Barcelona’s strategic location is huge part of her attraction. There aren’t many cities in Europe that bow on one side to serious beaches and the other to white mountain crests.
In winter months, tackling the Pyrenees needn’t always be an expedition and many easily accessible locations can be enjoyed within a day. My recommended trio are all in the Cerdanya region and cater for the skier, the hiker and the cheese-lover.
Puigcerdà serves as an easy introduction to the Catalan Pyrenees, particularly if you’re not too bothered about skiing itself (the closest slopes lie thirty minutes by car outside of the city centre). If you like the vibe of cosy little mountain towns you can soak it all up here, after a direct three-hour train ride from Plaça de Cataluña.
Formatgeria di Llivia
The high-point of your day should be a fondue-based lunch at the Formatgeria de Llívia. This converted cheese factory with its chalet-style wooden decor and superb meat and cheese dishes is a favourite in the region. You’ll even be enchanted by the twenty-minute taxi ride to get there as it entails leaving the Spanish border behind, and crossing into France only to enter back into Spanish territory when you reach the little-known Spanish island adrift in France – Lllívia.
If you opt for the car over the train from Barcelona, Malniu is a remote and picture-perfect option that you can drive to for a hike. Beware the rather exposed roads upon mountain edges to get you there though and reconsider if snow-fall is very heavy. You can park at the Malniu Refuge mountain refuge, where marked routes start from. www.refugimalniu.com
Vall de Nuria
Vall de Nuria railway
The Vall de Nuria, a gorge-swept glacial valley, is an area of extreme natural beauty. On arrival, your senses will be struck in equal measure by the silence on the one hand and the variety of flora and fauna, such as birches, oaks and ash, on the other. If you're lucky you may even catch sight of Chamois deer wandering in the surrounding mountains.
Skiing is a very real possibility here, with five ski lifts, eleven pistes and seven kilometres of mountain. Alternatively, go and have a forage among the black pine (we are slightly outside of wild mushroom season now, alas) or embrace the organised activities on offer: archery, horse riding, cable car rides for the intrepid, and mini golf for those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground.
Added charm comes from the fact that you can only really (sensibly) access the valley by taking the cremallera rack railway from Ribes de Freser station, which is in turn reached by Renfe Rodalies train from central Barcelona’s Plaça de Cataluña. www.valldenuria.cat
This one is actually quite a serious ski spot and as such is busy with tourists and Catalan skiers so long as the soft stuff falls. There are some fifty ski pistes to La Molina which neighbors Masella, and the two ski areas go by the umbrella name of "Alp2500" (for the ski geeks). To fully appreciate this ski area buy a pass that gives access to both areas. This area has hosted the World Cup alpine races, the Snowboarding World Champs and in February 2015 the Para-Snowboard World Championships.
Both La Molina and Masella have such a thing as a snow cannon system, so don’t be duped by those wonderfully frequent warm winter days in Barcelona; there will likely be a good blanket of natural or artificial snow, or a mixture of the two, up at La Molina. You can reach the area by car in two hours from Barcelona. It is also easy by train; take the Renfe Tren Blanc from Renfe Rodalies station at Plaça de Cataluña around 6.13 in the morning and you can be at La Molina railway station at 8.43am. The return train journey from La Molina to Barcelona could see you leaving at 5.58pm, and deposited safely back in Barcelona at 8.29pm for a well-earned tapa. www.lamolina.cat