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Puigcerda and Bourg-Madame

Puigcerda view to mountains Puigcerda is the main Catalan town in the Pyrenees, on the border with France practically joined to Bourg Madame on the French side of the border. Being February, the Pyrenees are covered with snow with conditions perfect for skiing, so we caught the train to Puigcerda from Vic, and while the children got off for the slopes of La Molina and Masella, we stayed on the train for an explore of the snowy Puigcerda.

in fact, one of the joys of the Costa Brava is the variety of landscapes and locations in such a small area and the ease of making connections. Seven days ago we were exploring a new bay at the coast in Blanes, then we went cross-country for a volcano near Girona, and then the day after we're in the snow and mountains mixing with skiers  and snowboarders.

Our journey did start early however, as we wanted to connect to the Barcelona train at Vic and to give the children a full day, so we left at 6.15 and headed past Montseny on the C21 for the train at Vic at 08.16. We took the train because our car isn't really set up for winter driving, so we didn't want to drive up into the mountains themselves for the risk of getting caught in the snow. And secondly, because there are combination train and ski tickets that include a ski-pass with the rail-ticket. And thirdly, just for the train ride into the snowy mountains.

Puigcerda centre In fact, this combination ticket (Ski-Tren) is available from all stations out of Barcelona, as the train we were catching comes from BCN Sants, through Granollers, then up to Vic, to Ribes de Freser where is connects to Val de Nuria, or on to the much larger ski area around La Molina.

In practice, our journey from the Costa Brava to Vic took around 90 minutes, so we could have left a little later - even though we didn't hurry, it's a fast route. There weren't too many people catching the train from Vic itself, and we did have other options - for instance to join it later at Manlleu or further up to Ripoll, but for the trade-off of driving over train Vic seemed a good compromise.

The train itself is slow and steady. It definitely doesn't feel express. Journey time should have taken about 90 minutes to La Molina, and then another 20 minutes on to Puigcerda, but we had a 30 minute delay in Planoles as we had to wait for another train to come down.

Puigcerda tower The delay in Planoles was fun though, as the station was full of snow (about 60-70cm) and they opened the doors so children on the train could go out to play and South American tourists went out to take selfies.

The journey does feel like it goes slowly though, but you have the joy of climbing up into the snow, so that from Ripoll we had a rough covering of the ground. Then by Ribes de Freser depths were more like 10-20cm, until La Molina where passengers were warned about the depth of the snow as there was about 60-80cm on the platform with cars with quiffs of snow on their roofs.

The reason for the slow journey is that the route is single track so the trains coming down can only pass those going up at specific stations. The single track route then passing through narrow tunnels or along narrow embankments about the valley.

Puigcerda icicles on shop Having let the children off at La Molina (they were heading back to Barcelona to stay over at the end of the day - last trains back at either 17.17, 17.57 or 19.24), we continued on to Puigcerda, the capital of Cerdanya.

The train comes out of the mountains, down past Alp, and then onto the plain. Cerdanya has a large plain that is surrounded by mountains, and in the distance Puigcerda sits on a hill that rises above the plain. The landscape was all covered snow, with horses in the fields seeking shelter in the hay stalls, or standing looking cold in the fields.

The station in Puigcerda is at the level of the plain and to get into the town means a climb. After jumping in the snow for fun, the first thing we noticed was the huge icicles on the buildings. Naturally, this is all chilly weather, so we were prepared with proper boots, gloves, scarfs and winter clothes. It would be easy to forget this is proper winter weather if you've come from a mild warm coast. However, the roads and steps up were clear of snow and it was relatively easy to walk up into town, and in places there are lifts/elevators too.

Puigcerda swan on lake The town has a criss-cross of streets with a good selection of shops as it's the main shopping centre for the area. The position on the hill gives great views and we could see the chair lifts back at the ski resorts on the mountains opposite in the distance. The main monument in the town is a church tower in one of the squares, where only the tower remains, the remaining building seems to have been destroyed. A second church also exists and stalls were out for a market with produce from the area.

We explored around the edge of the town and found the lake and park. The lake was completely frozen apart from a small patch which was full of ducks, geese and swans. The ice was covered with snow, but it was strictly no going on the ice.

From the park we headed to France. We actually tried to follow the roadsigns and found ourselves having to walk on the road as the snow was too deep on the footpath, so this wasn't too nice, but eventually we found the crossing point. You see the customs point first, then walk along the road and over the bridge and suddenly you're in France and Bourg-Madame. The language changes, the signs change and that quickly, you're in somewhere that feels like a different country, with the oddity of seeing a cafe selling huitres (oysters), a dish that is classic in Roussillion but that we never see in Spain.

Puigcerda Spanish border Bourg-Madame is not large but has a supermarket and a small collection of shops (closed on a Sunday). It also has a station for the Little Yellow Train (Train Jaune) that links down to Perpignan on the French side. In fact, the train to Puigcerda continues to La Tour Carol (La Torre de Querol in Catalan) which is also the end point for the Little Yellow Train. We went to the station, but there weren't many connections for winter - the train is quite a tourist attraction in the summer.

Bourg-Madame marie Returning to the town we took a coffee in one of the many cafes and just browsed around the shops. For those who come up for skiing, Puigcerda can be a good base as it feels quite lively. The one time we stayed in La Molina (in summer and a while ago admittedly), it felt like it lacked a few amenities that you might expect for a mountain village, though this could have improved by now.

And then the train back. We didn't wait for the ski train, but came back mid afternoon, nonetheless it still was getting quite busy.

Puigcerda view from train

See also: Ribes de Freser and skiing at Vall de Nuria - Andorra La Vella - Mollo (Camprodon) - Pyrenees to France - Visit to Setcases - Villefranche-de-Conflent and Mont-Louis (France) - Olot - capital of Garrotxa


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