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Our expert guide to walking in Catalonia

Our expert guide to walking in Catalonia

It’s often the capital of Catalonia, Barcelona, that takes centre stage in this pretty pocket of Spain, when in fact there are over 30,000km2 of mountains, coast, nature reserves and traditional towns and villages. There are the Pyrenees and a panoply of parks, from Aigüestortes National Park to Aiguamolls Nature Reserve. The Costa Brava and the Costa Dorada are its two sizzling coastlines, with the former being the greenest and most dramatic for walking in Catalonia. Its name, Costa Brava, translates as wild coast and you definitely find some wild places walking here. Catalonia also has its own long-distance walking trail, the Ruta dels Indiketes, a circular trail that captures all the flavours of Catalonia’s tastiest trails. And we say tasty, because Catalan food and wine takes living to another level. 

Highlights of walking in Catalonia 

Aigüestortes National Park 

The full name is Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park and although it’s the country’s only park in Catalonia, this is a fiesta of fine natural features, with Central Pyrenees taking centre stage. The name Aigüestortes means ‘twisted waters’ in Catalan, and given that it is home to more than 200 glacial lakes, numerous rivers, streams and waterfalls, you certainly feel immersed in its waters when you go walking here. Spend a week walking in both Aigüestortes and nearby Vall de Boí, the natural gateway to the national park. Picnic by glacial lakes, trek up to heartstopping viewpoints such as Port de Rius (2,475m) and have one of the best wake-up views ever at Ventosa i Calvell mountain hut (2,215m). This trek to the refuge features in our blog, Best day hikes in Spain.

Aigüestortes National Park is Catalonia’s only national park.

High Pyrenees 

The national park is located in the Central Pyrenees, but we have a trekking holiday that takes you further up into the High Pyrenees, with eight days of the most exquisite elevations and remote villages. Hike through the oak and beech forests of the Alta Garroxta region, following ancient trails past ancient bridges and remote churches or village ruins. The remoteness and ruggedness of these areas means that they have remained very untouched, and wildlife such as eagles, griffon vultures and chamois are still thriving. Highlights along the way include Costabona (2,465m), on the border with France, the high passes of Fembra Morte (1,728m) and Col de Lliens (1,864m), where the woodland stops and the views begin. On your last day, you have a chance to take a cog train up to Núria, with treks to a clifftop monastery and to landscapes with some of the most stunning views of the Pyrenees’ 3,000m plus peaks.

Cap de Creus Natural Park 

This protected area, which covers both land and sea, is the point where the Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean, and is the easternmost peninsula on mainland Spain. This has created a landscape that’s scattered with natural rocky sculptures, terrain that is said to have inspired Salvador Dalí, who was born in nearby Figueres. The nearby whitewashed town of Cadaqués was also a favourite of Dalí’s, and you stay there on this Pyrenees Coastal Trails holiday, before exploring the park. Walk as far as the iconic Cap de Creus lighthouse on this Costa Brava walking holiday and our Costa Brava highlights walking holiday, on which you also get to explore the peninsula’s ancient sites at Serra de Rodes. These include Sant Pere de Rodes Monastery and other ecclesiastical sites, as well as the ruins of Santa Creu de Rodes village. 

Spot the dog – one of many natural sculptures in Cap de Creus Natural Park.

Aiguamolls de l’Empordà Natural Park

Thankfully this wetland wonder in the Bay of Roses was protected by Natural Park status in the 1980s to avoid development, leaving it as a habitat for over 300 species of birds, including cormorants and flamingoes, as well as fallow deer. With wetlands, reed-lined paths, dunes and saltwater lagoons, it covers 48.24km² and is stunning walking terrain as you can see on both this Costa Brava walking holiday and our Costa Brava highlights walking holiday. On these tours you spend a day exploring the banks of the El Fluvià which, along with the Muga River, supports this wetland ecosystem across the Empordà Plain. As these tours run between February and November, you have choices when it comes to birding, with thousands of birds descending in the migratory seasons of February to June and July to October. If there’s a northerly wind in spring, late April and early May are peak times for flamingo, heron, falcon and an array of waders joining the throngs. 

Baix Empordà 

This is the name given to a coastal region at the northernmost point of Catalonia, where ancient villages, pine-covered slopes and castles, as well as the obligatory turquoise coves, make the most colossal of Catalan marriages. On our walking holiday along the Ruta dels Indiketes, you stay in its main town of La Bisbal, which is also famous for its fine pottery and ceramics. It’s an area that’s packed with Catalan culture as you will see on a walk between La Bisbal and Verges, taking you through some of the region’s medieval marvels, such as the villages of Casavells, Parlabà, Rupià and Castell de Foixà.

