GeoCultura's all-inclusive 7-day Spanish Pyrenees vacation package explores how the presence of rock salt has influenced the character of the mountain belt and the Catalan culture, food and wine.
Reviews from a recent run of this tour:
“What a trip! It equalled my best expectations in many ways”. (R.S.)
“What a great introduction to Catalonia. This was quite a unique experience. I left with a great affection for the area and have plans now for further travels here. I’ll also be looking forward to another fascinating trip with Geocultura.” (P.H.)
Travel along backroads and through small towns to explore the amazing landscapes, unique earth history, culture, and gastronomy of the Catalan Pyrenees.
The spectacular landscapes of the area were formed by the collision of the Iberian Peninsula with Europe, a tectonic impact which is mirrored in the many cultural collisions that have occurred in the region –colonisation by Rome, the conquest by Muslims and the Frankish establishment of the Spanish Marches (Marca Hispanica) and more recent conflicts, like the Peninsular and Spanish Civil Wars.
Salt (evaporite) layers within the rocks have profoundly affected the development of the Pyrenees Mountains, clearly and beautifully displayed in stunning landforms and vistas. Salt has been a significant driver of trade and industry, and this focus on salt deposits has left its mark on the culture and food tastes. This tour will explore the influences that geology, and salt in particular, have had on history and agriculture.
Immerse yourself in the rural culture, history, and cuisine of the Pyrenees, and get closer to some of Spain’s greatest artists and the earth history that influenced their work.
Activity level: Moderate. Walks will be up to 5km, with a few short, steep gradients. (see definitions here). This tour is designed for multi-generational groups of adults of all ages, including seniors looking for a relaxed vacation with some walking.
Transport: Air-conditioned vehicle with professional driver, suitable for the size of the group with ample space for luggage.
Accommodation: First night in the 4-star central Barcelona hotel, H10 Casa Mimosa, to enjoy the exceptional views from its terrace. The group then travel into the Pyrenees for five nights, the first at the historic hilltop Parador de Cardona, then two nights at Hotel Terradets a family-run hotel, with pool located in a rural lakeside location just outside Cellers. The final two nights will be at the Can Boix Hotel in Peramola, which also has a pool.
Weather: Spring in Catalonia is typically mild to warm, and light, warm and waterproof clothing is recommended.
After arriving in Barcelona and exploring the city on your own, we’ll have a welcoming reception at the Hotel H10 Mimosa and group dinner in a neighbourhood restaurant, so that leaders and tour group can get to know each other.
After breakfast, we’ll have an introductory talk on the tour itinerary. This will briefly cover the history and culture of the area as well as the geology of salt and mountain building, with emphasis on the Pyrenees.
We’ll then hit the road, first stopping in at a little-known and unfinished church and crypt by architect Antoni Gaudí, which provides an insight into his inspiration and methods before beginning work on the extraordinary Basilica Sagrada Familia, which you may have visited in Barcelona earlier on.
There will be an opportunity to discuss Gaudi’s work, before we take lunch in Colonia Güell and move on to Montserrat. A spectacular, revered mountain rising up out of the surrounding landscape, Montserrat also houses an impressive monastery that is one of the principal sites of Catalonia. We’ll ascend the mountain by funicular railway, visit the monastery, and hear about both its origin and that of the rocks it sits on.
We’ll then be off to Cardona for the first night’s stay, in an amazing hotel, a converted castle.
After breakfast at the Cardona Castle, your expert guides will explain the fascinating link between the mountain building processes of deep-time and the exposure here of a massive natural salt body (called a diapir by geologists), which has influenced both local history and European trade. Locally known as ‘white gold’, this salt made the knights of Cardona the most powerful family in Catalonia, and financed several expansions of the 9th century Cardona Castle in the 12th to 15th centuries.
We’ll then take a journey into the 40-million-year-old salt body itself, visiting Salt Mountain Cultural Park for a private guided tour to explore the origin of the extraordinarily beautiful and delicate contortions of the salt as it once flowed like treacle.
We’ll then head west to explore the frontal structures of the Pyrenean Mountain belt near Camarasa and Gerb. We’ll walk through and learn about fundamental mountain-building structures having lunch in a local restaurant. We’ll also visit the small salt pans of Villanova de la Sal and hear about how salt was obtained here by evaporation of water.
With a day’s exploring done, it’s time to drive to your hotel for the next two nights, the Hotel Terradets on the shore of the Terradets Reservoir in Cellers. If we have time, you’ll be able to use the pool at the hotel.
Today’s journey will be focused on the geology, landscapes, and culture of the area from Cellers north to the high Pyrenees, including deep gorges, riverside trails and observing rugged mountains.
