Your guide to Catalonia’s Parks and Natural highlights.
Catalonia’s Parks and Natural Spaces are a little known paradise in the Pyrenees mountains.
Catalonia’s countryside ranges from steep, rocky coasts to gently sloping, sandy beaches, expansive inland plains to dense wooded mountains, deep Pyrenean valleys to high, snow-capped peaks.
The Catalan Pyrenees are a special part of Spain, largely untouched by development and mass tourism, making it the perfect place to enjoy the wild beauty of this country at it’s best.
The stunning Parks and Protected Natural Spaces of Catalonia have the ingredients to please any and all tourist, traveller, adventure-seeker, and nature-lover alike.
Here’s a list of Catalonia’s Parks and Natural Highlights:
Aigüestortes and Estany de Sant Maurici National Park (Catalan: ‘Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici’)
This amazing Catalan park is located in the heart of the Pyrenees; in the mountains of Catalonia and is spread mainly throughout the counties of Pallars Sobirà and Alta Ribagorça, the closest city is Lleida.
The park covers a vast area of 10,230 hectares (25,280 acres), and is divided into two sectors: Aigüestortes; in the west, is in the Alta Ribagorza region, and is accessible from Vall de Boí. And Sant Maurici, in the east, which is in the Pallars Sobirà county, and can be entered from the Espot Valley.
Aigüestortes, which means winding waters, is a reference to it’s more than 200 crystal clear lakes, (many of them glacial in origin), meandering streams, rushing rivers, and thundering waterfalls.
This spectacular National Park is a wild and untouched region of the Pyrenees, and is said to have some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in all of Europe.
The Catalonia park is a made up of a stunning combination of peaceful green meadows, high snow-capped peaks, deep glacial lakes, and vast stretches of thick pine, fir, birch, and beech forests.
Wildlife that inhabit the park include: the Pyrenean chamois, marmots, ermines, roe deer, black woodpeckers, common crossbills, Lammergeirs, (bearded-vulture), golden eagles and more.
Aigüestortes and Estany de Sant Maurici National Park is a true paradise for nature lovers and mountain sports enthusiasts.
There’s an excellent network of walking trails that are set out for all levels of hikers, not to mention 10 guarded refuges (mountain shelters), which are open for free accommodation from spring until fall.
You can also use these shelters during winter on selective days. Every refuge has its own opening calender, but most are open around Christmas and Easter.
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing can also be done in winter. And in summer, there is a cable car that takes you up to a mountain lake.
Within the park you’ll find two Catalonia Pyrenees Interpretation centresat which you can get information and maps for walks and highlights.
Not far from Aigüestortes is the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Romanesque churches of Vall de Boí.
A visit to at least one of these medieval churches is a must. A good example is the Sant Climent de Taüll church.
Garrotxa Volcanic Zone – Natural Park (Catalan: Parc Natural de la Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa)
This protected Volcanic zone and natural park is located northwest of Girona, in the Catalan Pyrenees. It’s known as the best example of volcanic terrain on the Iberian Peninsula.
This Catalonia park covers 12,093 hectares, and includes territory from eleven municipalities in the county of Garrotxa.
The towns of Olot, Santa Pau, Sant Joan les Fonts and Castellfollit de la Roca, Catalonia, are right in the middle of the park.
Within the protected area there are 40 volcanoes and more than 20 lava flows.
The volcanoes are not extinct, but none of them are still active, the last eruption being about 11, 000 years ago.
This special landscape is also inhabited by some interesting flora and fauna, including some beautiful holm oak, beech forests, and over one thousand flowering plants.
There are 28 scenic walking routes that take you through this Catalonia park, most of them signposted, except some of the longer ones.
You can get good information and maps at the Catalonia Pyrenees Interpretation centre in the park.
Apart from all the natural beauty, you’ll also be able to visit a number of historical sites in the park area.
The town of Santa Pau, Catalonia, is good place to start; there’s an ancient castle that has accommodation available as well.
Alt Pirineu Natural Park – L’Alt Pirineu Natural Park
This high Pyrenees Park covers over 60,000 hectares and is the largest one in Catalonia. It spreads across a large area of the Catalan Pyrenees and straddles the counties of Pallars Sobirà and Alt Urgell.
The parks vast array of natural highlights includes the highest peak in Catalonia: Pica d’Estats ( 3,143 m), the largest glacier lake in the Pyrenees: Lake Certascan, and Cigalera de l’Obaga de Valeran: one of the deepest potholes (subterranean cave) in Catalonia, with a maximum depth of 320 m and a course of 365 m.
This immense pothole also has an underground lake, several large caverns, and various galleries.
Flora and fauna are exceptional here. You’ll find mixed deciduous forests, mixed beech and fir, and downy birch forests. Plus, all kinds of rare, endangered species of animals, such as the grizzly bear, the otter, the Pyrenean desman, the bearded vulture, the rock ptarmigan, or the boreal owl, the Aurelio rock lizard and the capercaillie, which has here the most important population centre in the Iberian Peninsula.
More easily spotted wildlife include fox, roe deer, fallow deer, red deer, Pyrenean chamois and some birds of prey (vultures, golden eagles, short-toed eagles.)
