Forget The Beach: Five Aquatic Alternatives This Summer
Forget laying about in piles of cigarettes and beer cans, while beer-sellers kick sand on your towel, loud guiris in sombreros cry 'Oy!Oy!' and kids dive-bomb into the surf. There's better stuff to do in summer. Like swimming in the handsome Ebro river at medieval Miravet. Or flippering up for the rapids at Llavorsi. Or how about aqua-trekking in the Sierra de Guara? Here's five alternatives to hitting the beach.
A typical Baix Ebre town painted in pastel shades and hugging a rocky hillside over the banks of the Ebro river, Miravet is precioso. The river flows beaneath the town in all its magnificent breadth and colour, and there are numerous bathing decks dotting its banks and inviting sycamore-shaded inlets. The current is strong, but you can glide from platform to platform looking up at the 12th Century Templar Castle high above the cap de la vila. This historic town, one of the last in Catalonia to be held by the Moors, is also famous for its alfareria and ceramic shops. A swim, a picnic and a lazy sunday wander, two hours by car from noisy old Barcelona.
In the Pallars Sobirá region of Lleida, Llavorsí is about as far away in character as you can get from the Mediterranean. The architecture is all granite chalets and slate tiles. The local cuisine is more stews and seasonal game than tapas. And the biggest event of the year is not a music festival or Castellers, it's the concurso de perros pastores - the Sheep Dog Championships. Llavorsí is also an important adventure sports hub. The Noguera Pallaresa river has to be one of the Pyrenees' finest for rafting and canoeing. From Llavorsi you can canoe a 52 km descent to Collegats; six hours of aguas bravas. Or you could do Hidrospeed (riverboarding), where you don fins, kee-pads and a float and go head-first down-river.
Gorgas Negras, Sierra de Guara
North of the Monegros desert and Huesca, the Sierra de Guara is perfect barranquismo (canyoning) territory. There's over 300 different routes climbing, sliding and jumping down the canyons along the natural course of the waterways. The hardest of these is possibly the Gorgas Negras, a good 10-hour scramble through isolated tunnels ending up in a river under the medieval bridge at Pedruel.
Toll del Vidre
You have to drive along a long, severely beaten old track from the town of Arnes to get to this supremely tranquil spot on the Algars river. The river itself marks the Aragon-Catalan border and is backed by the jagged-tooth mountains of the Parc Natural Els Ports. There are lots of secluded spots for a bit of surreptitious nudisme. And another half an hour along the A-231 road from Arnes is the dusty jewel Valderrobres, one of the most beautiful - and least tarted up - towns in Spain. A good place to spend the night and eat out.
Lago de Sant Maurici
Sant Maurici is a huge lake in a glacial cirque. It bathes the shadow of the 2700-m high Els Encantats mountains and forms part of the immense Aiguestortes national park. For hikers there's the Ruta del Mirador, a three-hour route which takes you to the impressive Ratera waterfall (bathe at your peril) and up through sublime pine forest to the mirador at Estany Ratera, where the vistas are pretty espectaculares. Alternatively you could stay in BCN and wade into the sea between jellyfish, noisy niños and plastic bags.