We’ll drive off to the town of Taüll, stopping along the way to take in the municipality of Sopeira and its restored Benedictine abbey, as well as limestones that have been rotated from originally horizontal beds to being vertical by mountain building. We’ll also visit several Catalan Romanesque churches in the Vall de Boi, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
After a picnic lunch including local cheeses and meats, we’ll head to our northernmost point, where we’ll walk along a relaxing trail leading up to an impressive viewpoint at the top of Cavallers Dam. From here, you have a panoramic view of the surrounding high-mountain landscape, including the large artificial lake created by the dam, and the exposed deep core of the Pyrenean mountains.
In the afternoon, we’ll head back via the town of La Pobla de Segur, and enjoy a unique wine tasting at Castell d’Encus, the highest winery in Catalonia. With plenty of modern acclaim, Castell d’Encus also comes with history, being built on the site of a ruined monastery of the Knights Hospitaller, and blends tradition and innovation to create its wines.
Today you’ll explore castles, monasteries, museums and more as the group travels from Cellers to the area of Peramola and Oliana.
We’ll start with a visit to the distinctive hilltop fortress of Castell de Mur and the associated Monastery of Santa Maria de Mur, dating as far back as the 10th and 11th centuries.
Afterwards, it’s time to investigate how rock structures can inspire architecture. Passing again through the town of La Pobla de Segur, we’ll take an easy walk along the spectacular Collegats Gorge to observe the very rock formations where Gaudí got his inspiration for the Sagrada Familia cathedral.
Tying into the ever-present importance of salt, we’ll head to the Museu de la Sal in Gerri, Catalonia’s very own salt museum. Here, we’ll hear the intriguing story of salt and its impact on the local history and culture. The museum also has excellent exhibits showing how salt has been mined, purified, and used throughout the ages, starting in the 9th century.
After lunch in a local restaurant, we’ll drive over winding mountain roads with impressive views to Peramola, where we’ll be spending the next two nights. If we have time today or tomorrow, you can use the pool or take a short walk to see a cliff that has some of the most difficult rock climbs in the world.
Mountains and dinosaurs are today’s focus – you’ll start by travelling to Abella de la Conca, a small, picturesque Pyrenean village perched at the edge of a spectacular landscape that is the result of dramatic, kilometre-scale deformation and folding of thick limestone units during the formation of the Pyrenees.
We’ll then head to a geological viewpoint to see a huge fold formed in the originally flat rock layers. This is the so called Bóixols anticline (fold), where you’ll discover about how deep sedimentary basins become uplifted into high mountains. From there, we’ll head east into
the Sallent valley and briefly discuss how active mountain building creates topography that is in turn eroded, with the resulting sediment redeposited to provide geological tape recorders of the deformation and continental collision. At an appropriate time and location, we’ll have our second picnic lunch of the tour.
We’ll proceed east to the Mirador del Cretaci paleontological site, where we’ll have a private tour through rock outcrops with dinosaur footprints and dinosaur eggs. From there you’ll have time to wander around the Dinosaur Museum in Coll de Nargó before we head back to Peramola.
Guests who prefer not to travel to these sites might choose to take a free day and relax by the hotel pool or take a hike in the hills surrounding the hotel.
We’ll be departing Can Boix today, eventually arriving in Barcelona after a number of scenic stops along the way.
First, we’ll retrace our path back through Coll de Nargó and on to Le Seu d’Urgell, the gateway to the country of Andorra, just 10 km to the north. In La Seu d’Urgell, we’ll visit the Romanesque Santa Maria d’Urgell Cathedral.
We’ll then take a scenic winding mountain road to Sant Llorenç de Morunys, where we’ll take an optional short, but steep, walk up to the Santuari de Lord, a viewpoint with stunning vistas. You’ll be able to see one of our geologic ‘time recorders’, an impressive wedge of sedimentary rocks that we use to understand how continental collision and large-scale shortening and folding of rock layers develop over time.
After lunch in a local restaurant, we’ll start our trip back to Barcelona. On our way, we’ll stop at Suria, to review the rock structure that marks the edge of the South-Pyrenean mountain building.
We will end the tour once we arrive back in Barcelona late afternoon, leaving people free for Saturday evening and whatever they plan for the following days.
Our GeoCultura office team can assist with hotel reservations on behalf of guests who want to stay a further night or two in Barcelona.
Note: If required for reasons beyond our control, GeoCultura reserves the right to substitute alternative accommodation of equal or higher quality or adapt the itinerary if required.
There is a supplement of £483 / $604 for solo travellers
The activity level is rated as MODERATE, requiring an average level of fitness (see our definitions here). The tour will involve walking on trails along with some rough terrain with loose rocks, and therefore requires good walking boots and a moderate level of fitness. Hikes are normally short with the longest walk being of 5 km along an abandoned paved road.
Transport will be by air-conditioned vehicle suitable for the size of group with ample space for luggage.
April and May in Catalonia are usually mild to warm. Rain is always possible, so you should bring warm and waterproof clothing.
If walking is an issue, alternative arrangements can be made during the scheduled longer walks, so please let GeoCultura know in advance. To enjoy the full experience, a fair level of fitness is required – please call us to discuss this if you have any concerns.
