Horse riding, boat trips, Romanesque hermitages, archery, mountain hiking routes, traverses and ascents... it is hard to know where to start. The first stop has to be the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Núria, the destination for many of the cultural and spiritual pilgrims who are drawn here by the deep-rooted traditions of this Marian sanctuary. Visit the interior of the church to see the 12th-century polychrome Romanesque statue of the Virgin carved in walnut wood, and then take part in the curious custom of placing your head in a pot while ringing a bell. This somewhat surrealist practice is variously supposed to achieve fertility, appease storms, and cure headaches.
After imbibing a dose of culture and tradition indoors, it is time to go outside and enjoy the sports and nature attractions of the valley, which include easy excursions, ascents, high mountain routes, and other open-air activities such as horse riding, archery, boat trips and canoeing on Núria Lake. While you are there, put on your mountain boots and do the classic ascent to Noucreus (2,796 metres), taking a cable car from the sanctuary up to Pic de l’Àliga mountain refuge to save yourself climbing up the first 172 metres. This medium-difficulty route runs through high mountain landscapes of streams, meadows, and mountain pine forests. Marmots, vultures, and Pyrenean chamois will reward patient photographers who take care not to startle them. Nine iron crosses standing on the rock mark the summit of Noucreus, from where the breathtaking views of the valley more than compensate the effort of the three-hour walk up. On another occasion, you might decide to attempt Puigmal, the second highest mountain (after Carlit) in the Eastern Pyrenees.
To say goodbye to this natural paradise, let yourself be carried away by the beauty of these Pyrenean landscapes by hiking down past Núria Canyon along the old path leading to the rack railway station in Queralbs. Follow the trails used by shepherds hundreds of years ago and, more recently, by refugees fleeing the Spanish Civil War. Stroll around the narrow streets of the typical Pyrenean town of Queralbs, with its stone houses and Romanesque hermitages. The 10th-century hermitage of Sant Jaume is particularly impressive, with its porticoed gallery of six arches resting on marble columns and capitals decorated with human figures, animals, and fantasy creatures. Take the rack railway train back down to Ribes de Freser, knowing that you will return to the valley someday.
The rack railway line connecting Ribes de Freser and Núria started to operate in 1831, making the valley less remote and more accessible for tourists and mountaineers. This type of train is fitted with cogwheels that mesh with a toothed rack running between the rails. Núria and Montserrat rack railways are the only ones of their kind in the Iberian Peninsula.