I had chosen the GR 7 and my little low-altitude Pyrenean detour in Spain because I had been looking for a long-distance trail in Europe that can be hiked in fall and winter without any major snow and temperature problems. The GR 7 turned out to be the perfect solution. Because I could not find many alternatives to the GR 7 my expectations were pretty low and I was more than positively surprised by what the GR 7 has to offer. Two aspects stand out:
Landscape: I had expected lots of rather dull hiking in dry countryside. Instead I was surprised with a variety of very different and absolutely stunning landscapes. My personal highlights were the mesa-like mountains in Catalunya, the sierras and canyons in Valencia, the National Parks in Andalucia. I hiked a lot in beautiful pine and oak forests. But even the more cultivated landscapes were interesting: Flat dry Murcia with its endless fruit plantations made me aware of where most of our supermarket produce comes from. And feasting on wayside oranges and khaki was a culinary highlight.
But obviously on no long-distance trail everything can be perfect and on the GR 7 the hiking quality varies tremendously depending on which province you are in.
Catalunya and Valencia offer by far the best hiking on the GR 7! Here the trail is almost consistently marked with red and white blazes and signposts. Except for the occasional hiccup due to new roads or wind farms you can navigate pretty well by just following the trail marking. Also you are hardly ever routed on pavement. The percentage of single file track is very high. Still not not everything is great: the trail is often badly maintained and overgrown tracks make can turn hiking into a nightmare. Plus there is the problem of the hunting reserve of Chera: a private hunting estate is blocking an entire valley and also the GR 7. No detour is signposted and for two years the local government has not been able to find a solution for locals and hikers. You will have to climb fences and trespass which I find is a Spanish disgrace for an international long-distance trail. Still, overall the GR 7 in Catalunya and Valencia offers fabulous hiking and I highly recommend this section.
You cross Murcia in only a week and here the trouble slowly starts: Trail marking disappears almost completely which is no surprise as the landscape is so flat that there is nothing to put markers on. But there are great internet resources to help you with navigation. You can download waypoints, a very good and extensive trail description in Spanish and even a rutometro. The landscape is a bit boring and mostly offers no shade at all – so avoid hiking here in summer at all costs.
|Sierra Magina National Park|
For the rest of Andalucia the two variants join again – but unfortunately the trail marking does not get a lot better. But at least you will mostly be walking in National Parks now that offer some nice scenery. Still I am surprised to see that most foreign hikers walk the Andalusian part of the GR 7 although in my personal opinion this section is not the best of the trail. If you only have limited time and want to see the best part of the GR 7 hike in Valencia or Catalunya.
Now I have a lot of tips for future hikers:
Navigation: As I have described above the quality of trail marking varies tremendously. If you want to hike the whole GR 7 in Spain I highly recommend bringing a GPS with the relevant gpx tracks. I would not have been able to hike the trail without it! The GR 7 is not even marked on most IGN maps. I have hiked the trail with the Garmin maps for Spain on my GPS and gpx tracks. As a paper backup I have downloaded the relevant 1:50.000 maps from the IGN website and pieced them together into a strip map set with the help of a graphic programme. This is a hell lot of work and it took me a week to create the 118 A4 pages that cover the GR 7 in Spain. Map download from the IGN Spain website is free for personal use.
Water: I hardly ever carried more than 2 litres of water but this amount might be misleading for future hikers. I was hiking in dead winter and although I had mostly pleasant temperatures it can not be called hot. Hiking here in spring or fall you will definitely need more water. Almost every day you will pass through a town or village where you can stock up on drinking water. Even in little villages you will find a water fountain or at least a water tap although you might have to hunt around for it. There are springs and piped water along the way but unfortunately you cannot rely on the IGN maps in this respect. Half of the time the springs shown there did not exit whereas other springs were not marked. But usually you will pass farms in regular intervals and in an emergency you can ask for water there.
Internet: Spain is wifi heaven! Even small towns usually offer free wifi somewhere, usually from the ayuntamiento (city hall). Every single hotel I stayed in had free wifi. On top of all that you can get data very cheap with a prepaid SIM card. There are various cheap providers but to give you an example: I used a prepaid SIM card from tuenti for which I paid 6 EUR plus tax for 1 GB of data valid for a month. Phone calls are also cheap which was useful for making hotel reservations.
|Ares del Mestre|