
This long-distance route commemorates the banishment of the Occitan Cathars, who advocated a pure and simple Christianity based on spirituality and were opposed to the 13th-century Catholic Church. It is about 200km long, of medium difficulty and can be completed in about 9 or 10 days, depending on the variant of the route chosen, with half the stages in Catalonia and half in France.
It goes from the Queralt Sanctuary in the city of Berga, 100km north of Barcelona, to the Castle of Montségur in Ariège, France. The cumulative difference in altitude is 5,530m.
Those who prefer to complete only a few stages will find suggestions and ideas on the route's website: it is possible to complete individual stages and hire the Camí dels Bons Homes taxi service to return to the starting point. The route can also be covered on foot, on horseback and on most sections by mountain bike.
The route runs on mountain paths and tracks and in some cases - avoidable with transport - on the road, and takes in typical Mediterranean wetland landscapes as well as more Alpine terrain, crossing protected areas of great interest such as the Queralt and Ensija mountain ranges, the Cadí-Moixeró Natural Park, the Pedraforca Natural Area, the Llosa Nature Reserve, the Miracle and Port del Compte in Solsonès.
For more details on these and other hiking routes, see visitpirineus.com/en
Getting to the Pyrenees
Getting to the Pyrenees from the UK is easier than you might think, with several options of airports to fly into, as well as possible rail links that can be used.
The closest larger airports are Barcelona and Toulouse, both of which are served by multiple UK airports and several airlines such as British Airways, easyJet and TUI.
You can also choose to fly to smaller, more central airports such as Girona Costa Brava, where you can fly to with Jet 2, Ryanair and TUI, from many UK airports, including London Gatwick, Doncaster, Birmingham and Newcastle.
If you prefer to get here by rail, there are international train links from the UK to Barcelona via the Eurostar from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord and onward TGV services from Paris Gare de Lyon to Barcelona Sants. The total time for this is about 10.5hrs. From Barcelona there are high-speed rail connections to Figueres, Girona, Tarragona and Lleida.