Linking Perpignan on the Mediterranean coast to the Pyrenees Mountains, this area known equally as the Conflent or the Têt valley is dominated by the Canigou massif. The Canigou Peak sits in splendid isolation and is considered a great symbol of Catalan Independence. The summit, at 2784 metres elevation bears the Catalan flag and can be reached by walkers within a couple of hours who are rewarded with spectacular views to the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains of Andorra.
Catalan culture around the Canigou
The Canigou massif
Les Orgues rock formations
Saint Michel de Cuxa abbey
Hospice d’Illa Sacred art museum
‘Most Beautiful Villages’:
‘Centre for Green Tourism’:
Trek to the Canigou peak
Lake Vinça for fishing, sailing, beach and swimming
The famous ‘petit train jaune’
Summer Music Festival
At the capital of Conflent, Prades
Synonymous with the massif is the abbey of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou. Standing on a rock pinnacle and still occupied by a mixed order of Beatitude Monks and Nuns this is one of the Eastern Pyrenees’ most spectacular monuments. It is accessible by 4X4 taxi or by a short walk from nearby Casteil.
Just north of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou is Vernet-Les-Bains, an accredited ‘Centre for Green Tourism’, protecting its natural environment whilst providing high tourism standards. It is an ideal base for walking around the Canigou massif and the Cady valley before relaxing in the spa centre in the village fed from natural hot springs. Vernet-Les-Bains is also the first ‘Village-Arboretum’ in France with over 1,500 trees in the village and 200 species identified.
Further natural wonders can be seen amongst the clay cliffs at Ille-sur-Têt, where erosion has left a series of rock formations that rise dramatically from the Têt valley floor. Resembling the pipes of a church organ, “Les Orgues” can be explored by a series of footpaths within the gorge. Be sure to visit the medieval quarter of Ille-sur-Têt with its narrow alleys home to the seventeenth-century Hospice d’Illa, now the Centre for Sacred Art.
Moving west through Vinça and its fine, albeit man made leisure lake with fishing, sailing, beach and swimming areas, through to mountain hugging Eus, one of the accredited “most beautiful villages of France”, you soon arrive at the capital of Conflent, Prades. Distinct for its pink marble masonry it is best known for its summer music festival which was first staged in 1950 by the Catalan Cellist Pablo Casals who was in exile from Franco’s Spain. Much of the festival takes place at the restored ninth century Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa Abbey, worth visiting for its intriguing bell tower, subterranean crypt and cloister remains.
At the western gateway to Conflent stands another one of the accredited “most beautiful villages of France” - Villefranche-de-Conflent. Founded in 1092 by the counts of Cerdagne to stop Moorish invaders it was later strengthened in the seventeenth century by Vauban, the influential military engineer to consolidate France’s borders. The town remains tightly packed within the original castle walls untouched by subsequent development. The narrow restored streets give you a glimpse into times past and it is even possible to walk along the maze-like ramparts or take the long journey on underground steps up to the higher Fort Liberia with its magnificent panoramic views.
Villefranche-de-Conflent is also the starting point for “le Petit Train Jaune”. The famous little yellow train takes passengers on a spectacular journey up into the Pyrenees with breathtaking scenery along the way.