WITH LEIGH AND MERRY FOSTER
This is a moderately easy walk up to and round a circuit in the wooded hills above Valmy Chateau. The views back down to Argelès and over the plain are beautiful, and the cork-oak forests are peaceful and full of birdsong as you follow the winding footpath.
Map IGN 1:25000 Banyuls/Col de Perthus/Cote Vermeille (GPS) 2549 OT
Also see “Guide des Randonnées Pédestres” from Argelès tourist office.
The trail is well marked with yellow marks. Length approx 5.9km, 2-1/2 hours, 250m climb/descent.
The cork oaks were planted at the end of the 19th century, on the steep vine terraces devastated by the phylloxera pest epidemic around 1880. In the 1950’s two factories in Argelès were producing wine corks. In places you can still see the dry stone terraces on the hillside, now overgrown by forest.
Park at the upper car park of Chateau Valmy and leave the car park on the left, walking up the road past the camping les Mimosas.
The road quickly turns into a track and winds up the hill. Pass the disused quarry on your left, (502080m E 4708300m N) after which the track turns to the right. Continue on the track until you come to another fork, just after a hairpin bend (501860m E 4707950m N.) with a signpost to Mas de la Monja to the right.
You can go round the circuit either way, but we chose to go left to visit the Chapelle first. At various points, look back down through the trees and enjoy the view of the pretty port of Argelès laid out far below. Continue on the main track to a signpost (501720m E 4707463m N) and leave the track for a footpath heading north west, up into the woods for about 250m, to the Chapelle.
The Chapelle St Laurent
The Chapelle itself is a simple stone building. A beautiful example of Catalan Romanesque art, it is one of the few monuments of the Albères whose restoration is finished. It was built in the twelfth century by order of the Abbot of Saint-Genis, on a large parcel of land on the slopes of the mountain of Argelès.
The Chapelle is first mentioned in documents around the time of 1069 AD. After its consecration, Saint Laurent became a parish church, serving the many small Mas nestled in the surrounding hills whose inhabitants survived by raising animals, farming, logging, making charcoal and a bit of smuggling!
After a brief stop to visit the Chapelle, continue south on the footpath and turn right/east. (501550m E 4707570m N.) The seriously energetic may wish to stay on the main path and continue all the way up to Tour de la Massane!
The trail climbs a little, then starts to descend through the forest for about 1km, until you arrive at an old ruined farmhouse – Mas Pardès. Some of these old farms have origins dating back to the early Middle Ages. There is a makeshift picnic camp here under the trees, but not much to see. The path doubles back west across the hillside and continues down through sun-dappled forest, occasionally showing you glimpses of the plain below. After another km or so, you arrive at the Mas de la Monja and rejoin the original track.
From here, retrace your steps down towards Valmy. If the day is too hot or windy for a long walk, take a stroll instead around the lovely gardens of Valmy (it’s free!) and enjoy the impressive family of storks living there, or visit the tasting rooms with views over the perfectly manicured vineyards to the sea.