Vall de Nuria – A Playground for Families
In the heart of the Spanish Pyrenees, tucked into a valley inaccessible by car, is a year round mountain playground. You’ll know you are close to Vall de Nuria when you hear the squeals of laughter. And the toot toot of the colourful little train, the only way to reach the resort if you’re not prepared for a very long walk…
Vall de Nuria for families
Welcome to Toytown, where no one ever grows up. At roughly 2000 metres above sea level, Vall de Nuria has all the ingredients of the perfect family resort. No traffic. No sharp edges. The sun. A giant playground. In short, Vall de Nuria is the kind of environment we would create for our kids if we were building the world from scratch.
Stress busting in the mountains
The further you get towards this mountain valley, the more the outside world seems to shrink away. Once here stresses are quickly shed and squashed as you fling yourself around the hillside on a sledge, a tyre, or skis, as you prefer.
Let the train take the strain
But then you’ve already locked many of your worries in your car back at the station, as you can’t get to Vall de Nuria that way. Only on foot or by train. By foot can take a while so we opt to take the train and arrive at the station quite stressed after spending a morning stuck in a lift before dodging traffic heading to La Molina as we try to forge a trail the other way on a single track road. Still, once the train turns up and starts climbing up the rack into the mountains we soon start to calm down.
The wow moment
No matter how relaxed you become as you steeply ascend, your heart quickens when the train arrives at the station and you are drawn straight into a picturesque valley surrounded by high mountains, snow and ice. Passengers around us gasp as they set eyes on this huge white bouncy castle, completely covered in kids. Teenagers are soaring around on snowboards, with pre-teens perching on careering fat tyres. Mums pull children just old enough to walk on sledges, and siblings give each other that extra push. Everywhere you look someone is flying into the horizon, slamming into the snow or crawling into this children’s paradise.
The silent centre
At the eye of the snow flurry and toddler scurry is silence. The centre and spiritual heart of this mountain valley is the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Nuria. This little church’s historical significance and beauty are known throughout the region and beyond. And perhaps unsurprising for a resort that’s all about families, the church is associated with fertility. Couples have historically come to this shrine to pray to the Virgin Mary (its history goes back to a statue believed to be carved by Saint Giles) and perform a ritual involving a cross, a bell and a pot. It is believed the ritual helps people to conceive; and when they do they allegedly return to say thanks.
But it isn’t just the church that offers peace and tranquility; in summer you can escape the crowds on the picturesque man made lake. Today we watch people diving beneath the ice. As if there isn’t enough chilling going on around here!
But Vall de Nuria isn’t just a church and a lake. Around 2000 people can come in on the train in a day, and the resort caters for them with a huge alpine complex, filled with upmarket shops and cafes and a single 75 bedroom hotel. It’s so popular that we can’t get a room when we visit. Another skier who booked ahead fills us in on its charm; “It is most beautiful at night when the sun is setting and you get the mountain to yourself. Its like there is no one else in the world.”
Views worth walking for
Further up the mountain, accessible via tiny gondola carriages, the Pic de l’Aliga youth hostel has extraordinary views from the terrace. If you are lucky enough to get a room in either hotel or hostel you can play in toytown until late, especially in the long daylight hours of summer when the sledges are put away and little boats appear on the lake. In summertime the train is supplemented by people walking up from Queralbs. This steep and rocky walk takes about four hours.
The last train home
Today we have to catch the last train back; it’s too cold for hiking and darkness will soon be with us. We reluctantly hand in our skis tyres and sledges and head for the station. We have packed every last moment of winter fun into this mountain base and I vow to come back some time to see what it’s like in the summer. I wonder how cold that lake is in August for a spot of family wild swimming, snorkelling or even scuba diving?
Disclosure Note: Our thanks to Costa Brava Girona Patronat de Turisme and the resort and team at Vall de Nuria whose support enabled us to bring you this story. The views and experience are, as ever, entirely our own.