Camí de Ronda

Ronda is the name for patrol in Spanish, and the Camí de Ronda trail (or Camino de Ronda) is so called because it was a trail of smuggling lookout points for the carabineros, or border guards. It’s more about smugness than smuggling these days, as local people must be proud to call beauty spots like this home. The trail clings to the coast for 43km, with an additional route inland to create a circular option. You dip in and out of Camí on this Coastal trails of Catalonia walking holiday, such as on the third day, walking between the medieval town of Begur and Llafranc, the latter being a white-washed seaside town that was another Dalí favourite. You also walk on the Camí on our Ruta dels Indiketes holiday, following a coastal stretch between Begur. 

Walking on the Camí de Ronda, overlooking Pedrosa Cove in Llafranc.

Ruta dels Indiketes

This is Catalonia’s newest and stunning long-distance walking trail, although it follows in the footsteps of Iberian people from ancient times who lived in this region. The 476km circular trail, starting and ending in Llançà, takes you through the two regions of Alt and Baix Empordà, exploring ancient paths and woodland, ravines, ancient villages and remote coves. It also dips in and out of many of the natural heritage highlights mentioned above. This itinerary is the complete trail walked over 24 days, but you can start and finish it anywhere you like. However, our recommended route runs north to south, in a clockwise direction, staying in a mix of mostly small, locally-owned hotels, traditional guesthouses and one camping site. If ever a trail deserved the name Catalonia dreaming, this is the one. 

Barcelona 

Last but not least, the capital of Catalonia needs little introduction, especially if you’re a foodie, football or festival fan. Considered one of the coolest contemporary cities in Europe, Barcelona is the jumping off point for many of our Catalonia holidays, meaning that you can combine a city break with a more adventurous one. Not that Barcelona is short on adventures, the main one being navigating the crowds around its most famous sights, including Gaudí’s Sagrada Família, Park Güell, Casa Batlló and Casa Milà (La Pedrera). They attract tourists in their millions for good reason, but it’s worth going out of peak season if possible. Barcelona is also a homing ground for culture vultures, with highlights including the Picasso Museum, Joan Miró Foundation and the MNAC (National Art Museum of Catalonia). 

One way to escape the crowds in Barcelona is in its iconic red cable car.

Travelling to Catalonia by train

Just like the rest of Spain, Catalonia has some superb train connections, run by its national rail operator, Renfe. For international visitors, one of the most efficient and exciting journeys is the direct train between Paris and Barcelona, which takes just under seven hours, and links up easily with Eurostar services. There are often promotional fares on this route, and the best site to keep an eye on these is SNCF- Connect. Many of our Catalan holidays have train or bus connections, such as on our Coastal trails of Catalonia holiday. It’s a one hour transfer from Figueres Vilafant train station to the starting point of Begur. This holiday ends in the elegant resort town of S’Agaró, from where you can get a direct bus back to Girona, a major train hub. Or, if you prefer to go walking in Catalonia’s mountains, this trip includes transfers from Girona at the beginning and end of your walking adventure.  

Best time to go to Catalonia

Catalonia starts to really shine from about March onwards, and the wildflowers wangle their way out of hibernation along its coastal and mountain trails too. Temperatures can get as high as 15C in March, increasing by a couple of degrees every month, with top temperatures hitting around an average of 30C in July and August, when many of our tours, such as these Coastal trails or Costa Brava walking holidays aren’t available. So you don’t sizzle while you saunter. 

For winter sun, our Walking the coast and mountains of Costa Brava tour runs as early as January and February, so you can catch some rays on the likes of Cap de Creus Natural Park or the coastal town of Cadaqués. This holiday is also gorgeous in autumn, as you can see migratory flamingos and storks in Aiguamolls Natural Park.

If your visit to Catalonia falls on 23 April, don’t be surprised if you are handed a book or a rose. This is the festival of Sant Jordi, which is not only Catalonia’s own saint’s day, but also a bit like Valentine’s Day, as he is also the patron saint of lovers. In that classy Catalan way, they combine romance with culture as this is also World Book Day, and so the tradition is that women give a book to men while men give roses to women, so the streets are full of books and flower stalls. 

A flamboyance of flamingoes in Aiguamolls Natural Park.


If you’d like to know more about walking in Catalonia, take a look at all of our tours here, or don’t hesitate to contact our adventure specialists for more details. To delve more deeply into Spain, you may also enjoy our blogs on Top national parks in Spain, Best time to go to Spain and our Six best day hikes in Spain.