Adventure in the Pyrenees, Catalonia
In addition to the breathtaking landscapes, cute mountain villages, local festivals and great gastronomy, the Pyrenees can offer a lot to an adrenaline junky or one with a thirst for the slightly crazy. Often overlooked in favour of their bigger neighbours, the Alps, the Pyrenees offer as good a variety of sports (including good skiing in the winter) but without the huge numbers of tourists or hefty price tags that come with visiting the Alps. So ladies, time to put your heels to the side and don a slightly more practical pair of shoes – just for an afternoon at least!
By the way, my adventures were on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees but I’m sure the French side are great too for those looking for great sports and even better food!
The Pyrenees is home to the Noguera Pallaresa river, a stretch of water that is considered to be the best for whitewater sports in Europe, so where better to try your hand at whitewater rafting for the first time.
We started our rafting trip from small town of Sort (a local hub for whitewater sports) with the aptly named Rubber River rafting company. Provided with an all-in-one neoprene body suits with matching boots to protect us from the cold water (in September a mere 8 degrees) and a helmet for any potential bashes if/when you fall out of the raft, we were all raring to go! After a quick lesson in paddling on dry land we were led straight to the water for a 14km raft back to our base which took roughly an hour and a half to complete.
The experience was amazing – moments of fear, hilarity and pure adrenaline as we soared down rapids, bumped over rocks, swayed precariously with the changing direction of the water and fell in once or twice! I never thought I would enjoy it so much, smiling (and screaming) the whole way down. The neoprene suit kept you warm but not dry – even if you didn’t fall in then the spray from the rapids managed to soak you but it all added to the experience – and was great to have a hot shower when we rafted back into town at the end of the trip.
Photos of us rafting from Rubber River
The rafting season runs from the 15th March to 15th October and obviously the strength of the water is heaving affected by rainfall in the area. I cannot wait to try it again!
If you’ve never done a via ferrata then you either petrified of heights (and therefore excused) or just stupid not to have done one sooner! A via ferrata is essentially a protected climbing route – equipped with a harness, helmet and numerous carabiner clips you follow a set route climbing an otherwise unclimbable mountain as you go. You are attached to a cable (which is in turn attached to the rock face) at all times thus limiting any large fall and to help you climb you use the cable to pull yourself up or additional supports such as steps, pegs or even ladders and wire bridges. It’s not for the faint hearted nor those that fear heights but it’s a great safe way to scale to new heights. Made famous during WWII in the Dolomites in Italy, many via ferrata courses can be found throughout the Alps and also the Pyrenees.
The harness are a long way from being flattering, your hands will burn at the end of the day and you’re thighs will feel like they are made of steel but there is nothing more satisfying than getting to the top, taking in that view and realizing just how far you’ve climbed.
Our via ferrata route and great (not to mention super cute) guide Oscar, was in the mountains of Vallcebre, an area known for its great hiking, walking and climbing. There were numerous via ferrata routes catering to beginners & experts which makes the region fun for all and not just those professional adventure junkies.
Canyoning, for me, is a mix of between a via ferrata and whitewater rafting – but without the ropes and the raft! A crazy looking sport whereby you just jump down gullies, body surf down rivers and essentially get that adrenaline pumping as fast as you can. I was in the Pyrenees in September which is almost at the end of the canyoning season (15th March to 15th October) and the water was already quite low so the best time to go canyoning is in the spring or early summer when the water is deeper. You’re provided with a neoprene suit just like with the rafting so you’re prepared for the route, all you need then is your Dutch courage!
Photos via David Domingo
I’m really looking forward to revisiting the area so I can try canyoning now my thirst for adrenaline in the Pyrenees has been lit.
Food & wine
So I know this isn’t the most typical thing that comes to mind when you think of adventure and the Pyrenees but after all that sport you’ll be starving and deserve a slap up meal, not to mention a large glass of wine! Also, as I discovered, to try some of the local delicacies you will have to have a certain sense of adventure! I tried more new food in the Pyrenees than I did when I was in Asia (which might have something to do with me being a strict vegetarian up until quite recently) – pork feet, colt burger (yes I ate a pony burger!!), fungal cheese and wild mushrooms to name but a few of my recent culinary adventures. Mushrooms might not seem exotic at first glance but with the majority of mushrooms found in the area (sometimes deadly) poisonous, you have have a good forager and an eye for the tasty ones. Mushroom season is in late September and ladies do not let is pass you buy, not only are they delicious but its a great opportunity for a bit of celeb spotting – Shakira was seen mushroom hunting with her Barcelona football player husband in the area (the Berguedà mountains) this year!
Sort was an amazing discovery on this trip, for just a tiny town it manages to be not only a great water sports hub but also a foodies dream. What other small town can boast of an artisan cheese factory, which made the tastiest cheese I’ve had for a long time, an amazing local winery, Batlliu de Sort, organically growing grapes according to century old traditions and a great local restaurant, Celler dels Joglars, where they brought a whole new meaning to the phrase “my little pony” with their incredible colt burger! I left aching – belly too full, bumped and bruised, but impatient to return for more adventure.
guest post written by Lorna Stokes