Out for the day in the mountains
1st stop : Villefranche de Conflent
As you head up the N116 towards the high Pyrenees after Prades, the Têt Valley narrows and the fortified medieval town of Villefranche de Conflent whisks you back thousands of years in time.
Classified among the most beautiful villages of France, the streets are cobbled and the houses are tall and narrow, with an enchanting glow from the famous pink-coloured marble, mined in the area and used in much of the town’s construction.
Art galleries, souvenir shops and local craft shops abound although many close over the winter season. Several sell handcrafted witch dolls, ‘poupées sorcières’, as befits the legends of magic and witchcraft surrounding this region, steeped in history and superstition.
As you wander the streets, look up at the fascinating shop signs, forged from local iron.
Walk around the ramparts or head up ‘Les milles marches’ to Fort Liberia with its horrible history of alleged female murderers. Perched above the town, and dominated by Canigou, it was built in the same impenetrable pink marble as much of the town.
Alternatively, you can walk the steep open pathway, with its stunning views over mountain and valley, or take a shuttle bus from inside the town walls.
Just 300m from Villefranche, Les Grottes de Canalettes are a network of spectacular caves that lead visitors deep into the heart of Canigou, along specially adapted bridges and walkways, hewn passages, sculpted walls and vast chambers.
Wonderful stalagmites, stalactites and coloured pillars of mineral rock. Absolutely fascinating and beautiful – but not for the claustrophobic although the trail is wide and high! Open for the school holiday in February, then open for the season from April onwards.
On next to Mont Louis
If you want to go commando, why not tag along on a short run to Collioure in full battle gear? They can be regularly seen on manoeuvres, so don’t panic if you’re approached by masked men when out walking in the area!
Walk the walls of this pretty cobbled town. The views are stunning!
Ready for a bite to eat?
Housed in the original tea room of what was once the town’s Spanish troop hospital, why not visit Le Dagobert restaurant, named after General Dagobert who kept those same Spanish soldiers at bay. Traditional mountain cuisine with French and Basque influences and a warm welcome await.
Equally worth a visit is the first solar furnace in the world, built in 1949 with 1420 mirrors. A programme of experiments and demonstrations are part of a guided visit, and pottery and bronzes manufactured on site are on sale.
Ringed by mountains, and with Lake Matemale glistening in front of the village, Les Angles offers 45 downhill pistes catering for all levels, (14 green, 9 blue, 14 red, 8 black) and an impressive snow park.
From the top of the brand new télécabine, (14 places, solar panels, and new gondola station….) the ski slopes descend through the pine forests into the old village itself.
There are two restaurants on the slopes, warm and welcoming, and a ‘Salle de Grillade’ at the top of the télécabine where you can leave your own barbecue meat at the start of your skiing day and arrive to have it grilled and served for you at lunch-time!
Huddled around the church of St Michel, and the remains of the XIII century chateau, this pretty alpine village combines attractive old houses, gites,
and restaurants with the modern buildings and equipment of an exciting ski centre.
All skied out?
THE PARC ANIMALIER
Boar, wolf, bison, bear, reindeer, marmotte and lizards in very large enclosures. Follow one of two walking circuits, the longer taking around one and a half to two hour, amidst local animals in their natural surroundings – a delight for all ages.
Picnic spots (no food and drink on site so take your own) and beautiful views through to the lake and mountains. Take boots!
ANGLEO, Balnéo & Spa
Iron out those aching muscles at the new spa in the heart of the village, no car needed. Swim, Steam, Sauna, Salt, Solarium, Skin care…Ssssssseriously pure ‘me time’!
A modern resort with an ancient history, Font Romeu is the second-oldest ski resort in France, after Mont-Revard in the Alpes.
Its development as a ski resort and tourist destination started more than 100 years ago, when the Petit Train Jaune, highest railway track in France, highest SNCF station and stunning views along the way, was built to connect the plain with the mountains.
When Le Grand Hotel was built In 1911, Font Romeu became THE place to be seen in high society on both sides of the nearby Spanish border, welcoming the Spanish royal family, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali amongst its many guests.
Overlooking the town, with 200 rooms, apartments, elevators, electric lighting, an American bar, a casino, a garage and a shuttle bus service to the railway station, the elegant hotel was closed down in 1975 and split into apartments.
Today Font Romeu is a busy ski resort, offering 41 downhill pistes of all levels, served by 23 lifts, and 103 kilometres of cross-country ski trails.
Every Friday, 50% off a full day ski pass!
- night skiing
- snow shoe walking
- husky sledge riding
- quad VTTs
- snowtubing (like sledging but on a giant tyre!)
- Escape Game Outdoor (physical and mental obstacle course)
- snake run
- and much, much more…!
It also attracts Olympic teams and great athletes for its biathlon facilities at its Centre National d’Entraînement en Altitude (CNEA) (“National centre for sports training at altitude”) so you never know who you might bump into on the piste!
The nearby caves, les Grottes de Fontrabiouse, a fascinating and perfectly preserved underground world, are the highest in France and well worth a visit. Underground lake, hundreds of stalagmites and stalactites in a spectacular array of colours – and perfect conditions for maturing wine, so you can even
taste as you visit!
Font Romeu means ‘pilgrim’s fountain’, named after the Ermitage de Font-Romeu, built in the 17th and 18th centuries, on the site of a 1035 oratory. According to legend, a cowherd noticed his bull scratching at some water and bellowing loudly. There in the ground, he found a statue of the Virgin.
More than enough to attract the pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago (St. James’ Way), en route to Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain. Once the news of this miracle was out, many travellers stopped at the holy fountain, putting Font Romeu firmly on the map of Medieval Europe.
To this day, the meticulously preserved Hermitage at Font Romeu is still a stop on the Camino for pilgrims, who bathe in the interior basin and visit the magnificent Sunyer altar.
The abundant sunshine that triggered the evolution of Font Romeu as a resort also led to the building of the world’s largest solar furnace. The immense parabolic mirror, tall as the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, reflects the countryside and sky, giving an ever-changing patchwork view of the surrounding countryside that is beautiful and fascinating to watch.
Le musée sans murs
Nature and art collide in this museum without walls. Wander around sculptures and statues, the highest art gallery in Europe, starting in the centre of Font-Romeu opposite the tennis courts. Visit the website here.
And the fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down…