We set off in our hire car for a couple of days to the Pyrenees, where we had enjoyed a lovely driving holiday a couple of years ago and which we wanted to repeat. We got as far as Barcelona before we had to turn back to the boat. Brian had forgotten his passport, and we were sure we would need it for booking into a hotel. As it happened mine was sufficient, but better to be sure. Hell, they might have thought he was an immigrant!!
The motorways are well laid out around the northern side of Barcelona, and well signposted and it wasn’t long before we were heading up the C16 out into the hills. Brian had already done his homework before we’d left England, and we were heading for the town of Ribes de Fresar, very picturesque and situated well up into the hills, where there was a rack and pinion train to take us up the final ascent through the mountains.
The train took about 40 minutes to wind its way up the side of the mountain, stopping at a couple of other stations on the way. Many people were taking the train up to walk back down again and were dressed as such in stout walking boots and with backpacks and walking sticks.
You could see for miles and miles from the windows, and occasionally there would be a steep waterfall splashing down the rockface into the deep gully below us.
The train navigated through a couple of tunnels and finally we emerged into the sunlight to the base station of the Queralbs ski resort in the Vall de Nuria.
The snow arrives at the beginning of December and usually stays till the beginning of April. During summer however, the area is a vast tourist area catering for walkers, hikers, and daytrippers, with pony rides, a boating lake and mini golf to keep them happy.
We booked into a hotel back down in the town of Ribes that night, and enjoyed a delicious local catalan meal – duck and chicken cooked with tomatoes onions and bayleaves. The next morning we wandered round the town to see if we could buy any local delicacies, but most things were canned or vacuumed packed.
Ribes de Fresar Catalonia
We drove on up the valley through the foothills of Catalonia, following by the side of the train track we had been on the day before. There was very little traffic, save a few crazy cyclists, and a chapter of motor bike riders, as the road twisted its way along the hairpin bends through the mountain range.
It was sobering to see the memorials to people who had lost their lives going too fast and disappearing over the edge… the signs at the side of the road showed us how steep we were climbing… from 1300 to 1700m in no time at all, with snow poles at intervals to remind us what it must be like in winter.
Round each corner, the view just got better and better. We stopped to take in the view, and were conscious of the complete silence all around us, save the tinkling of cow bells far down in the valley.
We turned off to head down the other side of the valley, and not long afterwards arrived in La Molina, a small ski resort. It was not dissimilar to ski resorts in the Alps, with huge carparks at the bottom of the lifts to cater for skiers driving up from the valleys below, a couple of restaurants, and the Intershop with its huge selection of ski clothes, although at this time of year, it was full of hiking gear. We spied a sign indicating a cable car operating up the mountain!
Not a great one for heights, it didn’t take me too long to persuade Brian that this was a must-do! The views were spectacular!
We saw a couple of eagles soaring and swooping on the thermals, but they were a little too far away to get a good picture.
We got out of the cable car at the top and although it was about 10 degrees cooler than at the bottom, we certainly didn’t need sweaters to wear. To get to the summit from the top of the cable car was a half hour of steep climbing up a rocky pathway. The reward for our perseverance was a cold beer at the summit!
At the top there were herds of mountain cattle and horses, all with their bells swinging round their necks on chains. We came across a few intrepid mountain bikers who had brought their bikes up in the cable car and were intent on cycling back down – we even saw one guy who had cycled up from the bottom!
We hadn’t come prepared with walking boots, and every stone of the shale path seemed to press through the soles of my sailing shoes! Far easier to walk on the grass. The descent was just as breathtaking, and it made me realise just how much I have missed the ski slopes these past few years!!
We carried on driving down the twisting turning roads towards the valley which led in turn to the motorway that would take us back to Barcelona and the airport where we would drop off the car. There was a bus at the airport which took us the few miles to Casteldefells, but unfortunately we’d missed the last bus to Port Ginesta so took a taxi. It had been a wonderful two days.