Just 50 km from Barcelona you will find natural reserve that will take your breath away. Park Montseny provides magnificent scenery and natural beauty beyond imagination.
Think I’m exaggerating? Just look at this photo above. And read on.
Park Montseny: a true natural gem
The Montseny Natural Park was designated in 1977 by UNESCO as a protected biosphere reserve and is the only such place in Catalonia. As of 2006, by the decision of the European Commission, it was declared a site of Community importance for the Mediterranean bio – geographical region, thus becoming part of Natura 2000.
Everyone will find something of interest in Park Montseny: for starters, there are multiple hiking and cycling trails, historical sites, and adorable villages, but also organized tours, a variety of accommodation, restaurants, and bars, adventure tourism and much more to entertain you. No matter the style of your travel – you will fall in love with this place.
Hotel Suis in Sant Celoni – a great start to hiking in Park Montseny.
El Montseny Natural Park covers the area of 31,064 ha and was established in 1977. Thanks to the high climatic variability, the Park’s fauna presents a mixture of Mediterranean, Central-European and even sub-alpine landscapes.
A board with GR5 trail map, with the village of Montseny, marked. This trail is, in my opinion, the best way to see the beauty of Park Montseny.
Hiking (solo) in Park Montseny: best way to experience the beauty (and fall in love)
I came here afoot, as part of my solo hiking the GR-5 trail and I think it’s the best way to enjoy Park Montseny‘s natural beauty.
Just FYI: there are three systems of trail markings in Spain: GR (Sendero de Gran Recorrido) for the long distance trails, spanning often hundreds of kilometers and marked with white and red markers, PR (Sendero de Pequeno Recorrido) – shorter trails, marked with white and yellow markers and finally SL (Sendero Local) – short, local paths, often linking together the longer ones, markers in white and green.
Hiking solo the GR 5 trail in Catalonia, Spain
The GR 5 trail is over 200 km and spans coast-to-coast in a huge arch around Barcelona. Read more about the variety of hiking trails near Barcelona to choose one that fits you best.
Hiking in Park Montseny provides the best opportunities to experience this place. The nature is astonishingly beautiful, and I was really blown away. The walking can be difficult – which is not a surprise considering the elevation differences and steepness of slopes. But when you finally reach higher points… the views are rewards beyond imagination. I am at loss for words to describe!
Hiking solo in Park Montseny from Sant Celoni to Can Riera de Ciuret
I came into the Park from Sant Celoni, where I stayed for the night (the only place to stay is Hotel Suis). The previous two days of hiking were mostly in rain so it was a relief to finally have a rain-free day. The first day of trekking took me to the campsite at Can Riera de Ciuret. It was still early in the season (well, before the season actually), but I was lucky to bump into the owner (manager?) of the place who took me to the campsite. I was the only person there, but all the facilities were working fine.
Can you see why I got confused? I bumped into the GR 97 some 100 m to the left from this really obvious marker.
If you are hiking from San Celoni a word of caution: the GR-5 trail goes through the big bridge north. At the same bridge starts another GR trail -97 and I was unlucky to bump into it some 100m or so to the left of the bridge and assumed it was my trail! I had no idea there was another white & red marked trail in the area… it took me a long while (3,5km) before I reached a clear marker with the trail’s number on it.
It was such a lovely walking it didn’t even occur to me to check with my ViewRanger (I bought the local map for the app – highly recommend it!) if I was going in the right direction. Which means that I started this day hiking 7km and 2h late :-/
Anyway, back to the correct trail 🙂 The walking was wonderful – not too steep (yet), lovely paths through villages and some woods. There is one tricky moment when crossing a bigger road. The markers are really off. You need to cross the road and turn right and walk along the road for a short while and then there is a hidden (seriously, I walked twice past it and started to think you had to say “friend” in Catalan to enter) path going off to the woods. It’s overgrown and has no marker on it for some time.
Before reaching the campsite at Can Riera de Ciuret there is a long road walk, some of it uphill – nothing pleasant, but doable. The campsite was €7 providing great views to the valley.
Hiking solo in Park Montseny: Can Riera de Ciuret to Montseny
The next day I could not go right away, as thanks to condensation and drastic differences in temperature between night and day, both my tent and my sleeping bag were damp. I waited for the sun to rise to dry them at least to some degree.
