France/Spain Autumn 2004: 'The Grand Cerdagne'

After our incredibly wet walk in Andalusia in Spring 2004 we were in two minds about whether we should head off into the hills again this year. Inevitably, of course, we succumbed and so we found ourselves on Wednesday September 8 in the check-in queue for the 11:35 flybe BE1865 flight Birmingham-Toulouse. On arrival we took a taxi directly to Toulouse-Matabiau railway station. Despite the station being evacuated for some twenty minutes during our wait, whilst it was searched by armed police & soldiers (we've no idea why...!), we eventually caught our train for what turned out to be a three hour journey to the small border town of Latour de Carol . The trip was much delayed due to what seemed to be every armoured division of the French Army being moved by rail along our route.

At last, we crawled into our destination station at about 21:00 and were relieved to find the lady driver from 'Taxi Montagne' had waited for us. After a twenty minute trip (the driver did not speak or understand English so we 'conversed' in Catalan - in other words she talked non-stop and we nodded when we felt it was appropriate...) we reached the Hôtel Planotel in the small town of Saillagouse just as the sun went down. After checking in we had to dash to the hotel's restaurant (which was in the middle of the village at the Hôtel Planes , some 200m away uphill) or what turned out to be an excellent dinner of duck (Mike) and salmon (Claire). We slept well.

Thursday September 9, 2004:  Day 1 - Saillagouse to Eyne 2600

An early start after a reasonable breakfast. We collected our picnic lunches from the 'remote' restaurant and set off at 08:45 heading steeply up-hill out of the village. Two other couples were on the same walk as us. We met up with Jo and Julian from Bristol and Ray and Tess from Devon at the end of almost every day and we enjoyed many splendid meals with them over the course of the holiday. They overtook us on the very first hill of the very first day and vanished into the distance (as they were to do many, many more times...).

We had a fairly strenuous walk up into the Gorges du Segres via the thermal baths at Llo where we had a brief stop for a coffee. Many brightly colourful wild flowers, butterflies and other insects bordered the easy paths as we walked up the right hand side of the gorge, crossed to the other side and then walked back. We stopped briefly for a late picnic lunch at the ruins of the St Felieu chapel which afforded magnificent views across the Cerdagne plain far away to the northwest.

Climbing steeply up into the woods we joined and followed a fast flowing irrigation channel known as the Canal d'Eyne up and into the next valley where we eventually reached the village of Eyne 2600 and found the Hôtel le Roc Blanc. Our room was small and quite pokey, the bathroom dark and damp. We ate a so-so meal (meatballs and haricot bean stew) that evening in the hotel restaurant. The panoramic views from the hotel were spectacular which went a long way towards making up for the rather seedy hotel - not one to which we plan to return! [Inntravel no longer use this hotel on this walk (as at Spring 2006)].

18.0 km on Day 1, 18.0 km in total

Friday September 10, 2004: Day 2 - Eyne 2600 to Nuria

We were up early anticipating a long day ahead, the walking notes warned us that the day would be the most challenging of the holiday. There is no road to Nuria from the French side and so our luggage would not be taken there. We had to carry with us all that we would need for the next 36 hours and we expected not to meet up with our things again until Saturday evening's stop at Valcebollère. We trekked back up the Vallée d'Eyne retracing our steps of yesterday for at least an hour, crossed the fast flowing river and then climbed steeply up to the Col de Nuria. We saw, and heard, marmots on the hillsides all the way up. It took us almost six hours to reach the top where we met up with Jo & Julian and we all had a late picnic lunch at some 2683m smack bang on the Franco-Spanish border.

Claire Jo

A knackered Mike
The descent was difficult, the paths were hard to find and low clouds started to close in as we scrabbled our way steeply south down scree and grassy slopes to the Torrent de Coma d'Eina river which we then followed all the way down to the Santuario de Nuria. We arrived at the Hotel Vall de Nuria - a huge former monastery, at 19:20. A very strenuous and tiring walk.

