If you have only one day in Nuria and like mountain walking, or for your way down on your last vacation day (as we did), a good option is to walk down back to Queralbs instead of taking the racktrain.
The walk is not so easy as it looks, most part is walking down (quite steep in some parts) but as well you have to get up again a few times, with A LOT of stairs.
But the scenery is great and definitly worth it if you're fit enough (I did, so it shouold be not so bad, LOL!!))
(You can see more pics of this walk on the traveloge)
There are great hiking trails departing from near the Monastey. The most famous are climbing El Puigmal and/or Pic de Finestrelles (quite difficult) but there are many easier (but still beautiful) trails. So, both if you are a expert hiker, or you're not so fit and just want to walk a little breathing pure and fresh air, you can find the perfect path for you.
My only complaint: some trails are not well signaled. We were lost on our way to Finestrelles and ended somewhere else. Not a big deal as the landscapes were beautiful anyway (please see the travelogue), but we would like to know where we were! If you plan to do one of the long routes, get a good map in advance (the one given by the visitors centre was too basic). The shorter routes should not be a problem.
The present church was inaugurated in 1911. Later, new hostel buildings were also built and, in 1931, the cog railway was opened, making easier to reach the place.
Núria was also involved in several different political events that shook the country.
After the 2nd Republic was proclaimed (1931), the Catalan Parliament decided that the preliminary draft of the Statute of Autonomy would be drawn up at the Núria sanctuary. After the Statutes were approved by the municipal governments, and the favourable results of the poll among Catalan people (there was a 75% turnout and 99% voted in favour), finally the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia was passed by the Spanish parliament. Therefore, the Statute of 1932 is also known as the "Statute of Núria"
But sooner the Civil War dramatically changed our history. Three days after the war start, Monseñor Ventura Carrera, the priest in charge of the church at the time, took the image of the Virgin and other valuable objects and left the country via the Finestrelles' pass. Just a few days later, militiamen arrived at Núria with the intention of destroying the church and religious images. The image was hidden in Switzerland until 1941.
In 1937 the Generalitat de Catalunya took charge of the sanctuary and it was converted into a hospital for the war wounded. Later, the Francoist armies set up a military school in the mountain. During many post-war years, pilgrims had to get permission to visit Núria (due the political implications of the place, and since it was located near the border).
In 1941, the image of the Virgin of Núria was returned to the sanctuary. In 1956, Pope Pius XII proclaimed her as the main patron saint of the Urgell diocese. In 1965 Pope Paul VI authorised the canonic coronation of the image of the Virgin of Núria.
From Barcelona you can easily reach Nuria by train: Renfe train to Ribes de Fresser and there a rack-train to Queralbs and Nuria's Monastery. During summer there are combined tickets for this trip (ask at any Renfe station). These are regional trains ("cercanias") so you can't reserve in advance.
Going there is is worth it if just for the landscape, very scenic, especially the rack-train section ("el cremallera").
This rack-railway celebrated its 75 anniversary on 2006. But don't be scared: it's well maintained and renovated, and the trains are quite new, comfortable and safe! :)
You can do Nuria as a daytrip from Barcelona, but to make the full of it, at last an overnight stay is advisable (a couple of nights if you want to do the one of the longer trails).
Sant Gil Abad (Saint Giles) was supposed to be born in Athens, but is said he stayed in Núria during four years around 700, to do penance, before escaping the prosecution of Christians and finally died in Rome. Evidence of his physical presence in Núria is difficult to prove.
They say that during his stay in Núria, he and gave mass to the sheperds of the area. There were those who did not want to come for fear of the wolf. On hearing this, Saint Giles left his bagpipes playing alone in the middle of the fields, acting as "sheperds". Still today the shepherds of the western Pyrenees have Saint Giles as their patron saint.
Is said as well the saint hung a pot and made a rich stew for all the shepherds. It was he who sculpted the image of the Virgin. When the Visigoth king Witiza undertook a persecution of Christians, Saint Giles left Núria; after hiding the image of the Virgin in a cave, together with a pot, a bell and a cross. Centuries later these objects were found and became the symbols of Núria. The saint is invoked to protect against nightmares and fear of the darkness.
You can find the pot and he bell inside the Monastery. You should put you head inside the pot and chime the bell, and it's said you headaches will be healed! But, if you're a woman... be careful... it is said that doing this will increase your fertilty as well!! ;))