This day was a walk to the lovely village of Montseny. I had a superb weather and the trek was really great. Typical mountainous walking: a lot of forest paths opening to some spectacular views.
Most of the path leads you uphill, getting closer to the highest peaks in this range. At one point you reach a picnic area called Plana del Coll where you need to make a decision if you continue on the regular GR-5 or choose the alternative GR-5.2 path.
The latter one takes you on a mountaineering trek through the highest peaks of Montseny Massif: Turó d’el Home (1706m), Les Agudes (1706m) and Matagalls (1697m). This section is 23km long and really challenging. I chose not to do it. Why? Well, first of all, there was no campsite or other accommodation on the way of any kind. I was worried about the wild camping options as I could see snow on the peaks. The trail promised some hard uphill climbing and I was already pretty tired. And finally, I was supposed to take it easy on this trip! Another time 🙂
I moved on and reached Montseny which is just this picturesque little village, with some restaurants and even a hostal. You can reach it easily by car or a bus and enjoy spectacular views without the heavy trekking. I think this place could be just the perfect weekend getaway from Barcelona.
I wanted to go to the les Piscines campsite which was marked as close by. After inquiring in the local restaurant, I was told to go down the road “for about 2 km”. After walking 3 km off the main trail I finally found it… and it was basically empty. No one was there!
The thought of going back up to the hostal (which might or might not have beds for me) was almost scary. I was walking around for a while and I finally met an older gentleman who called someone else. So I stayed there, all alone in a ghost-campsite. But the facilities were clean and I could rest. I paid €13.
The whole thing was a ghost campsite. Weird.
Hiking solo in Park Montseny: the long trek from Montseny to Aiguafreda
The first downside of this place was of course the distance from the trail – now I had to hike back to Montseny uphill. The other – it was down in a valley, surrounded by steep and tall mountains. Which meant there was heavy mist in the evening and the sunshine came in there pretty late… so my tent was all damp again. Because of all of it my start was late.
I went up to Montseny and directed my feet to the Tourist Information. I have found them to be extremely helpful and the folks working there would call hostels or campsites for me and inquire about or reserve place to stay. The people generally speak some English, but sometimes far from perfect. I went there to ask about accommodation.
I didn’t feel like hiking to Aiguafreda, which was about 26km or so away. And I was told there was none. Nothing. The lady called a few places, but they were closed or no one was picking up. I couldn’t believe it! My only option was to hike all the way to Aiguafreda! And I already had a late start b/c of the stupid wet tent and long uphill detour!
Back then I still thought I was absolutely forbidden to wild camp anywhere, as that’s what I was told. I was worried about being caught and forced to pay a penalty. Later on I met two different park rangers who told me that hikers going through can stop and wild camp if they don’t make it to another shelter before the night fall, as long as they get their stuff in the morning and move on. But the people at tourist information didn’t know it! I wish I’d stopped somewhere on the way, as this day’s hiking proved as tough as it was stunningly beautiful.
The lady at the TI told me I should reach Aiguafreda in about 5h. Well, make it 8,5h of brisk hiking (I mean, brisk whenever it was possible. I can’t run up steep mountains with the 17kg backpack…). A long section of the path is very challenging, steep, some of it basically climbing. If I had no trekking poles, I would be using my hands.
Forced smile for the photo pretending all is fine after a really steep and challenging hike. But look at the veins on my forehead! 🙂
With the heavy backpack I was dead tired when I reached the plateau el Café at 1200m – and it was not even half the way! Additional challenge was to stay on trail – it was very easy to lose it in the woods, with no clear path, rocks, trees and multiple ways that could look like alternative paths.
But the views… my goodness, the views! There were so many moments, when breathing hard and sweating I looked at the landscape in front of me and thought “this is unreal, this is so beautiful… I can’t believe it’s real”. I am so annoyed I was pushing so hard to go faster, instead of assuming I would stop at the plateau and walk slower to enjoy the surrounding nature more.
View from the plateau. That’s why I do it.
When you reach the plateau you sense right away that you are at a much higher elevation. It was cold and the flora changed as well. This is also the spot where the alternative route – GR-5.2 reunites with the main one.
