At the foot of the Albères mountain range, just a short drive away from the Spanish border lies Argelès.
Its name comes from the Latin ‘argila’ meaning clay. Its motto, ‘qui s’hi acosta, té resposta’ means ‘he who rubs himself up against it will get pricked” – a Catalan way of saying ‘Once you get here, you won’t ever want to leave’!
Development of the resort started in the 1860s, when the first settlements were followed by the installation of a French army camp, and the arrival of the first campers. WW2 brought barbed wire, squalor and heartbreak as beaches became prisons for refugees fleeing the Franco regime. Today, the sea has washed away the blood and tears and the beaches are safe and golden but a small museum in Valmy Park and plaques along the seafront remind us that we must never forget.
Slightly inland with a charming and bustling centre, a XVI century church and a popular market.
Stroll around the narrow streets of the pretty, bustling, village, perfect for people-watching on the trottoir of one of the many cafés and restaurants, follow the old ramparts, visit the church and its treasures and climb to the top of the 23m tower to enjoy the unique view of the Plaine du Roussillon.
With 7 km of long sandy beaches, two nature reserves, (Mas Larrieu and La Forêt de la Massane), the timeless Racou beach, and a mountain summit towering at 1156m (Pic des 4 Termes), Argelès is a limitless playground for walkers, cyclists swimmrunners and watersport fans!
A lively stretch of of traditional seaside amenities with beautiful long and sandy beach, backed by a promenade with well kept gardens and villas. Loads of boutiques, fast food restaurants, slower food restaurants, bars and a sparkling night scene ensure that it is popular with holiday makers of all ages, particularly the young.
Hard to imagine how it must have been in 1939 at the time of the Retirada when thousands of Spanish refugees fled Franco’s Spain and camped in freezing conditions on the sands. Small wonder they were so swift to volunteer to serve in the French army in the autumn of that unfortunate year.
Argelès Port, built in the late 70s and early 80s, is now an established yachting and pleasure boat port with all the amenities a yachtsman could require. Around the port, an oval parade of shops and restaurants offers relaxing refreshment and entertainment, lively and crackling in the summer but a little sad and deserted over the winter months.
Sails moving gently in the breeze, totally pedestrian, stroll past cafés, shops and restaurants, or watch the world go by – a refreshing change to the manic pace of life.
THE RACOU BEACH
Between PORT ARGELES and the Côte Vermeille is LE RACOU. At the beginning of the XX century just a collection of fishermen’s huts and the odd beach hut built on the sand, it has grown into a much sought after seaside village.
Indeed, in the 60’s, the inhabitants declared their village “independent”. The ‘free village of Le Racou’ was never recognised but, when the old huts change hands, and they seldom do, it is for large amounts of euros.
This is the last stretch of sand before the rocky coast begins. The sea gets deep quickly, the swimming is easy and the whole place has a 50’s California feel about it. You half expect to see Ava Gardner washed up on the shore.
All the wide sandy beaches have safe and supervised bathing during the season, whilst the numerous little rocky creeks provide a perfect base for those who wish to scuba dive or get away from the crowds. The Tramontane and Marin winds makes windsurfing and surfing more challenging than in many resorts and all manner of water sports are available here.
Argelès earnt the title of ‘Handiplage’ due to its many facilities for the disabled. The town has undertaken a special programme in order to make the resort more accessible to disabled visitors, including training the staff in the tourist office and the ‘police munipale’ to better understand the needs of the visually impaired. FIND OUT MORE
Exit 12 off the ‘voie rapide’ (dual carriageway) leads to Chateau de Valmy, gleaming white, a real fantasy fairytale castle. Created by Viggo Petersen in 1888, it is now owned by the Carbonnell family and comprises a luxurious guesthouse and vineyards producing very high quality wine. Tastings in the elegant cave are a real treat 04 68 81 25 70.
Six hectares of land within the Chateau grounds, is owned by the Commune of Argeles and is open for the public to stroll through and enjoy. There is a picnic area, games for children and, from Spring onwards, all manner of festivals and festivities take place there. A Flower Festival in April, Flamenco and Art, Pop Music, Sardanne Aplecs, antique salons all take place in Park Valmy 04 68 81 47 25 for details.
For a longer walk or a bumpy drive, pass the Chateau and follow the signs to the Chapel of St Laurent. Set in a grove of cork oaks, the XII century chapel and surrounding picnic area is a beautiful and peaceful spot. Behind the chapel a footpath leads to a perfect orri (shepherd’s shelter).
Exit 13 is the one to take for a drive part of the way or walk the whole way to the Massane Tower. Direction Mas Christine, drive up as far as you can then park and follow the marked walk to the summit: Fantastic views all along the sandy coast as well as over Collioure and Port Vendres, Canigou and the Corbieres.
SO MUCH TO DO….
Visit the Galerie Marianne, free municipal art gallery, take a delightful, flat stroll along the prom, prom, prom and enjoy the outdoor photographic exhibition ‘Enfants de la Mer‘, or a more demanding cliffside walk to Collioure. Shed a few calories up to the ancient watch tower de la Massane, (watch or join in the Massane race on 28th & 29th April) passing by the Chapelle St Laurent, one of the few Catalan Romanesque art monuments of the Albères whose restoration is finished. On the way, pop into the beautiful Chateau Valmy for a dégustation of the wines or lunch looking out across the vines and down to the sea, or visit Valmy park with its trails, fountains, play and picnic areas and a fabulous view down to the Mediterranean and the Roussillon plain.
Fête de la St Côme et St Damien
Every year, towards the end of September, Argelès-sur-Mer pays hommage to its patron saints, Saint Côme and Saint Damien. According to legend, Argelès was struck by plague in the 17th century, an epidemic which disappeared on 27th September 1652 – the feast of the patron saints – and on which day the population made a vow to carry out a solemn procession to honour them every year…
A variety of different events and entertainment punctuate several days of festivities, crashing to a grand finale with the parade through the streets of the Argeles giants.
Village – Saturday and Wednesday a.m
Beach – Everyday during high season
Tourist office website