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HIKING

Eight of the best hikes in Catalonia

Long-term Catalonia resident and hiking enthusiast Esme Fox shares her tips and knowledge of some of the best routes in the northeastern region, with stunning waterfalls, volcanoes and lakes on the itinerary. 

Eight of the best hikes in Catalonia
The 8 best hikes in Catalonia. Photo: rodolfo7 / Pixabay

Almost every region in Spain offers a great array of hiking routes, but perhaps some of the best and most diverse can be found in the northeastern region of Catalonia, where you have the Pyrenees in the north, the coast to the east and countless natural parks in the interior. 

Camí de Ronda
The longest and most picturesque of all the routes in Catalonia is the Camí de Ronda or Camino de Ronda. It runs all the way along the coast from the border with France down to the border with the Valencia region. Passing through quaint coastal villages, along clifftops and even through tunnels, the route was originally created by smugglers who used to take their loot from one bay to the next. Later, these routes were joined together to form one long one by the civil guard, in order to control and catch the criminals.

The trail runs for a whopping 583km throughout the whole region, but the most spectacular and well-known sections of the hike lie within the Costa Brava, which starts from Blanes and runs all the way up to Portbou on the French border. This part is around 220km long and can be done in 12 stages, taking a total of 12 days. It’s not necessary to do the whole route, however, you could easily take a single stage and make a day trip out of it. It’s best done in early summer before the crowds arrive or in September when it’s still warm enough to swim along the way, but all the holidaymakers have gone home.  

The Camino de Ronda takes you right along the coast. Photo: Esme Fox
 

Mont-Rebei Gorge
The Congost de Mont-Rebei gorge is one of the most striking in the whole of Catalonia, where incredible aquamarine waters run between dramatic ravines and lofty cliff tops and vultures soar overhead. It’s a popular route and is moderately challenging with several ascents and dips walking along narrow pathways or staircases clinging to the edge of the rock. It’s situated approximately a three-hour drive west of Barcelona on the border with Aragón. You can choose to hike longer or shorter sections of the route, but the main and most popular part is around 12km there and back.

Hike along the sides of a gorge at Mont Rebei. Photo: Ramon Perucho / Pixabay

Ruta dels 7 Gorgs
Near the small village of Campdevánol​​​ in the province of Girona, close to the foothills of the Pyrenees, you’ll find one of the most thrilling hikes on our list – the route of the seven waterfalls. It’s exactly like it sounds, a hiking route between seven different waterfalls. It’s best to go in summer as you can swim in each of the falls, letting the icy water from the Pyrenees cool you down on those hot Spanish days. It’s a circular route of just 10km, with an extra 6km if you’re walking from Campdevánol​​​ train station, but it could end up taking all day if you plan on swimming in each. The route is relatively easy, but there are some tricky steep parts getting down and up again from some of the waterfalls. Because it’s so popular, the number of people allowed in per day is limited and you must pay an eco-tax fee of €5 per person from June to November.

Take a dip in the Campdevánol waterfalls to cool down. Photo: Alberto-g-rovi / WikiCommons
 

Camí del Vi
Catalonia’s wine route lies within the Penedès, an area known for producing excellent wines and cavas and home to some of the best wineries in the region. It starts in the town of Vilafranca del Penedès, the capital of the wine region and runs for 3.5km, taking around three hours to complete in total, there and back. From the tourist office, you’ll walk through the town and then out into the vineyards themselves. Along the way are eight different stations where you will learn about wine production and the life cycle of the vine, as well as the different varieties of grapes that grow in the area. There are plenty of bodegas (wineries) near by where you can stop for a drink too. 

Hike the wine route in Catalonia. Photo: Esme Fox

Ruta de los 7 Lagos del Circ de Colomers
Between the National Park of Aigüestortes and the Vall d’Aran, just went of Andorra in the high Pyrenees lies the route of the seven lakes. It’s a total of 15km, but there are taxis that can take you from the car park to the beginning of the route and back, taking it down to just 7km. One of the most spectacularly beautiful hiking routes, as the name suggests, it passes seven glassy mountain lakes hemmed in by towering peaks and verdant forests. It’s of medium difficulty level, meaning it’s best if you have a bit of experience with hiking in the mountains.  