The area is beautiful, with its rich red soil, grasses and a few trees here and there. I was almost running through it trying to reach Aiguafreda before the night fall (didn’t make it anyway) but was stunned with the other-worldly beauty of this place. As the sun was setting and the temperature was dropping fast, the mist started to fill in space around me. Words can’t express the majesty of that place.
My way down to Aiguafreda was done by twilight and then by the light of my headlamp. By the way – always carry a spare set of batteries – I had to change mine on the way. Second by the way – have the spare batteries somewhere close by, not in an “all weird crap and stuff” sack stuffed half way down the backpack… I finished in a complete darkness.
When I reached the only hostal in town it was… closed. There was a restaurant at the ground level and there was still light in it, but all was shut and the metal grate was already pushed close. I knocked on the windows and doors but no one could hear me. I was close to panic – what would I do at 8.30 pm in a town with no other sleeping options? Walk out of town to pitch my tent by a road in total darkness?
My luck was that a girl (the owners’ daughter I’m guessing) was letting her cat out. I knocked again and made weird hand gestures – good thing I didn’t scare her off completely, she went for her father. He asked me if I had a reservation. Obviously I didn’t. (Make reservations! It was not the first time they asked me about it!) But he showed mercy to me and my huge backpack and let me in. I was so sore and tired… that day was just too much. Unnecessarily long and brutal on the legs.
All together I did 27,3 km, which is the longest backpack walking I’ve done in a day ever. EVER. And it was also one of the most challenging in terms of steepness and elevation. If you are doing this trail: divide this day in two or even three – if choosing the alternative route, to fully enjoy the stunning surrounding.
Hiking solo in Park Montseny: 76,5 km and 3294 m combined climb later: fully in love
By reaching Aiguafreda I left Park Montseny behind me, fully in love, promising myself to come back and do it all again – this time though, slower.
Did you like reading on hiking in Catalonia? Then make sure you jump over to read on – this time about my solo hiking in Parc Natural de Sant Llorenç del Munt i l’Obac!
Can you blame me for falling in love with this magnificent place?
A few tips:
- Get a google translate on your phone if you don’t speak Spanish. English is not well known around Catalonia even among the people who work in the travel industry. Even better – try and learn some basic phrases in Catalan or Spanish.
- Dress appropriately. I was hiking in February and most of the day I wore only long-sleeve merino base shirt, but the moment I stopped I had to put something warmer right away. After sunset the temperature seemed to drop at least 10°C if not more – I was putting on all I had to stay warm! One night I even had frost on my tent. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to walk here in July, it must be horribly hot! Spring and fall are probably your best bet for pleasant hike conditions. Check out my packing list for women hiking in cool temperatures.
- Reserve accommodation in advance. There aren’t all that many hostals or campsites on the way and better be prepared. Most of the owners seem to use Booking.com for that and I twice used it to book something at the spot already when the place was shut down! I’m guessing in high season the problem could be the other way around – there could be no beds left and all booked.
- Tourist Information is your friend. The people working there are friendly and really helpful. They will help with accommodation, call people to check and/or reserve a room for you. There are free maps sometimes or other useful leaflets there as well.
- Buy your maps ahead of time – online or in some other way. I left this task for the one day I was in Barcelona and was unable to buy a decent map. I was using my ViewRanger (get this app, too! It saved me more than a few times!) with some flimsy free maps I got in TI or a pdf file of a simplified map I downloaded (get it here, it’s really useful although has not enough detail).
- On Sundays, generally everything is closed but restaurant – do your grocery shopping ahead of time.
- The cost of accommodation in Catalonia was higher than I thought. Campsites run around €7 – 13, while the cheapest hostal I was able to get was €30, but generally around €35-50, with some boutique B&B close to €100… Check in advance what is available around those parts so you are not left with no choice but taking a place beyond your budget.
- Make sure you wear good hiking boots. Some parts of the trail are on easy dirt roads, but there are also some really difficult, rugged paths, climbing over roots, rocks and slippery old leaves. On the same note: take a pair of trekking poles, they are just amazing. (For more useful tips and gear/clothing advice check my resources page).
- You can easily get to Sant Celoni from Barcelona by train or bus. The ride should take less than an hour. The return ride from Aiguafreda takes the same time.
Are you ready to fall in love with Catalonia?
Let me know below!