Barcelona experiences all four seasons but with mild winters and hot summers. Talk about mild winter seasons, temperatures here fall as low as 14 °C (57 °F) during the day on average. That's like spring in northern Europe.
Actually, Barcelona hardly ever gets snow. Slight frost is more common in the hills around the city, mainly at night. So yes, I've never really experienced winter with all the fluffy white snow. But one of the good things about living in Barcelona is its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea and the stunning Pyrenees Mountains on the border of Spain and France — the perfect spot to indulge in my white winter fantasies. Just 120 km from Barcelona, in the province of Girona, we headed to a glacial valley with an enchanting lake and sanctuary in the Pyrenees — Vall de Nuria.
High in the Spanish Pyrenees, Vall de Nuria or Valley of Nuria is a nature and hiking haven during spring and summer months and a ski resort during the winter. Situated in Eastern Pyrenees, it is about 2-hour trip by train from Barcelona center. The regional railway system (Rodalies de Catalunya) has a direct line from Plaza Catalunya or Estacio de Sants to Ribes de Freser (R3), where the rack railway awaits for a stunning ride all the way up to the mountaintop.
One could marvel from the spectacular gorges of Ribes de Freser through the highest part of the municipal area Queralbs, up to the Shrine in Vall de Nuria. You could take a hearty hike up the steep mountain path but in the winter, the only way to reach the valley is with the good old rack railway.
Passing the treeline, we've reached the gorgeous alpine valley wrapped in a snow blanket with the Shrine at the center. Considered as the spiritual heart of this mountain valley, the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Nuria is an old but well-preserved church drawing pilgrims to the area for many centuries.
Legend has it that the wooden carving of Virgen de Nuria in the shrine known as the "Moreneta" of the Pyrenees (or little morena due to the characteristic dark color of its wood) was hidden in Switzerland during the Spanish Civil War — until it was finally found in the valley in 1941. Since then, the Virgen de Nuria became the patron saint of Catalan skiers.
Surrounding the old church is a beautiful lake so serene, somewhat frozen in time. It perfectly completes the picturesque mountain view.
But Vall de Nuria isn't just about the historical shrine and lake. It is also home to a huge alpine complex which includes the Hotel Vall de Nuria, some nice museums dedicated to skiing, artisan produce and souvenir shops, plus the fantastic mechanics of the lifts and cable cars. The ski resort itself has 5 ski lifts and 11 slopes with a total of 7 km in length.
Standing 1,960 meter (6,600 ft) above sea level, it was my first time seeing snow ever and as cheesy as it sounds, it looked quite magical seeing almost everything around me in fluffy white snow.
The valley boasts a stunning view of a rich and diverse landscape of snow-capped mountain peaks. I could still remember that feeling — anticipating snowfall in the gust of chilly winds in the valley. So peaceful. Just. Perfect.