Choosing where you are going for your vacations is one of the most complicated decisions of the year. Normally we opt for one of those places where the children can have fun, let off their energy so the adults’ interests get pushed into second place. So where could we find a destination that has everything, and for everyone: beautiful nature, adventure, history, great cuisine and where all the family members can really get the most out of it? I believe I can give you an answer: la Cerdanya.
La Cerdanya, in Catalan, or Cerdagne, in French is a zone divided in two and which has been shared between the two countries since 1659; la Alta Cerdanya – the High Cerdanya, in France, and the low Cerdanya, in the Pyrenees of Catalonia, Spain. Historical reasons, and here we don’t need to go into them, explain that your journey to just one place could be catalogued as a multi-destination. And if you take into account how close it is to the Principality of Andorra, what is practically impossible in other parts of the world, becomes possible here: visit three countries in one day, and just about doing it walking.
In the light of all this, and after spending a few days visiting the area, I have come to think like David, our guide, la Cerdanya is beyond doubt an excellent destination for family tourism. It is in the greatest and sunniest valley of all Europe; a great plane 1, 000 to 1,200 metres above sea level and crowned by about 3, 000 metres high peaks.
Its principal attraction lies in its being well-communicated (just 150 km from Barcelona), the awesomeness of its landscapes due to the vastness of the valley and mountains like the Sierra del Cadí, perfect for going on treks.
La Cerdanya also counts on natural spaces hardly known to foreign tourists; examples like Parque Natural Cadí-Moixeró or the valleys and lakes of glacier origin, which have become a little forgotten blessing due to the fame of Parque Nacional of Aigüestortes and Lake San Mauricio, which have caught the tourist guides attention, just one and a half hours drive away.
If you ask me what most caught my attention, it was beyond doubt the geographic and cultural unity, which despite the land being divided into two countries, France and Spain, and touching Andorra to the north, and that in a few kilometres it is possible to be in three states and yet all the time you hear the inhabitants speaking the same language, Catalan, and they share the same culture. David stated his case that the best way to understand why and how these artificial frontiers came about was to kick off with a visit to the Centre CAT in Puigcerdà and the “Centro de Interpretation” on the Pyrenees Treaty, all in the same place, a recommendation which I wisely followed: it was well worth it!
There I found out that tourism in La Cerdanya took off at the end of the nineteenth century, and the region was fundamentally frequented by the Catalan bourgeois who installed themselves in grand villas around Puigcerdà lake, as it offered them huge possibilities for activities for all the family, added to the excellent climate, which many endorsed as miraculous for certain types of illnesses. It seems many still think the same as when I was there I saw so many French and Spanish families who spend long periods all around the zone.
After visiting the Centre CAT, in Puigcerdà, the capital of la Cerdanya, we were keyed up to taking a trip round the town’s lake in little boats that were very good fun for the children. We finished off the morning by going up the bell tower in the centre and marvelling at one of the best views of all the Pyrenees.
As it was the first day of our visit, we decided to do a little tourism around nearby villages and enjoy some of their culture. The village we chose was Llívia, a little island of Spain but surrounded by French territory. One more historical rarity of the zone and no less interesting for visitors because of it. I visited the Museo de la Farmacia de Llívia, the oldest in Europe, and then took an excursion to the old castle, which has the peculiarity that from its highest point you can wonder at a 360º view of the Valley of la Cerdanya.
We spent the second day going on some excursions which were very popular with the children; the Malniu lakes in Meranges and the Pera lakes in Lles, plus some short treks around the falls of the valley of la Llosa starting out from the village of Prullans, and the excursion up to the look-out points of the Pla de l’Àliga in Estana. Really, it was a discovery for all the family, and as David said: “an opportunity to experience nature first hand with all its vividness”.
Locals and the guide told me that in winter you can practice a great deal of snow sports in the places around Lles, Aransa and Guils, with snow rackets, mushing and practicing the most popular sport in the zone: Nordic skiing. As la Cerdanya is very much in the centre it offers easy access to many of the ski stations of the Pyrenees, both in France and in Spain, two of the nearest resorts being Masella and Molina. the latter, moreover, is true centre for all types of mountain sports all year round as in summer the cable car is also open and it offers many adventure sports such as the park, bowling, tubbing, etc. a whole range of activities in the heart of nature and easily accessed by car.
