The limestone Mecca. Even when passing through Cataluyna it is hard to ignore the bands of rock that surround you. A climber’s heaven where you are surrounded by a lifetime’s worth of quality single and multi-pitch sport climbing.
As well as excellent rock climbing and scenery Cataluyna is home to a rich, deep culture and history which you can feel if you spend any amount of time in the region.
The purpose of this article is to provide recommendations for places to climb that may not be on peoples radar when planning a trip to Catalunya. In total we have spent four months climbing here and had a fantastic time. We hope our experiences will be useful to people planning trips for the future.
Before you go
Cataluyna is an autonomous region of Spain, however, it has tried to become an independent state for many years. Their culture is different, signs and packaging are written in Catalan and most local people will speak Catalan. However, people generally speak both Catalan and Spanish.
In the climbing areas many people may not speak English. As always it is important to learn key phrases before you go. A please and thank you, with a smile, always goes a long way! The people are very hospitable and you will soon feel at home here.
For general climbing in Cataluyna, I would recommend investing in ‘Lleida Climbs’ and ‘Tarragona Climbs’ by Pete O’Donovan and Dani Andrada. They showcase what the region has to offer and include the best and most popular crags in the area. They feature classic destinations such as Margalef, Siurana, Terradets and Oliana. Great books that are definitely worth the money.
If you are looking for a more in-depth guide for big areas like Margalef and Siurana which include all the sectors, I would recommend buying the definitive guidebooks which can be picked up in the areas from local shops. There are also books for areas not covered in the general guides. For example, there is a guidebook specifically for the Alt Urgell area, which has many areas not covered in Lleida or Tarragona climbs.
Although destinations outside of Siurana and Margalef are not as internationally renowned it does not mean their quality is sub par. I would highly recommend anyone spending time in the region to go out and explore the lesser visited crags. We climbed at most of the crags in the Lleida & Tarragona guides and found them all of good quality.
Quieter crag recommendations
There are literally hundreds of crags in the region so its hard to narrow down which to recommend. Most people know the major venues by reputation, so here are some less popular but highly enjoyable crags:
A quality venue: Perles
The crag is half a kilometre long with a range of different sectors. The striking arch can be spotted from the parking below. Sector Pont de l’Arc has a lot of harder routes (mainly grade F7-8.)
Further long there is a friendly sector with more routes graded F5c-6c. I really enjoyed the slab/vertical climbing at “Sector dels Roures” which is on high quality, compact grey limestone. Along this band of crags there are quality climbs at almost every grade.
To escape the crowds: El penitent
Although it can be accessed via a 4 x 4 track, to walk this crag is a steep 40 minute approach. Trust us – it is definitely an off road track and don’t attempt this in a standard 2WD, even if the locals make it look easy! High quality limestone, no polish and no queuing for routes. there are a good range of routes to go at and it is well worth a visit.
Extra thanks to the equippers that gave us a lift back down to the town!
At the heart of Alt Urgell: Coll De Nargó
Coll de Nargó is a lovely town surrounded by stunning limestone crags. Classic sectors like Paret del Grau and Samarkanda offer stunning climbing and nice long routes. This area is popular with locals and the few travelling climbers who stray from the famous climbing areas nearby. There are a huge number of routes to be climbed here, some would be classics anywhere. My personal favourite was Espàrrecs i Coliflors, 7a+, at Paret del Grau which is 30 meters of total quality and on great, unique rock. Of course there are many more classics here, which is why you should go and see for yourself. The major benefit of Coll De Nargó is that you can find climbing here at different times of the year. The crags mentioned above are in the sun all day. However, if the weather is too hot, shaded venues such as Tres Ponts and Cova de les Gralles are close by. We recommend buying the Alt Urgell guidebook to make the most of these crags.
For when it’s raining: Sant Llorenç de Montgai
There are two caves which sit above the lake and the village. They shelter from the rain and don’t generally seep. While the climbing is less spectacular than in the cave at Santa Linya, the grade range here is a lot more amenable. We have found that in winter the Lledia region can suffer from a lot of fog with drizzling rain which can last for many days. When this happens I can recommend to check the forecast for Tarragona area as the weather can be totally different. However, there is reliably dry rock here that is well worth visiting.
