Saint André de Baillestavy
Take a dramatic drive from Vinca (on the N116 between Ille sur Tet and Prades) along the winding D13, towards Baillestavy. The narrow road leads to the Lentilla valley through wild and wonderful mountain scenery, clinging to the steep mountainside. Far below a small irrigation canal can be made out following the river. Canigou, majestic and omni-present, towers over receding ranges of lesser mountain slopes.
After 10 km we arrive in the pretty village of Baillestavy. Iron has been mined here since the 1st century BC but now the old forge is a charming Bistrot du Pays and the main industry is honey, goats, pigs…..and tourists in search of peace and tranquillity.
Follow the “Tour de Village” signs to the cemetery leading to the chapel of St Andre. It is said to be suitable for wheelchairs but the donkey back bridge and sections of the path cobbled with large and uneven river stones actually make this claim unrealistic.
The ancient ruined church was originally built on old industrial iron workings in the IX century, and abandoned when a church was constructed in 1665 in the ‘new’ village high on the hill – a steep climb but worth it just for the view.
Enjoy a spring time picnic by the Lentilla river as it tumbles over rounded rocks, and bright dragonflies dart over the surface. Signs identify trees, and flowery meadows afford easy access to the river.
But wait. Did you notice the brightly coloured sign at the entrance to the village asking you to watch out for salamanders? In fact, Baillestavy is more than just a pretty, peaceful, pleasant village, it is also the salamander capital of the P-O.
The Pyrenean Brook Salamander can only be found in the Pyrenees of Andorra, France, and Spain, and Baillestavy has become well known for the prehistoric looking creatures. Squarish head, warty skin in shades of olive, grey, charcoal, or muddy brown with an intermittent yellowish stripe down the spine, the Pyrenean Brook Salamander is alive, well and thriving in Baillestavy.