La Seu d'Urgell, Catalonia: a walking holiday in Spain

by Sally.Dowling

The Spanish Pyrenees are a walker's paradise during the summer months and La Seu d'Urgell is a perfect base offering spectacular views, an abundance of wild flowers and crystal clear rivers and lakes

La Seu d'Urgell is a little known traditional Spanish city ideal for a walking holiday in the beautiful Spanish Pyrenees.

There are plenty of flights from the UK to Barcelona – it is easy to fly in to the city and then head straight out towards the mountains where the cooler mountain air of the Pyrenees is a welcome respite from the summer heat of the Costa Brava. The Spanish motorways in this area provide a fast link and the drive takes about two hours.

La Seu d'Urgell is one of the most ancient towns in Catalonia, located just south of Andorra, between the Segre and Valira rivers, and surrounded by mountains. It is a town full of history and tradition, with cobbled streets and arcaded shop fronts, and is the commercial and tourist centre for the whole area. The city was named after the imposing 12th-century cathedral (La Seu), Santa Maria d’Urgell, a beautiful Romanesque building situated on the southern side of Placa dels Oms. From inside the cathedral you can enter the Museu Diocesa which encompasses the fine cloisters and the 12th century Elgalsia de Sant Miquel as well as a rare 10th-century illustrated manuscript, the Beatus.

Staying in La Seu gives you the opportunity to hop on one of the frequent busses that run into Andorra. Even if you have hired a car, don’t be tempted to drive into the Principality as parking is a nightmare. Andorra is a tax free shopping paradise, with low customs duties and no sales tax making electrical goods, sports equipment, clothing, perfume and alcohol all good bargains.

Although often seen as a sleepy town, La Seu offers fabulous walking in the summer or skiing in the winter. It enjoyed a moment of modern fame when, in 1992, it hosted the Olympic canoeing competitions. The lasting legacy of which is the Parc de Segre where you can sit and watch as all ages take on ‘shooting the rapids’. During the winter months there are Alpine and cross country ski stations offering more that 120 kms of pistes.

The Parc National d’Aigüestortes is the only national park in Catalonia and becomes a wildflower paradise each spring. There are numerous trails and the chance to spot Chamois, deer and maybe a Golden Eagle.My favourite hike is high up to the Pera Lakes from the Aransa cross country ski resort. It is about an hours drive from La Seu along the N-260 and you can drive much of the way up the mountain to the refuge of Fornell. The area is a magical place on a summers day with waterfalls, springs and rivers all tumbling down the mountainside leading eventually to the beautiful Pera Lakes.

Good food is important to the inhabitants of the Catalan Pyrenees and this is evident at the market held on Tuesday and Saturday each week in the old town of La Seu. You can find all manner of home made local products: delicatessen, wild mushrooms, cheese, butter and meat. The foodie theme follows through into the many local restaurants and bars dotted around the town.  In September the annual mushroom harvest takes place and you will find the locals scrambling across hillsides on the search for the highly prized ‘ceps’. Surplus supplies are sold at the roadside from makeshift shacks and attract restaurateurs and hoteliers from as far away as Barcelona.

There is plenty of choice of accommodation in La Seu, my favourite is the luxurious El Castell de Ciutat Hotel. A family owned Relais & Chateux property, El Castell is one of those properties that you will keep wanting to come back to. It is renowned for its food, specialist Catalan dishes using local ingredients. The gastronomic ‘taster menu’ is a treat not to be missed incorporating local delicacies such as foie gras, freshly caught fish and game and changing with the seasons. The hotel commands a stunning position overlooking the city and the valley and the staff can recommend many beautiful, although sometimes strenuous, walks. The Wellness centre within the hotel provides a welcome massage after a full day hiking, or if the weather breaks, chill out in the indoor pool area and watch the storms rumble around the mountains.

A cheaper but just an enjoyable option is the quaint and homely Casa Rural La Vall del Cadi – part of Spain’s agro tourism programme. Situated 1km from the city, although within walking distance of bars and restaurants, this family owned B&B will set you up for the day with their Catalan breakfast of pa amb oli (bread with olive oil) washed down with local wine.

A stay in the beautiful Vall del Cadi combines very well with a week on a beach on the Costa Brava. Consider Llafranc, Callella de Palufragel or Aigua Blava. 

Sally.Dowling

I have been involved with the travel industry for all my working life and in the last 5 years have turned to travel writing. In 2006 I won the Visit USA award for best consumer magazine feature entitled 'Secret Florida'. I continue to travel whenever and wherever I can with my husband. We like to seek out lesser known areas of popular destinations and to stay in small family run hotels. It gives me great pleasure to recommend somewhere that we have enjoyed so that others can share the experience.