This hiking route takes you past seven mountain lakes. Photo: rodolfo7 / Pixabay

Ruta por los volcanes de la Garrotxa
Just north of Girona lies La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park, which offers one of the best examples of volcanic landscapes on the Iberian Peninsula, featuring 40 ancient volcanic cones and around 20 old lava flows. One of the best ways to explore it is via the various hiking routes throughout the park. The best is the circular hike from La Fageda d’en Jordà to the Santa Margarida volcano and on to El Croscat volcano, which is 12km and takes just over four hours complete.

Hike through the land of ancient volcanoes in La Garrotxa. Photo: Carquinyol / WikiCommons

Subida al Pedraforca
The most challenging hike on our list is the ascent of Mount Pedraforca, located in the high Pyrenees, just below Andorra. It’s one of Catalonia’s most iconic-looking mountains – resembling a pitchfork with a small dip in between two soaring pointed peaks, one measuring 2444m and the other 2506m. The starting points generally begin at the Mirador de Gersolet viewpoint, but there are several routes to reach the top. It takes between five and seven hours to complete, depending on your experience but is best avoided in winter and early spring from December to April when the snow can make it even more difficult.

Challenge yourself with the ascent of Pedraforca. Photo: Josep Monter Martinez / Pixabay

Ruta de Carros de Foc
Another hike within the mighty National Park of Aigüestortes is the grand Carros de Foc or Chariots of Fire. It’s a circular route of 65km and takes between five to seven days to complete between nine different mountain refuges, where you can stay the night. The route is characterised by high mountains and large granite boulders, as well as several sparkling mountain lakes. You’ll need some experience and stamina to complete this one. 

Hike the Ruta de Carros de Foc. Photo: Ferran Ventura / Unsplash

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TRAVEL NEWS

What you should know if you’re travelling to Spain in December

The rules, the least busy travel times, the strikes, the free travel deals, what you can’t check in - here’s what you need to know if you’re travelling to Spain in December or at Christmas.

What you should know if you're travelling to Spain in December

December is a busy travel period with many foreigners leaving Spain to celebrate Christmas with their families back in their home countries and many others travelling to Spain for a holiday or to spend time with their loved ones here.

Airline strikes and an increase in passengers could make travelling this winter a little more challenging, but here’s everything to need to know, so you can be prepared. 

According to Spain’s airport operator Aena, the number of airline tickets sold for travel to Spain over the winter season is set to exceed the number in 2019-2020, before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Also, last winter saw the rise of the Omicron variant and some countries introduced new restrictions, so many foreign residents decided not to go back to see their families over the holidays. This means that this year could see more people wanting to return after several years of not having celebrated together with their families. 

Therefore, airports could be particularly busy this December, so make sure you leave plenty of time for getting through security and passport control.

There is still one important Covid travel rule in Spain

Although the majority of Spain’s domestic and travel Covid-19 restrictions were lifted before the summer of 2022, one of the only rules that still remains in place is the obligation of wearing a face mask on public transport.

This includes aeroplanes, buses, trains, taxis and some ferries, but mask wearing isn’t compulsory at airports, ports or bus and train stations.

As things stand, the general rule is that cabin crew from all airlines have to tell passengers on planes bound to Spain that they have to wear masks.

If on the other hand the aircraft is flying out of Spain, the mask rules of the country which the plane is flying to apply, which in almost all cases means face coverings aren’t required.

Spain’s flagship airline Iberia has criticised the Spanish government’s ongoing mask requirement for passengers on planes bound to the country, stressing that it “doesn’t make any sense” and “it affects tourism”.

Although it is no longer compulsory to present a negative Covid-19 test to fly, Spanish health and airport authorities ask that anyone with Covid-19 symptoms avoid travel.

