Fancy blasting down white-water rapids? Hanging out sky-high in a hot air balloon? There's an active adventure for everyone waiting in Lleida, Catalonia
From the peaks of the Pyrenees mountains to the magnificent caverns hidden beneath the ground, Lleida's natural beauty knows no limits – so how best to see it for yourself? We've selected the finest outdoor adventures to experience all that this picturesque region has to offer – whether on the land, in the water, or up in the sky. Your hardest decision? Where to explore first...
From squeezing through cave crevices to plodding in the outback by horse, not all adrenaline-packed activities require getting soaked with water or soaring through the clouds. But if you dare take the plunge, a bungee jumping thrill awaits on the clifftops in Lleida...
Lleida's road network is a motorcyclist's dream: congestion-free and beautifully maintained, with some thrilling curves to boot. To keep conditions as safe as possible, experts have mapped out ten sections of secondary road, all with prime conditions for motorbike touring – moturism. Take your pick from multi-day journeys through the Pyrenees, or adventures alongside the River Noguera – and lots more. Each route has smooth tarmac and plenty of rest stops and services, as well as handy motorbike-friendly hotels offering enclosed parking, a workshop for repairs, and plenty of space to store your helmet and gear.
Hot spots: All over Lleida. Visit moturisme.aralleida.com for more information
With its rolling countryside and dramatic mountainous backdrop, Lleida is a great spot for horse riding. The riding is simple, leaving you plenty of energy to soak up your surroundings: breathe in the scent of wild herbs, dip your toes into icy streams, and feast your eyes on those Pyrenees peaks.
Lleida is home to a whopping 300 cave systems, all waiting to be discovered. Subterranean adventures range from easy jaunts (stepping into vast cathedral-like caverns), to experiences best left to the experts (squeezing through minuscule tunnels to hitherto unexplored caves). Either way, it's widely agreed that Lleida's underground sights are some of the most stunning in Europe.
If the views of the River Noguera from Llavorsí's clifftop look-outs weren't exhilarating enough, try bungee jumping off them – that'll certainly give you a thrill. You'll free-fall for 20 metres, which – trust us – is even scarier than it sounds. Thought the countryside was all peace and quiet? Think again...
In Lleida, a sense of adventure never goes unrewarded. If time – or energy – is short, try a four-wheel drive into the region's heartlands: you'll make light work of river beds and rocky mountain trails, all while respecting the environment and leaving no tracks behind. Whether you're in search of the perfect picnic place or wild camping site, you won't have to venture far to discover your own little wild and wonderful spot.
Make a splash in the canyons, row amongst wildlife in the nature rich wetlands and test out turbulent speeds with hydrospeeding in the rivers of Lleida. These aquatic adventures offer fast-paced fun in the lowlands of the Pyrenees.
With so many crystal-clear rivers gushing amid its high mountains, Lleida is a rafter's paradise. There are grades to suit all levels, from gentle paddles to exhilaratingly gnarly whitewater. The Noguera Pallaresa River is arguably the best in the whole Pyrenees, and one of the best in Europe, with more than 40 navigable kilometres and plenty of roaring rapids.
Hydrospeeding – also known as riverboarding – is the art of lying prone on a sledge, flapping your finned feet and negotiating the rapids face-first. It's one of the most intimate and refreshing ways to tackle the turbulent waterways of the Pyrenees. It's also easy to pick up and a lot of fun. Have a go on the Noguera Pallaresa or Garona rivers.
Where wild waters have carved ancient rock, canyoning adventures beckon. And not only is canyoning a thrill-filled day out, it also opens access to riverbeds, hidden cascades and glorious geology you can't reach any other way. Strap on a hard hat for an all-action expedition into Collegats Gorge. Here, you can squeeze and splash between the 100m-high walls of the Barranc de l'Infern (Hell's Canyon) for a wet 'n' wild rollercoaster of abseiling, waterfall slides, chute swims, rock climbs and daredevil jumps.
You can paddle on lakes and rivers around the region. But the Pyrenean town of La Seu d'Urgell ups the ante. The canoe slalom events of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics were held here; now, an extensive Rafting Parc offers all sorts of watery activities in a super-safe environment. You could kayak the whitewater of the Olympic course, paddle tranquil channels in a Canadian canoe or drift along in an eco-boat, gazing up at the magnificent mountain views.
Watersports don't have to be high-adrenaline – you could opt to relax on one of Lleida's peaceful lakes or reservoirs instead. For instance, hire a little boat and row around the reed-fringed Ivars & Vila-sana Pool. One of Catalonia's most important wetland zones, this pool all but dried up in 1951 but, thanks to a concerted conservation effort, has since been brought back to life and now attracts a wealth of birds: 210 species have been spotted here.
Hot spots: Ivars & Vila-sana Pool, Rialb Reservoir and Lago de la Torrassa
Travelling at paddle-speed is one of the best ways to soak up some of Lleida's most impressive landscapes – you gain an entirely different perspective by moving slowly at water level. For maximum drama, inch a kayak along the vivid-blue Noguera Ribagorcana River as it carves through mighty Mont-Rebei Gorge. In places, the rock walls here soar up to 500m high, but measure just 20m across – an atmospheric obstacle, accessible only to kayakers and the vultures gliding above.
With a rising wave of interest in white-water sports, Lleida attracts sportsmen and women from around the world to paddle it out as part of the Noguera Pallaresa International Rally. Head to the village of Pallars Sobirá in July to join the thrill of kayak polo matches, Eskimo rolling and slalom assault courses.
View Catalonia from a whole new perspective with these sky-high thrills. Whether you choose a leisurely glide amongst vast picturesque mountains or propelling at fast pace by helicopter, these aerial adventures will leave you feeling high and dry.
In recent years the adventure sports community has begun to discover the perfect air currents swirling above parts of the province. World championship events in both paragliding and hang-gliding have been held in Lleida's Àger Valley, where the striking rock walls cause the formation of fantastic thermals, sending fliers to altitudes of up to 2,000m. Even the inexperienced can have a go. Take a tandem flight with an expert – either dangling below a hang-glider or drifting beneath a graceful parachute – to feel just like a bird soaring over the strange, spectacular rock formations below.
Floating skyward in a wicker basket is perhaps the most romantic and peaceful way to explore the Catalan skies. Take off from the city of Lleida and you'll see the handsome city segue into its natural surrounds: a lushness of parks, rivers and sweeping plains. Or take off from Segarra to look down on ancient villages and handsome castles scattered amid the golden fields.
After a more sturdy ride? Opt for an exhilarating helicopter flight, drifting over the Pyrenees mountains and spot the maze of lakes, forestry and gorges that add an essence of magic to the diverse landscape. Even towering rocks and the tallest of mountain peaks seem inferior from an elevated perspective, so embrace the adrenaline rush and embark on this voyage of discovery.
This article was supported by the Catalan Tourist Board (www.catalunya.com) but it is impartial and independent, just like all Wanderlust editorial.