Participants are required to carry their own health and travel insurance in case of accident or unforeseen circumstances.
Our tour leaders are happy to provide suggestions for alternative activities for guests who prefer not to participate in certain parts of the tour walks or visits, or group dinners.
Night 1: H10 Casa Mimosa, Barcelona
Housed in a listed 19th century Modernist building, this exclusive four-star superior hotel combines original elements with timeless, elegant decor. With its lush garden and pool, and upper floor terrace with exceptional views of La Pedrera.
Night 2: Parador de Cardona, Cardona
This hilltop Parador, converted from an extraordinary 9th century fortification, keeps watch on both the Pyrenean countryside and the charming medieval town of Cardona. The decor has been carefully designed to maintain the charm and unique nature of the setting, and its restaurant is one of the most impressive in the Parador network.
Nights 3 and 4: Hotel Terradets, Cellers
This historic hotel is set beside a lake with its unique landscape and spectacular views. Enjoy the best views from the pool and terrace, and enjoy the cuisine based on proximity and quality products.
Nights 5 and 6: Hotel Can Boix, Peramola
The hotel offers spacious and comfortable rooms with beautiful views of pre-Pyrenean landscapes, a quiet garden, a swimming pool, and tennis courts. The restaurant emphasizes traditional dishes with a subtle modern touch and has earned the hotel a reputation as one of the best local places to eat.
Note: If required for reasons beyond our control, GeoCultura reserves the right to substitute alternate accommodations of equal or higher quality.
Homage to Catalonia (1938), George Orwell
Barcelona (2011), Robert Hughes
The Shadow of the Wind (2014), Carlos Zuin Rafon
Catalonia: A Cultural History (2008), Michael Eaude
Tectonostratigraphic Evolution of the South Central Pyrenean Foreland Basins: A Natural Laboratory for Play-Based Exploration (2019), Josep A. Muñoz, Pau Arbués, and Berend van Hoorn (online resource)
Alpine Orogeny: Deformation and Structure in the Northern Iberian Margin (Pyrenees s.l.) (2019), Josep A. Muñoz (online resource)
Salt (2002), Mark Kurlansky
Deposit: A deposit of 10% of the tour price is due upon registration for a tour.
Final payment: Full payment is due 60 days before a tour begins, or upon registration if within the 60-day window.
Cancellation by participant: A participant may cancel a registration after securing a confirmed place on a tour for any reason. The following refund terms will apply:
Cancellation by GeoCultura: GeoCultura reserves the right to cancel any tour due to low enrolment, inability to run the tour or concerns about the safety, health or welfare of participants. If a tour is cancelled before it begins, all monies paid will be refunded (including any deposit).
Please refer to our Terms and Conditions page for additional details.
Mark Rowan resides in Boulder, Colorado, where he manages his own consultancy, Rowan Consulting, Inc. Mark has been a Distinguished Lecturer and International Distinguished Instructor for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists and is most in his element when discussing technical and cultural topics with participants on tours. As he says, “I love to tell stories.”
Mark is a structural geologist with a world-wide reputation for expertise in salt tectonics, having been at the forefront of developing new ideas and revising old theories and applying them in salt basins around the world.
Mark is a recipient of the Doris M. Curtis Medal from the Gulf Coast Section of the Society for Sedimentary Geology and the Robert R. Berg Outstanding Research Award from the AAPG.
His interests include rock climbing, surfing and travel.
Josep Anton Muñoz currently resides in Barcelona, Spain, where he is a professor of structural geology at the University of Barcelona and Founder and Director of the Geomodels Research Institute.
Josep Anton is a structural geologist specializing in fold and thrust belts, fault systems and salt tectonics.
His primary research interests are kinematic and dynamic evolution of orogens, 3D reconstruction of geological bodies and structural characterization of thrust and fold systems.
Honors include recognition in 2002 as a young researcher by the Catalan Government.
View of the Castle of Cardona. A fortress has existed here since the 9th C, with major additions in the 12thC (Romanesque and Gothic styles) and the 17th C. A portion of the castle, the former Ducal Palace, is now the Parador de Cordona (Filckr/Larry Lamb).
Colorful salt layers at Cardona Salt Mountain Cultural Park
Detail of a courtyard at the Castle of Cardona
Santa Maria de Montserrat abbey, Catalonia Spain
Santa Maria de Montserrat abbey on a beautiful summer day
Interior of the Basílica de Montserrat
Belfry and walls of Gaudí's Colonia Guell chapel.
Torre del Moros (Moors Tower) (Flickr / Angela Llop).
The Vall de Lord (Lord Valley) near Sant Llorenç de Morunys (Source: Simon Baker).
The Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres - the world's largest surrealist object! Everything in it was conceived and designed by the artist so as to draw visitors into his unique and captivating world.
Panorama of the Collegats (Source: Josep Anton Muñoz).
Hotel Can Boix de Peramola