Tuesday 31 July 2007

Vall de Núria Rack Railway, Catalonia

This leisurely train journey (15.85 Euros Return for adults) winds its way from Ribes de Freser up into the mountains, past crags and forests, providing dramatic views in all directions, only marred by the mind-numbing lift music inside the carriages. For the most enjoyable ride, grab one of the seats next to the driver. At the top, you alight next to a vast, forbidding, almost Stalinist, building that sits on the site of a medieval religious sanctuary. Today, it houses a hotel, five restaurants, including a cheap and cheerful canteen, several auditoria, a high-quality wildlife photography exhibition, a small museum and a souvenir shop. Outside are some ski lifts, a boating lake, an open expanse of grass, where school parties play games, and a small farm. For 7.50 Euros, kids can take a pony ride around the farm and a go on the tubby, which involves sitting in a large inflatable tyre and hurtling down a plastic track. Included in the price of the train ticket is a sedate cable car ride up to a youth hostel higher up the mountain. From there, footpaths lead up the surrounding summits. The adventurous should also consider walking back down to Ribes de Fraser along the enticing footpath that runs alongside the river and the railway line. 8/10