Congost de Mont-rebei is that quiet, middle child nobody notices because her louder siblings – the Costa Brava beaches and Pyrenees ski stations – get all of the attention. Last May, our family friend, Ricardo, casually shared with me a photo of an area in Catalunya where he wanted to take his family hiking. I look at and take many travel photographs, for work and personal life, but this one took my breath away. People climbed and walked along a ridge trail above a river so blue, it seemed almost unnatural. My enthusiastic response for kayaking and hiking near Barcelona must have made an impression because he immediately began the travel arrangements for both of our families.
Where River Meets Mountain
The Noguera Ribagorçana river gets credit for creating this gorgeous place on Earth. The river has spent eons slowly chipping away at the Congost de Mont-rebei mountain and has split it in two. Like the mountain, the river itself is also divided; the Aragon region claims one side and Catalunya the other. Catalans in these parts though have a much firmer answer about the river’s ownership – one side is Spain and one side is Catalunya. We were not about to argue that sticky political issue.
Congost de Mont-rebei is 2.5 hours from Barcelona, going mostly west and slightly north of Lleida. The closest town to the mountain is tiny Corça and, like most small towns, there is not much there. It’s best to stay overnight nearby in the relatively larger town of Ager, which offers a few more hotel and restaurant options. Plus, it’s an easy 20-minute drive on Saturday morning to reach the kayak and hike meet point by 10:00am. We wanted to be ready for a full day of kayaking and hiking, so we left early on Friday afternoon to make the drive from Barcelona to Ager.
The Night Before
The Hotel Port D’Àger hit all the right spots for family lodging – close to the kayaking, convenient on-site restaurant, and a lounge/game room area. The lovely views of the countryside are an added bonus, although in this region, every window holds an Instagram-worthy scene. A nice fireplace in the bar/lobby area makes for a warm welcome and we took advantage of this space to play a few rounds of cards after dinner. This is functional lodging for practical travelers. The rooms are nothing fancy, but updated, very clean, and well kept. In other words, perfect for two families on a weekend nature outing. We rented two doubles for the adults and one triple for the kids, which had a loft area that my teenage son found cool enough for his use.
As anyone traveling in a group, especially one with children, knows, book dinner in advance! We pre-booked dinner at the hotel’s restaurant for the night we arrived so that we did not have to search for a decent place to eat after a long drive. For a small hotel restaurant, the menu had a variety of options (but mostly traditional Catalan dishes). The kitchen even accommodated my vegetarian daughter by preparing a special pasta. Our stay included a small breakfast, but more importantly, they had an espresso machine.
The River Mild: Kayaking the Congost de Mont-rebei gorge
This area has a variety of activities for the outdoorsy type, including, hiking, kayaking, paragliding, stand-up paddle boarding, cycling, and rock climbing. We booked a self-guided kayak-hike combo trip with the Montsec Activa company. It included a 7km kayak trip down the river and then a 3km hike back along the ridge. At the end of the hike, a boat would pick up our group and took us back to the start point. The tour company provided us with life jackets, helmets, and our kayak paddle. Even though our tour was unguided, there are boats cruising the river all day in case you need help or there is an emergency. We all rode in double kayaks, except my teenage son, Hudson, who chose a single kayak. Our group’s English-speaking instructor reviewed the kayaking and safety instructions before we started our trip. After the instructions, we set off down the river in our kayaks. Fortunately, there’s little chance of getting lost while kayaking here because there is really only one way to go on the river. That doesn’t mean the trip is boring.
In the beginning, the mild river lulls you as you settle into your paddling pace. At some point though, even the green-treed gorge and stunning blue water won’t be able to distract you from tired arms and burning muscles. While some of us loved it, especially Hudson who easily cruised ahead of all of us the entire time, the less athletic ones (in our case, the two teen girls) got pretty tired, and even a bit angry, by the end. So, choose a single or double kayak according to the athletic abilities of your children (and spouses).
It was one of my favorite things we have ever done as a family. The Kayaking was easy and I want to do more! The hike was a little scary because there was no fence or anything, it was just a long drop down to the river. – Hudson Fellman
Of course, no trip into the great outdoors is truly complete without an ‘au natural’ bathroom break. A restroom stop at a dock about halfway down the river revealed that there are no bathroom facilities, not even a camp toilet. Be prepared for a quick squat in the bushes. Men, of course, have it a bit easier.
If you decide not to go in the bushes, just remember, the wait to get out of your kayak at the end can be long and frustrating. The kayak platform is small and they can only assist one kayak at a time. All of the kayaks start to form a big cluster and you end up getting pushed back or getting bumped out of line as other kayaks come in. We waited for almost 30 minutes to get our kids out of the kayaks, which under normal circumstances would not have been a huge deal (tranquilo!). However, we needed to make sure we had enough time to hike back by the 1:45pm boat pickup and return to our car.
We kayaked from about 10:30 – 12:15 then hiked about 12:45 to 1:45. We did not have much time to stop and picnic, which was fine because we forgot to pack a picnic lunch anyway! The hike is tame, with one moderately steep section. Make sure you have a backpack with water and snacks (or if you’re better prepared than us, a picnic lunch). Everyone, especially the kids, will be hungry after the kayaking. There are plenty of places to rest along the hike and I’m not sure there is a better view for lunch then this.
The Walk Back: Hiking along the ridge
The hike along the river takes you on a ridge trail that’s requires an easy to moderate level of effort. The walk is mostly flat, but not through trees. Fortunately, the rock overhang provides shade, although it would be wise to also bring sun protection anyway, especially for the river.
There is a longer and more rigorous hike than the one we took that has steep stairs zigzagging up the rock walls, but not everyone in our group was up for that kind of fun. Also, it’s possible to skip the kayaking and just hike. Just know that there is no loop trail. The full hike in and out takes about four hours, but of course you can turn around at any point.
Catalunya continues to be a box of surprises. Just when I thought I knew its Costa Brava and Pyrenees secrets, it hit me with this little beauty that was right under my nose. It makes me wonder what else is out there in our unique province.
Logistics and Other Information
**Please check reviews, options, and availability, especially due to the impact of the COVID-19 quarantine on the travel industry.
Other Lodging Options: Caseta de Magí and Conjunt Rural Cal Soldat are both in Àger. A little farther away and a bit fancier is Hotel Terradets in the town of Cellers, which sits right on lake Terradet.
Tour Operators: In addition to Montsec Activa, another adventure tour operator in the area is Zenith Aventura.
Parking for Hikers: The main parking area is the aparcamiento de La Masieta.
Food, Water, Toilet: There are two food trucks where you begin and end your day. The menu has simple items, like hotdogs, hamburgers, bikini sandwiches, chips, water, beer, soda, and ice cream. We never saw a bathroom. Pack a little toilet paper and hand sanitizer and leave your modesty back at the hotel.