It is no longer necessary either for travellers to fill in health control forms before flying to Spain as was previously the case, and there are no bans or restrictions on non-EU or other specific countries.

Which are the least busy days for travelling to Spain in December?

According to flight search engine Skyscanner, which has analysed nine million searches for people looking to travel to Spain over the festive period, some of the quietest days to travel to Spain are from the 18th to the 23rd, with the 23rd being the least popular before Christmas.

If you’re wanting to fly to Spain after Christmas, however, you’ll find it even quieter on December 28th, as well as January 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th. You may find Spanish cities to be fairly busy however as December 6th and 8th are public holidays.

Conversely, the most popular days to travel are between December 12th and the 17th, so avoid those days if you want to avoid the crowds. 

Who is travelling to Spain this December? 

According to new data released by Spain’s Tourism Ministry, during the last month of the year, 7,066,101 people have booked seats, which implies a recovery of 97.4 percent compared to the same month of 2019. 

Forecasts for the early December holidays reveal that Italians, Germans and French are the main tourists who will be visiting Spain. During the puentes and public holidays on December 6th and 8th, Italians will make up the majority of tourists travelling to Spain (23 percent), followed by Germans (17 percent), French (16 percent), British (10 percent) and finally the Portuguese (6 percent).

Airline strikes

Several airline strikes have also been called for this winter, mainly involving low-cost airlines Vueling and Ryanair.

The Vueling strikes are due to take place on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and public holidays. They began on November 1st 2022 and will run right through the Christmas period to January 31st 2023.

Specifically, this means that those travelling on December 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 9th,10th and 11th may be affected by cancellations. 

Additional days that will be affected include December 24th, 31st and January 5th 2023, affecting those passengers who plan on travelling for Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and Three Kings’ Day.

The workers are demanding a wage increase in line with the rise in prices due to inflation, as well as protesting over the precarious work conditions that have been experienced within the sector since even before the pandemic.  

Many passengers are currently being offered alternative flights, refunds or other compensation if their flights are cancelled. 

Ryanair baggage handlers and on-the-ground staff have also been striking and will continue to do so until January 7th, 2023.

It’s likely these airports will include Alicante, Barcelona, Madrid, Málaga, Palma de Mallorca and Seville, however, it’s worth noting that Ryanair has said that it doesn’t expect this strike to cause that much disruption.

Bringing food and goods in from the UK and other non-EU countries

One of the advantages of going back to your home country for Christmas is not only to see your friends and family but also to stock up on treats and ingredients you’ve missed while living in Spain. Think mince pies, custard powder and Marmite for those going back to the UK.

But as this is the second Christmas since Brexit came into force, many may still not be totally aware of what they’re now allowed to bring to Spain from non-EU countries.

The EU’s strict rules mean that all imports of animal-derived products are not allowed. This means no Christmas puddings with suet, no British bacon and blocks and Wensleydale or Cheddar cheese to bring back with you.

If you want to know exactly what you can and can’t bring in this Christmas, read our detailed guide here

Bringing food from Spain into the UK, is a little easier as you’re still allowed to bring in EU products, so packets of jamón and Manchego cheese are ok to take.

Travel within Spain

Those who are planning on travelling within Spain this Christmas, either to visit friends and family or simply for the fun of travel should know that there are currently lots of travel discounts, particularly on trains.

Multi-journey tickets are currently free on Cercanías, Rodalies and Media Distancia trains and are worth paying the €10 or €20 deposit for if you’re going to be making the same journey several times during your trip.

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For example, if you’re planning on spending the holiday in the small Catalan town of Sitges, but know that you’ll be making several trips to Barcelona during that time for sightseeing, shopping or eating out, then it could be worth it.

Unfortunately, the free tickets are not available on long-distance trains, but you can still get a bargain on these this winter as Spain’s new low-cost train operator Iryo recently launched.

This means that you can get tickets from Madrid to Barcelona as well as Valencia and Málaga for an average of €18 each. 

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