Our room was very good and we had a table for eight at dinner having joined up with Jo & Julian, Tess & Ray and Roger & Helen who were on a similar walk to us. The meal and company were both excellent. The church bells chimed outside our window every quarter hour all night, Claire was oblivious...

Day 2: 15.3 km, 33.3 km in total

Saturday September 11, 2004: Day 3 - Nuria to Valcebollère

Yet another anniversary of that dreadful day in 2001. We left Nuria at 09:20 and headed west on a very long and steep climb up to the summit of Puigmal d'Err (2910m). It was windy and cold as the track wound ever increasingly upward through the scree. The path was very busy, it was obviously a typical Saturday day out for those hardy types that had ridden up earlier in the morning on the rack railway from Ribes de Freser. It took us five hours to reach the top where we sheltered from the elements in one of the stone refuges at the summit and had our lunch. We were again on the Franco-Spanish border and eventually we headed off toward the west and back into France. Walking just below the ridge for several kilometres we followed the border as far as La Tossa (2662m). Claire was amazed to meet a group of French cyclists carrying their bikes on their shoulders and struggling up the scree path from the French side. They freely admitted that they were all quite mad! The visibility was tremendous and the views were spectacular.

Julian, Jo & Claire

Eventually we headed down a very steep and long grassy slope into the Val de Tossa and trekked along the valley floor with lots of difficult descents over scree. We walked down through woods as it became dark and at last reached Valcebollère at 21:15 after covering the last few kilometres in total darkness - not to be recommended!

The others had arrived long before us and we all joined in a communal dinner of French Onion Soup, Lamb Stew and Catalan Egg Custard. Roger & Helen had finished their walk and were leaving early in the morning for a week on the Costa Brava so we bade them farewell after getting from them some tips with regard to several of the places that we were due to visit later in our walk. Our room and bathroom at l'Auberge des Écureuils were both very comfortable and we slept like logs despite the heavy rain during the night.

Day 3: 18.3 km , 51.6 km in total

Sunday September 12, 2004: Day 4 - Valcebollère

Today we took, what we considered to be, a well-earned rest day. After an excellent breakfast the day was spent leisurely exploring the village and generally relaxing. The village 'Bee Museum' (run by the father of our hotel owner) provided an hour's entertainment. Claire caught up with the washing and Mike caught up with some reading! The day had started cool and cloudy but it brightened and warmed up in the afternoon. We had a Catalan Salad for lunch which we ate on the terrace, and then watched the Italian Grand Prix (with French commentary) on the TV in our room in the afternoon.

We rounded the day off with another excellent meal at the Auberge and then had an early night feeling much refreshed after a quiet and restful day.

Julian & Jo

Day 4: 3.0 km, 54.6 km in total

Monday September 13, 2004: Day 5 - Valcebollère to Puigcerdà

The day dawned hot and sunny. Today's walk was in marked contrast to the last few days when we had crossed two of the high Pyrénean passes.  The trail led us initially mostly downhill through woods, along small paths and forest tracks.  The route was somewhat complex and we had to work hard to stay on course.  Eventually, after some three hours, we stopped for lunch at a convenient grassy spot before passing through the Bosc de l'Orri d'Andreu with great views of the Carlit Massif to the north and the passes to Nuria to the east.  The track took us initially north and then dropped down to the northwest along a ridge. We reached the course of a heavily overgrown sunken path which we followed down the hillside for several hundred metres. Towards the end of this path Mike slipped and badly grazed his right arm and all down his right leg.  Lots of blood but no real damage.  Claire was in her element and cleaned the wounds and patched up the rather pathetic casualty in no time at all. The only real damage was one severely bent walking pole and a rather bruised ego.  On our way once more, we crossed the small Rio Llavanera river and reached a tarmac road.  We followed the hot and dusty road through the village of Palau de Cerdagne and then left the village heading west passing the frontier back into Spain after about one kilometre.