The farming and livestock activity is still very important in la Cerdanya, and so grazing and meadows are frequent delights as you can see cows, horses and sheep. Therefore one of the most popular trips with the children is to visit the farms and simple the natural products, really typical of the zone. As it was near I visited a sheep farm in Meranges and the shepherd’s traditional cheese factory. While in Montellá I followed the recommendation of Marc and Lidia, owners of a rural house for tourists in the village, spent the night there and visited an ecological cow farm.
I began my third day visiting Prullans, specifically in the activity park and educational farm with over 15 games to choose from including archery, the skills circuit, trampolines, etc, which is in the adventure sports complex. There I made an electric bike tour (ebike) as a start and then ended up doing a route horse-riding all over the valley.
In terms of its cuisine la Cerdanya is one of the most recognised areas of the Pyrenees because of the qualities of the local ingredients and the modernism of its cooking. The many restaurants that are the base and outlet for its cuisine are the natural product for it being so close such attractive ingredients. however, I was recommended to make a picnic in the country in any of the natural parks dotted around in the a mountains (around Guils-Fontanera or Gallissà) or village parks around the lake of Puigcerà, or Sant Guillem park in Llívia, and to savour some of the products that I was able to pick up on my visits. The place I chose was near to Prullans. It was a really indescribable experience and highly recommendable. In the afternoon it seems time stops and tranquillity descends on everyone and everywhere. by then the day was out of time, my body and my family were asking to take a refreshing bath and the most relaxing had to be one in one of the biggest spas in the zone, at the Cerdanya Resort & Wellness.
They say that la Cerdanya is the valley with the highest number of sunlight hours of all of Europe. However, even if you find yourself there on a rainy day there are still a wide variety of activities to take advantage of, such as going on a potholing or cave exploring expedition in the Caves of Anas de Prullans, go skating in the sports centre in Puigcerdà, or play at the Miniclub in Prullans while the parents relax at the Wellness Centre.
I finished my visit with one of the best attractions: the so called Yellow Train which begins its mountain crossing in the French part of the Valley. Its route has the highest change of level in all France and unites two villages with walls named by the UNESCO as World Heritage: Mont-Louis and Villefrance de Conflent.
Evening came and it was time to come back to Barcelona. The sensation that comes over all of us is strange: we have been through three countries but we have not left the same environment, but we have also had great experiences with the family, and as my daughter, Rivka, said as she packed her suitcase, experiences that can only be had together and in la Cerdanya.
La Cerdanya offers numerous opportunities for the family to partake in activities together. As it is near to France and Andorra, in the Pyrenees and can easily be reached from Barcelona and Girona, all adds up to make this beautiful landscape one of the most complete and welcoming place for all ages.
How to get there
Bus: Daily buses leave from the Estació del Nord station Barcelona to the town of Puigcerdà. The bus company is Alsa. The fare is € 20.40 and the journey takes 3 hours. However, once in Puigcerdà, to go on the route one will need to travel by car, as there is no frequent public transport.
Train: There is a regular service between Barcelona and Puigcerdà. It is a 3 hour journey and the fare is €12. Check the timetable at Renfe.
Car: Leave Barcelona via the E-9 highway to Puigcerdá. It is a two and a half hour drive and the toll is €15.90.
- Hiking and cycling routes in the Pyrenees.
- Information about the National Park of Aigüestortes
- Information about the yellow train
- Historical Sites in the Pyrenees
- Tourist information points
- Distance calculator and driving directions
Where to sleep
- Masella Ski resort
- Molina Ski Resort
- Cal Calsot for a quiet, rural experience.
- Cerdanya Resort & Wellness Spa for a relaxing spa experience.
Where to eat
- Cal Cofa Restaurant
- Fabian Pizzeria – Fabian Martin won the World Championship for Pizzas held in Naples in 2009! Address: Rambla Josep Maria Marti, 6, 17520 Puigcerda