Although the vast majority of the route through the cave above 7b, there is a wall inside the cave with routes graded between F6a – F6c, which also stays dry in the rain. In good weather, there are some awesome multi-pitch conglomerate, like a smaller version of Riglos.
An old school venue: La Riba
La Riba is an old school climbing destination, with a variety of sectors offering both single and multi-pitch routes. The most popular, and best, sector is Penya Roja. The multi-pitch routes are of high quality, it is also possible to lower off from the first pitch as single pitch routes. The best route we did here was Directa Reus, 6b+, on really nice rock. There are many other smaller and less popular sectors that are also worth a visit. This crag is not too far from El Penitent and it is worth going to both crags if you are in this area for a few days.
A nod to the major crags
Whilst we enjoyed all of these sectors greatly, the elephant in the room is the famous destinations just close by. We also spent lots of time at the likes of Terradets, Arboli, Siurana, Montsant and Margalef. These crags can be really busy, and can be polished. However, they are popular for a reason, the climbing at these venues is simply stunning. We enjoyed every day climbing at these places. It would be a real crime not to climb at these venues when you are visiting Catalunya. They are awesome. That being said, the crags discussed above are also fantastic. We feel the best way to enjoy climbing in Catalunya is to sample the variety of what is on offer here, not to just stay in one area the whole time. We deliberately chose not to write about the major venues, as so much has been written about them before and they are widely known of already. We hope that our recommendations will give some inspiration to visit the other great crags on offer.
Rest day activities
Something active: Via Ferratas
There are many different Via Ferratas, dotted around the area which are often not far from climbing areas. Generally, the via ferratas are on safe, but poorer quality rock which wouldn’t make for great climbing. With so much perfect rock around it provides some entertainment on what would otherwise not get climbed. They range in difficulty, length and locations. Cágate Lorito deserves a mention as one of the wackiest things I’ve ever done on a crag. It was designed by people with a sense of humour and I think it’s highly unlikely anyone will do the ascent and descent without cracking a smile. Although they aren’t to everyone’s taste, it is great they’re free for anyone to use and on a crag which wouldn’t see any activity.
A kind note: Although common among climbers to just use a sling and a carabiner to protect yourself it is really important to use the correct via ferrata lanyards and wear a helmet! If you don’t have any, they can be purchased at Goma 2, Siruana or Decathlon in Reus. You may find it useful to wear a pair of gloves to protect your precious skin for your project!
Forming a dramatic border between Aragon and Cataluyna is the gorge of Mont-Rebei. A path carved into one side, facing the looming cliff face on the other it provides a gentle walk with brilliant views. There is also climbing here, long multi-pitch routes as well as some deep water soloing.
Later along the path ejects you out of the deep gorge into the open valley with a wire bridge crossing the river below, taking you out of Catalunya and in to Aragon. There are some exposed wooden steps down a cliff, at the bottom of which you can continue your hike.
Near the car parking it is possible to hire kayaks to paddle down the river.
Visit Montblanc and “Pastisseria Confiteria Viñas”
Sitting below the crag of “El Penitent” lies the historic town of Montblanc. There are many lovely bakeries and coffee shops in which you can enjoy a coffee and a local patisserie and soak in the Catalan culture.
Our favourite place was “Pastisseria Confiteria Viñas”. They sell beautiful edible creations, like the coco bean shaped Chocolate Ecstasy above. If you love chocolate half as much as we do, this place will get you salivating! It is some of the best chocolate I’ve ever had.
Somewhere to cool off: Gorg de la Febro
The stunning Gorg de la Febro is set in the mountains and surrounded by trees. The gorge has crystal clear water, which has carved its way through the rock to form a series of waterfalls and deep plunge pools. There’s lots of swimming, jumping and scrambling to be found here. Some sections are equipped for canyoning and abseil descent. We found it was possible, and good fun, to scramble around without the need for ropes. Be cautious as it can be slippy when wet, if in doubt take a rope or stick to the swimming. It is a great place to spend a warm day or cool off after climbing.
We hope this article has provided some inspiration and food for thought to anyone planning a trip to Catalunya. It truly is a beautiful part of the world and there is way more to see and do than can be covered in an article. We have loved spending time in Catalunya and it is one of the few places abroad where we could imagine ourselves living. Hopefully, if or when you visit, you will enjoy it as much as we have.
Climbing shop, Siurana