How to spend five days in the Pyrenees of Catalonia
Pockets of seclusion, dramatic swathes of nature and a rich cultural heritage all go hand in hand on the Grand Tour of Catalonia — a 1,365-mile driving route looping around this distinctive Spanish region.
Devised to lure travellers away from the buzz of Barcelona — where, pre-pandemic, overtourism was reaching a critical stage — the Grand Tour of Catalonia road trip route celebrates the region's quiet, bucolic towns. Split into five sections, three of the five routes traverse the wild landscapes of the Pyrenees, past sleeping volcanoes and across national parks with star-strewn skies. Here, we reveal exactly how to tackle the tour over five days.
Day one: Cadaqués and Figueres
Leave Barcelona behind and drive two hours north west along highways carved through mountains, past the Roman city of Girona and on to one of the Costa Brava’s most picturesque towns. Made up of a cluster of whitewashed buildings, overlooking a sweeping bay filled with bobbing boats, Cadaqués is packed with galleries and excellent restaurants. Head straight to the tiny enclave of Port Lligat and on to Salvador Dali’s summer home — now a museum — although be sure to book in advance. Return to Cadaqués for lunch at Compartir, a restaurant run by three chefs who previously worked at El Bulli (a five-time winner of Restaurant magazine’s world’s best restaurant title between 2002 and 2009). Highlights include sharing platters of razor clams, oysters, grilled sardines and vinegary anchovies. Afterwards, drive 20 minutes to the Cap de Creus Natural Park and the Paratge de Tudela hiking area. In the evening, drive an hour west to the town of Figueres and check into Hotel Duran for the night. The building is where Dalí and his wife Gala lived while they were creating his nearby museum.
Day two: Figueres and Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park
In the morning, walk two minutes to the Dalí Theatre-Museum, crowned with giant eggs (a recurring motif in his work) and golden statues, and spend an hour or two exploring its exhibits. When you’ve had your fill, it’s time to drive 25 minutes west to the medieval town of Besalú, crossing its enchanting 11th-century bridge that runs over the River Fluvià. Spend some time mooching around its old town — a maze of stone walls and tucked-away cobbled lanes that’s barely changed since the Middle Ages — and grab a coffee in the Plaça de la Llibertat.
After lunch, continue for half an hour to Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park, where you can hike among the dramatic, ancient volcanoes. For something extra special, book a hot air balloon flight to gently float above the park, gazing over the volcanic craters from the sky. In the evening, check into a hotel in the city of Olot, located on the edge of the park, and for dinner, try the region’s celebrated ‘volcanic cuisine’: purple potatoes, buckwheat, white corn, truffles, cornmeal porridge, piumoc sausage and sheep’s milk cheese.
Day three: Olot and Pedraforca
Spend an hour or two looking around Olot — home to several interesting museums, including the Volcano Museum. From here, drive two hours west into the foothills of the Pyrenees to Pedraforca, the most iconic mountain in Catalonia. The name translates as ‘stone pitchfork’, a reference to its two commanding, pointed peaks.
Along the way, you’ll pass through the pretty mountain towns of Sant Joan de les Abadesses and Ripoll, both home to impressive Benedictine monasteries. At Pedraforca, pull on your hiking boots and head out along one of its trails, or if you want to climb the mountain itself, you’ll have to spend an extra day here. As the day draws to a close, continue for just over an hour to the small town of La Seu d’Urgell for the night. One of the best places to stay is the Parador de La Seu d’Urgell hotel, housed in the former cloisters of the 14th-century, romanesque Santo Domingo convent.
Day four: La Seu d’Urgell and Aigüestortes i Estany of Saint Maurici National Park
La Seu d’Urgell lies just minutes from Andorra and is overlooked by the imposing Serra del Cadí mountains. The town’s highlight is the Cathedral of Santa María, the only Romanesque cathedral still standing in Catalonia. It’s worth lingering here for a cafe con leche in the sun before driving two and half hours west into the Vall de Boí, which lies on the border with Aragón.
This verdant, deep-sided valley is surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the Pyrenees and is known for the Romanesque churches (collectively a UNESCO World Heritage Site) in the villages of Taüll (also home to the Pyrenees’ highest ski resort), Erill la Vall and Barruera.
In the afternoon, drive a few minutes to Catalonia’s only national park: Aigüestortes i Estany of Saint Maurici National Park, home to mountain lakes, waterfalls and ravines. Spend the night in any of the nearby villages, where you’ll find restaurants with menus that draw on the best ingredients from lake and mountain, such as wild mushrooms, lamb, beef and river trout. As darkness descends, look to the skies — the display of celestial brilliance on show will instantly make it apparent why the park has been named a Starlight Reserve by UNESCO. Near Vall de Boí, just over 50 km away, you'll also find Val d'Aran — the westernmost valley of the Pyrenees, home to the Baqueira ski resort and its renowned medieval villages, where walkers strike out from unique stone houses along ravines, glacial lakes and wildflower-speckled meadows. You can also access the National Park from here.
Day five: Congost de Mont-Rebei
Set out early for the two-hour drive south to Congost de Mont-Rebei, a dramatic gorge carved between towering rocks that’s filled with impossibly blue water. Hike along the gorge or book a kayak tour to paddle along from below. When your adventure comes to an end, it’s time to head back to Barcelona, two and half hours south west.
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