Most Barcelona side-trips focus on the coast and beachy paradises like Sitges and Figueres. But a few hours further inland, there’s an equally dramatic (and much more budget-friendly) landscape to explore — the Spanish Pyrenees.
Popular come winter and summer with Catalans and folks from around Spain, this striking mountain playground offers many of the thrills (striking scenery, hiking, biking, snow sports, and charming villages) to be found in the Swiss and Italian Alps at a fraction of the cost. And food and drink, while heavier than Barcelona’s more Mediterranean fare, is equally tasty, not to mention easy on the wallet.
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A Spanish Pyrenees Travel Guide for Budget Travelers
How to get there and getting around
Unfortunately for Cheapos who don’t like to drive, this is a part of Spain that has very limited public transportation. While you can reach the area via bus or train or a combination of both, getting around can be tricky, as bus service between villages is infrequent at best.
Explore with a rental car
Hands down, the best way to get around this part of Spain is in a rental car. It will shave hours (literally, hours) off the time it takes to arrive in the region and offers flexibility when it comes to getting around and where you stay. Fortunately, car rentals are reasonable (think €100 or less for three days) for a small economy rental.
Related: 10 Tips for renting a car in Spain
When you book your rental car, keep in mind that you want something small enough to get around narrow village streets and park in tight spots but also with some power to get up the mountain roads. To get the best price, do a search on EuroCheapo and compare rates between agencies carefully.
Book as far in advance as possible, select a manual transmission (automatic will be pricier), and pick up your vehicle at the Barcelona airport — in-city pick-up is usually an added fee and means driving in traffic.
To save on getting to and from the Barcelona airport, take the train. It’ll get you to the T2 terminal and from there you can grab a shuttle to your rental company’s offices. If you’ve got a TMB 10-pass, the ride only costs you about €1, or even if you have to spring for a single ticket, at €2,15, it’s still cheaper than the Aerobus. Another cheap way to get to the rental office? Book a Bla Bla Car.
Taking the bus
Even though it won’t make for the easiest trip, it is possible to explore this part of Spain without a car. From about €25, you can hop an Alsa bus and six hours and one transfer (in Llavorsi) later, you’ll arrive in Espot, an ideal jumping off point from which to explore.
However, bus service between the area villages is infrequent, so be sure to pack walking shoes, or consider renting or borrowing a bike from your accommodations where available.
When to go
Whatever you do, don’t go in November, it’s the one month of the year when pretty much everything is closed. It’s too chilly for hiking and rafting, and there’s not enough snow for winter sports yet. Business owners make the most of it and take some well-deserved time off.
That said, when to go depends on your priorities. If you prefer your mountains with snow but want to keep your expenses down, think late January through the week before Holy Week (Easter). Try to go Tuesday through Thursday, as opposed to Friday through Sunday when rooms and slopes are in higher demand. If you prefer hiking, biking and rafting to cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing, you should consider the shoulder seasons — late spring and early fall, when locals aren’t willing to risk getting caught out in the rain or wind.
Free and cheap things to do in the Spanish Pyrenees
This part of Catalonia is well known for its high concentration of well-preserved Romanesque churches, gorgeous medieval mountain villages and beautiful scenery. The Pyrenees are a perfect place for long walks or bike rides with a friend. Just be sure to always have a charged phone, a flashlight, a map, and provisions in case you get lost or stuck.
Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park
Get some fresh air in Catalonia’s only national park. Striking mountain peaks and the massive Sant Maurici Lake make for gorgeous summer and winter hikes. Come winter, err on the side of caution and either make every effort to stay on marked trails or book your expedition with a park ranger. Winter walks with snowshoes start at €16 and guided hikes in the summer start at €12.
Explore Gerri de la Sal
A historic salt-mining town, Gerri de la Sal, has a beautiful medieval monastery on the river and a city museum dedicated in large part to the town’s historic salt industry. Tragically, the industry that supported the town was also its downfall as the salt produced here was deficient in iodine and caused serious thyroid problems in residents.
Get on the water in Sort
Sort is a great place to get on the water in the Pyrenees with multiple companies offering rafting, canoeing and kayaking from about €45. For the best deal possible, get together a group and request a discount or book through a third-party deal site like atrapalo.com or groupalia.com — savings are usually 20% or more of the list price, but be advised that just like with Groupon, these deals sometimes result in overbooking (which means if you have a limited availability, you may not be able to use your voucher).
Ski on the cheap
Generally speaking, snow sports are an expensive pastime. Fortunately, there are budget-friendly deals aplenty to be had in the Spanish Pyrenees. If you can book ahead with a voucher site like groupon.com, groupalia.com and atrapalo.com, you may be able to get a day pass for area slopes for as little as €14.
Visit a Medieval walled city
In Escaló, visit a villa closa, a medieval village where the houses are built together to form an exterior wall around the inside streets.
How to Save on Food
As elsewhere in Spain and Southern Europe, eating and drinking is inexpensive. For the best possible value for your money, eat out weekdays at lunch when there are fixed price menus available.
Note: In this part of Spain, young horse meat is considered a delicacy. If you’re not into it, avoid anything marked “potre”. You’ll also find plenty of wild game (deer, boar, etc.) on the menu.
Sleeping cheap in the Pyrenees
In rural parts of Spain, “casas rurales” are often the most inexpensive choice, especially for folks traveling in a group. Pensiones are another good budget-friendly option for comfortable but basic accommodations. Hostels aren’t as widely available as in bigger cities, but there are a few worth checking out, especially if you just want to be as close to the slopes as possible. Private rooms start at around €50 a night.
We particularly like the chalets and bungalows at Aigüestortes Camping Resort — fully outfitted with kitchenettes and private toilets for €65 a night (low season). These rustic accommodations can sleep up to six people. The grounds feature an outdoor pool and terrace with free Wi-Fi. Note that there are surcharges for bedding and heat.
Search for hotels in the Pyrenees and across Europe with EuroCheapo.
The post A budget travel guide to the Spanish Pyrenees appeared first on EuroCheapo's Budget Travel Blog.