Alt Pirineu Natural Park of Catalonia also has great archaeological and architectural heritage.
The outstanding Romanesque art is probably the best example, usually found in parish churches of the villages aroutnd Catalonia, and the park.
Many fine pieces of Catalonia’s ancient, religious artwork can be found around here, including altarpieces, engravings, and work in gold and silver.
In fact, this area has one of the most important collections of Medieval and Baroque art in all the Pyrenees mountains.
In the pretty Catalan villages of Arrós de Cardós, Llagunes or Os de Civís, you’ll find excellent representations of this regions’ popular architecture.
Although, within the natural areas of the park it is quite easy to spot much evidence of the centuries-old presence of humankind in Catalonia.
There are remains of forges, saw mills, charcoal pits, wolf traps; plus old stone houses, huts and pens which were used by Catalonia’s shepherds and farmers.
The Cadí-Moixeró Natural Park
Cadí Moixeró Natural Park of Catalonia stretches across the three counties of: L’Alt Urgell, El Berguedà and La Cerdanya. It is one of Catalonia’s most emblematic natural areas.
The total surface area is 41,342 hectares, or four hundred square kilometres; which makes it, together with Alt Pirineu, one of the biggest parks in Catalonia.
It’s diverse; and unique range of geology, vegetation and fauna make it an ideal place for hiking, trekking and walking in Catalonia, and anespecially good spot for mountaineering and climbing.
The Cadi mountains chain with it’s limestone rocks, rugged peaks and striking north face are impressive. But, it’s the Pedraforca massif which has become a mecca for hikers and climbers in Catalonia, and the Pyrenees.
Hikers and walkers will enjoy beautiful landscapes of lush valleys, sunny pastures, and vast forests.
This Catalonia park is also home to a variety of alpine flora and fauna; including a big herd of Pyrenean Chamois, wild cats, pine martens, golden eagles, and the rare Capercaillie bird, which breeds here.
Indeed, Cadí-Moixeró Natural Park has been declared as a special protection area for birds (ZEPA), by the European Union.
There are mountain shelters, numerous well-marked walking paths, and mountain bike trails throughout the park. You can get maps, and lots of information about the area at the Catalonia Interpretation and information centres.
Cultural highlights of this area of Catalonia are the Romanesque churches, monasteries and chapels. As well as, the museum and gallery which details and displays remnants from the time spent here by Pablo Picasso.
He stayed in the town of Gósol, Catalonia, and was said to have been profoundly influenced by his beautiful and serene surroundings. When he left the village, he returned to Paris with a new idea for his paintings; it was to become what we now know of as – Cubism.
Cap de Creus Natural Park
Catalonia’s Cap de Creus Natural Park is the last limb of the Pyrenees mountains range, and the easternmost point of the Iberian Peninsula.
It administratively falls under the Catalan region of L’Alt Empordà, but covers the municipalities of Cadaqués, El Port de la Selva, La Selva de Mar, Llançà, Vilajuïga, Pau, Palau-Saverdera and Roses.
This region of Catalonia has an outstanding geological landscape,consisting of unique rocky outcrops, high cliffs, coves, islets, reefs, and other strange natural formations.
Vegetation is also remarkably diverse and rich here; with a wide variety of rare species that are endemic to the area of Catalonia, both on land and in the sea.
There are three Natural Sites of National Interest (PNIN) here: Cap Gros-Cap de Creus to the North, Punta Falconera-Cap Norfeu to the South, and Serra de Rodes to the West.
All islands and islets in the marine sector of the Catalonia Natural Park are also considered Natural Sites of National Interest.
The park also has amazing architectural heritage sites, such as the monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes, some marine archaeological sites, and the Daliesque landscapes of Portlligat, Catalonia.
Going up to the monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes is a must; the views from the top are spectacular. While the monastery itself, built between the 10th and 12th centuries, is an authentic jewel in the Catalan collection of Romanesque art.
Archaeological remains here include; a large number of dolmens in Creu d’en Cobertella, plus a well conserved shaft and chamber tomb, which is the largest megalithic monument in Catalonia.
Other dolmens can be seen in; La Vinya del Rei (Vilajuïga), La Taula dels Lladres (La Selva de Mar), La Barraca d’en Rabert and Les Vinyes Mortes (Pau), La Devesa, La Fedrosa and La Sureda (Palau-Saverdera), Mas de La Mata, Mas de La Pallera, Mores Altes (El Port de La Selva), and La Tomba del General (Roses) among others.
There are also lots of castles, chapels and picturesque villages to visit within the park and in the surrounding areas.
Val d’Aran Lakes and Lake Zone
The beautiful mountains of this spectacular Atlantic valley are anexceptional area for nature lovers, walkers, and bird watchers.
Located in the centre of the Pyrenees, Val d’Aran is surrounded by magnificent high mountain peaks, with numerous lakes, rivers and relics from the Ice age.
This region has numerous species of animals, plants and vegetation. Here you’ll find the Rebeco; an Alpine deer-like animal, vultures, white grouse and other birds of prey.
All kinds of walks can be done in Val d’Aran; there’s also an excellent mountain bike centre, and horse back riding facilities.
Catalonia Pyrenees Culture Guides:
Catalonia Pyrenees County Guide: