The Heights above Estagel

With Tim and Chris Parker

Key Info

Circular walk of 8.5 kilometres up to les Monts d’Estagel.
Time: 2 1/2 hours with approx. 140m of ascent.
This walk offers great views of the Corbières ridges and valleys and beyond.

Straightforward walk on easy pistes and tracks with some portions of road, but with a sting in the tail up a lovely rocky valley, so walking boots are essential. Walking poles helpful.

Way marking is yellow triangles and 2 dots as the route is also possible by VTT (mountain bike). Little shade so is perfect for cooler autumn days.

Access: map IGN 1:25,000  Thuir; Ile sur Tet;  2448 OT

View towards les châteaux de Quéribus and Peyrepeteuse

Getting there

Take the D117, direction Foix, from near Perpignan airport. Follow this road via Casa de Pêne to Estagel. Turn right at the Place Arago (large Brasserie on left) to find shady car park on the right just before the passage à gué (ford) across river.

Start of the walk

Cross the River Agly using the passage à gué and reach the Cave Cooperative. Bend left with the road and pass older Cave buildings still bearing the names BYRRH and VIOLET associated with the production of that famous drink.

Byrrh and Violets

The Violet brothers of Corsavy created Byrrh (confusingly pronounced ‘beer’) in 1873. This ’vin tonique et hygiénique’, first billed as a tonic, is made from good quality Roussillon wines and quinine water and said to be medicinal!

Gustave Violet, son of one of the brothers, chose not to follow in his father’s footsteps. Instead, he became an artist, sculptor and architect. At the outbreak of WW1, he was conscripted. On his return in 1918 this gentle artist, totally traumatised both physically and mentally by the horrors of war, was commissioned by several of the towns of the P-O to sculpt their War Memorials.

In fact, with no wish to glorify war, the monuments he created were very much ANTI-war. In Thuir, at the gateway to the cemetery, his bas relief sculptures depict not glory but sorrow and despair. Other Violet memorials in Perpignan, Prades, Estagel, Tautavel and Claira, follow similar themes; women waiting for sons and lovers who would never return, the tragedy of war…

Find out more here.

estagel byrrh

Reach the D117 and walk carefully along road in direction of Maury for 50 metres to turn right and cross a level crossing. This the line for the Train Rouge which follows the Agly river along the valley from Rivesaltes.

Maury Murals

Head west on the D117 from Estagel, the 10th century fortress of Quéribus towering above you on your right, and you soon arrive in the village of Maury. Well worth the visit for its great wines, it is also a delight to wander around the “Chemin de Trompe l’Oeil”, tricks of the eye, painted in 1998 by master muralist Bernard Gout.

A dog guards the entrance to the Cave Co-operative. Or does it?

Three old men sit on a bench in the sun – or do they? From a distance you’re really not quite sure. A horse looks over a stable door, a pretty fountain tempts closer inspection. At least the café is open. Isn’t it? Fascinating. A wander round the village of Maury is an absolutely pleasure.

estagel walk mural

Turn left and follow the track, parallel with the railway, for 1.3km. The path narrows after a bridge under the railway on left. Continue straight on to reach the D611.

There is evidence of vineyards where they no longer exist. A feature of the area.

walk estagel

With no direct path ahead, you have to cross the level crossing, go down to the D117, turn right and walk along the road for 300m. Fortunately there is a very wide section beside the main carriageway.

Turn right, under the railway, at Stop sign where a small road exits onto the D117 and take path to left beside railway.  Continue into vines, follow edge of field bending right and then dropping down left onto narrow road.

Train Rouge

A trip on the Train rouge, otherwise known as the ‘Train du Pays Cathare et du Fenouillèdes’ (TPCF) with its bright red and white carriages is not just recommended for train enthusiasts. Along the way, there are magnificent views, oceans of vines, Cathar castles – and plenty of opportunity for wine tasting! From Rivesaltes to Axat, the train chugs along this 100 year old railway line, high up in the Fenouillèdes – a slow climb of over 60 kms.

The summer service is now over, but look out for the themed trips such as ‘Murder on the Catalan Express’ or the Halloween or Santa Special.

Find out more here.

walk estagel train rouge

Turn right and follow the road uphill. Just after two pines standing together there is a single pine.  Here, take the stony broad track to the right and continue uphill.

walk estagel pine

When you reach the top of the hill, turn left and appreciate the views through 360 degrees – Força Real, Quéribus and Peyrepeteuse – and beyond. Follow the track as it bends in a southerly direction, eventually dropping down to the D611. Notice the huge piles of stones – years ago workers went to a lot of trouble to clear the fields!

walk estagel

Força Real (Royal Fortress)

Situated between Millas, Corneilla-la-Rivière and Montner, the panorama from this stunning view point extends along the coastline from Port-Vendres to Leucate, across the Agly and Têt valleys, over the Albères, Canigo, Carlit…

Over the years, Força Réal has been a signal tower and fortress for the defence of the Roussillon, welcoming beacon landmark for returning fishermen, hermitage, and today a ‘tour de guet’ for fire spotting.

On a clear day, the view will take your breath away.

walk estagel forca real

Built in 1258 by the kings of Aragon to reinforce Roussillon defences, the original signal tower and small fort, constructed on two adjacent hills, were destroyed in the 17th century. The fort was transformed into an hermitage and ‘Conjurador’, its function to appease the elements and chase away storms and summer drought.

For the more energetic, a labyrinth of well signed walks for all levels, with ‘sentier botanique’ identifying trees and shrubs, will take you up to a large viewing platform, looking out over the wine villages of Montner, La Tour de France to your far left, Estagel in the distance, and the Corbières and Queribus a little further afield.

Turn right and go downhill along the road for about 300 metres, turning left onto a footpath in a rocky gully between the hills. The sandy, stony path leads to the top of les Monts d’Estagel. It is quite a steep ascent but not too long. At the top, turn left and follow the track, ignoring all side tracks.

Again, there are huge piles of stones, huge thick walls and outline of shelters made by workers of yesteryear clearing the ground for agricultural purposes. Nature has now reclaimed the area except for a few vineyards but the monuments to their work live on. Some of the walls are 2-3 metres high and 2 metres wide.

Keep on main track rising slightly and ignoring a double track off to left. Track becomes tarmac.

From here, Estagel comes into view on the descent. To the left, the rivers Agly and Verdouble exit their individual valleys to converge near the town. Keep on the narrow tarmac road as it reaches some new houses opposite Estagel station.

estagel station

François Arago

Francois Arago was born in Estagel in 1786, where his father was the Mayor. Francois was also co-founder of l’Independent newspaper.

Famous physicist and astronomer,  Arago was less known as an intrepid explorer and adventurer, yet he led an exciting and charmed life. Arrested on charges of spying and thrown into the dungeon of a Majorcan fortress whilst on a project to measure the Earth’s curvature in the Balearic Islands, he  escaped ‘disguised as a Spaniard’!  and hid away on a  fishing boat as he tried to return to France.

When the boat was captured by pirates masquerading as the Spanish navy,  he persuaded them that he was a wealthy Austrian aristocrat worth a tidy ransom. When no payment materialised, he was dumped back in prison from where he managed to escape yet again, this time in a coffin.

However, our unlucky hero was captured again, this time by Moroccan Berber warriors. Another escape, this time on a blind camel! He finally made it back to Perpignan  and a hero’s welcome. He went on to have a long and distinguished career in French politics, and is immortalised in statues and street names around the P-O.

francois arago

Cross the railway at level crossing, exit onto D117, turn left for 50 metres and take second road on left back to the Cave Cooperative, Cross the gué and return to car park.

Why not stop for refreshments here and wander through the streets of this pleasant little town as a  great finish to another lovely walk?

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