by Chris and Tim Parker
A 2h 30mins walk with approx 380 metres of ascent. Route signed with yellow waymarks. Wonderful views of Le Massif de Canigou. Very interesting industrial and cultural heritage. *(Walk can be lengthened by 130 metres of ascent and 1 hour in time by dropping down to Corneilla)
Access: map IGN 1:25,000 Massif de Canigou 2349 ET
Take the N116 from Perpignan to Prades. Continue to Villefranche de Conflent and park in small car park near entrance to this fascinating, walled town, ( Parking 2 euros for 5 hours or 4 euros for 10 hours.)
Start of walk:
Cross road to left of bus shelter to see path going uphill. First section is very stoney offers lovely views of Villefranche and Fort Liberia towering above it.
Look down on station with “Le train Jaune” rolling stock.
After 10 mins cross the Canal de Bohère.
Continue upwards. Ten mins later path turns away from road and enters pine and oak woodland with earth underfoot.
Thirty mins into the walk reach a bifurcation. Take higher path and continue upwards to reach a flat grassy area signed “Ambulla” (711metres).
Turn right and pass another signpost which indicates Bergerie to right and Corneilla to left. Route from Bergerie will be our return path.
Follow piste to left, cut a corner of it on right soon afterwards, then turn left almost immediately to follow a long stoney track all the way to a col where there is another waymark post in a dip. (All along the track you will have uninterrupted views of Massif de Canigou across valley)
The col has crossroad of tracks. Straight on is towards Fillols. Piste to right is a longer way down to Corneilla. Approaching col pass through large gate and turn immediately right through small gate by a sheep dip to find footpath which leads directly down to Roc Ample. (Not very aptly named as there is no rock just a stone wall!)
Another signpost at Roc Ample indicates the left turn down to Corneilla or straight on for the return to Villefranche. [*To visit Corneilla follow footpath downhill, passing 2 orri in good condition. Path crosses areas of brush and small group of pine trees.
Eventually reach a rocky gulley which leads down to the river below the church. Cross by a footbridge and arrive at 11th-12th century Romanesque church of St Marie. This is a good place to take a break and then to have a look round the small village and church before making your way back to Roc Ample. (1 hour aller-retour)]
At Roc Ample continue straight on if arriving from the coll, and after 5 mins pass right side of old bergerie, cross grassland to soon reach another signpost.
Turn left to follow direction Villefranche. Pass a tree with seat of stones round its base.
Reach a T junction. A diversion to the left will take you 100 metres to a viewpoint overlooking Villefranche and valley of river Cady, Les Grottes de Canalettes and further mountains. Otherwise, turn right to continue route.
After a few minutes reach an old Talc quarry. Here, talc was quarried until 1960 and used in the ceramics trade.
Path drops to pass under power cables and bends right. At junction take stoney path up on the left. The path gradually narrows to reach another signpost.
A Bergerie can be visited to left (10 mins) but our route is to the right, and it comes down to the main track on the grassy plateau.
Turn left to quickly reach Ambulla crossroads of paths. (1h 15mins from Corneilla). To the right here, manganese used to be mined. Apparently the men mined the manganese and the women carried it down to Villefranche, so the path of ascent and descent is called “le chemin de manganèse”)
Turn left from Ambulla to retrace your earlier route of ascent. Enter woodland and descend to Villefranche le Conflent in about 35 mins.
Once at the town make sure you have enough time on your parking ticket to spend a while exploring the narrow streets, shops and a cafe. Maybe even take a walk round the ramparts? A tour of Fort Liberia is also well worth-while when you are in the area – but maybe for another day as it is a nice little climb unless you take the 4×4!. Coming back down the underground marble steps is an absolute must if you do visit the Fort!