Continuing we at last reached the large border town of Puigcerdà and found our way to the Hotel del Prado and its much needed bar. Claire and Julian were despatched into the busy town to purchase more medical supplies and, on their return, we all had an excellent dinner. Claire voted the marbled (and windowed!) bathroom as the best of the holiday.

Day 5: 20.3 km, 74.9 km in total

Tuesday September 14, 2004: Day 6 - Puigcerdà to Villeneuve/Angoustrine

It was overcast first thing with rain threatening but it all came to nothing and the day quickly became hot, sunny and very humid. We left our hotel and climbed up through the suburbs wending our way carefully through the streets to the northern edge of town. We walked through fields down to a railway line which we followed for a kilometre and then crossed under the track to the village of Santa Eulària and several other small hamlets until we reached the town of Latour de Carol. Passing through the town (which was deserted) we stopped briefy for beers and icecreams at the Auberge Catalan on the N20 main road before crossing the road and heading back into the hills past the church. The path led us very steeply uphill for some two kilometres. Claire found another Praying Mantis just as we joined a winding country road, we followed the road through pasture land down to the village of Feners.

Walking on to the village of Brangoli we took a path off to the north following the red and yellow waymarks of the Tour du Carlit. The path was quite hard to walk and skirted around the chapel of Sant Maria de Belloc which we had seen outlined on the skyline when we were down in the previous valley. From the town of Dorres we followed the D10 main road as it wound steeply down hill to the village of Villeneuve/Angoustrine. We found the pleasant two star Relais du Belloch on the edge of the vilage and met up with the others who had arrived only a short time before us. The walk had taken some nine hours and we were all very tired. The skies had darkened and thunder was rolling around the hills as we had a very acceptable three-course evening meal and settled ourselves in for the night.

Day 6: 19.9 km, 94.8 km in total

Wednesday Sep 15, 2004: Day 7 - Villeneuve to les Bouillouses

It started raining as we stepped out of the hotel front door after breakfast and didn't stop all day.  Today's walk was northward up the Angoustrine valley along the Tour de Carlit to the Lac des Bouillouses at a height of 2000m ASL.  We retraced our steps initially up the steep D10 main road in torrential rain sheltering briefly in a bus shelter at the top of the hill.  Once on the track we found that walking was tricky with much mud and many slippery rocky stretches and, as we climbed higher, the clouds closed in and we got wetter and wetter!  We saw nothing of the promised spectacular views and our spirits were quite low as we finally arrived cold, wet and very tired at the Hotel Bones Hores by the lakeside.  Our room was comfortable and we had an excellent meal in the restaurant with our four erstwhile travelling companions.  We had planned to stay here for two nights, the other four were staying for just one night and so they would be leaving the next morning.

Day 7: 15.2 km, 110.0 km in total

Thursday September 16, 2004: Day 8 - Les Bouillouses

The day dawned bright and sunny, not a cloud in the sky but very cold (we were at 2000m ASL after all!). We had built in today as a rest day, it gave us a chance to dry out our clothes and boots. Jo & Julian and Ray & Tess were only here for the one night and so set off for their trek to La Llagonne early in the morning - we waved them off before we had even had breakfast. We then pottered around the hotel for the rest of the day catching up on our reading and generally enjoying a relaxing time.

Ray & Tess Jo & Julian

Building work was going on at the dam adjacent to the hotel and every hour or so during the afternoon the peace was shattered as rock blasting took place. We had an early evening meal of vegetable soup followed by what we think was catfish in a delicious sauce, before having an early night.

Day 8: 0 km, 110.0 km in total

Friday September 17, 2004: Day 9 - Les Bouillouses to La Llagonne

A superb walk today, bitterly cold initially (puddles frozen over!) but we had clear skies and brilliant sunshine for the whole of the trip. From the hotel the trail took us north through woods around the lake edge before heading off into the hills in a generally south easterly direction. The views were spectacular across to the mountains and we came across many small tranquil lakes hidden in the trees.

Eventually, at about 18:30, we reached the village of La Llagone and found our way to the Hotel Corrieu where we were to stay for the next two nights. After a quick shower we met up with the other four, who were already on their second day here, for a very pleasant dinner of trout and boiled potatoes in the hotel restaurant.

By coincidence we had all planned to head to the coast for three days and so, as the others were now one day ahead of us, we again said our farewells and arranged to meet up again if possible in Coulioure.

Day 9: 23.8 km, 133.8 km in total

Saturday September 18, 2004: Day 10 - La Llagonne & Mont Louis

Today we did a circular walk down to the fortified town of Mont Louis and back. The day was blisteringly hot as we found an excellent small créperie Le Rucher de l'Ours for lunch. An interesting hour was spent on a guided tour of a small solar furnace, unfortunately the guide spoke only French but we managed to get the gist of what it was all about! We walked around the very impressive walls of the citadel before heading back to La Llagone.

We still managed some 12 km today and that brought the total distance walked during our holiday to just short of 146 km. We felt very satisfied with our efforts especially with our two climbs over the mountain passes. A celebratory beer or two followed by a quiet dinner rounded the day off nicely.

Day 10: 12.0 km, 145.8 km in total

Sunday September 19, 2004: Day 11 - La Llagonne to Coulioure via Perpignon

An early morning taxi took us back to Mont Louis and dropped us at the railway station. The first of our three rail journeys today was to be on the famous scenic narrow gauge line of le Petit Train Jaune operated by SNCF. We caught the 09:30 to Villefranche Vernet les Bains along with what seemed like several hundred French senior citizens who appeared to be on a day's outing. All the best seats were immediately seized by these experienced worthies as soon as the train arrived and we had to settle for places inside the lead motor unit. We were devastated to find that both our digital cameras seized solid as soon as the train set off due to the intense magnetic fields generated by the electric traction motor beneath the floor of our carriage! So we have no record of any the spectacular views that we saw on the trip. Both cameras started working again as soon as we stepped off the train at Villefranche. We had just five minutes to make our connection and caught the express train to Perpignon. A further change at Perpignon onto a local train which then meandered leisurely west along the coast to our destination of Coullioure. We had a hard walk lugging all our luggage from the station through the busy and very crowded Sunday market in the centre of town.

Eventually we found our hotel tucked away down a side road at the back of the market square. Our third floor room at the Princes de Catalogne was quite comfortable. We had lunch in the town and then spent the afternoon strolling around along with all the Sunday day-trippers. We watched some Catalan folk dancers and visited the castle before bumping into our four travelling companions. We all met up for an excellent dinner at the Copacabana Restaurant on the harbour in the evening.

Mon/Tue/Wed September 20/21/22, 2004: Days 12/13/14 - Coulioure

We relaxed for three days, strolling around Coullioure, enjoying the town with its many seafront bars and restaurants and soaking up the general ambience. The town was much quieter after Sunday's influx of day-trippers and we thoroughly enjoyed the time spent there. One last evening meal with our friends at the Casa León on Monday evening before they all left for England on the Tuesday.

On Tuesday we dined in style at Le Tremen and finally packed our bags and set off to walk back to the railway station on Wednesday morning. A train to Toulouse with one change at Perpignon, a taxi to the airport and before we knew it we were back in Birmingham and home.

Mike, Tess, Ray, Claire, Jo & Julian

As with all our walking holidays to date we arranged the trip through Inntravel who are based on the Castle Howard estate in Yorkshire. They provided maps and suggested route notes, arranged all flights, taxis & accommodation and transported our luggage efficiently between each stop. All in all on this trip we trekked some 145 km (90 miles) in 9 days of walking and stayed in 9 different hotels/hostels. We highly recommend Inntravel, their service is second to none and we'll be using them again…!

Our Walking Holidays Spring 2003 - Autumn 2004
total km
total miles
Spring 2003 'Along the Catalan Coast'
Autumn 2003 'From the Pyrénées to the Med'
Spring 2004 'An Andalusian Adventure'
Autumn 2004 'The Grand Cerdagne'