by Madeleine McMullin
A lovely walk up through the forest to the Ermitage de Notre Dame du Coral followed by lunch at the Auberge and the same walk back down to Lamanère. It is just under 6 km and takes about 2 hours even for slower walkers.
The walk starts from Lamanère which is the most southerly commune in France situated on the south side of the Vallespir. You need to park the car in the village in front of the Bistro du pays and walk down the steps beside it, then turn right and go down the next set as well. There are signs for Notre Dame and N.D. painted on the walls.
Follow the path through the meadow, across the stone bridge, past the mill and up to the track. From there you will see a path up through the woods with a sign in yellow to Le Coral. Take it and continue walking through chestnut woods through a snicket gate, and follow the wide track on.
The trees gradually change from chestnut to beech and there are a few junctions, but it is well signed with yellow markers with the number 2, as well as occasional signs with Notre Dame or ND on them. The red and white of the GR is also present for most of the way.
Eventually you will start to catch glimpses of Notre Dame du Coral between the trees up to your right.
After about 3 km the path becomes narrower and starts to descend, before crossing a wooden bridge over a river and heading up the other side. Here you will see an oratory or shrine built in 1599 with a statue of the virgin and child inside. Carry on up and you will eventually come out at the Ermitage.
The Ermitage de Notre Dame du Coral
The building is an old hermitage built in 1690 with later additions. The chapel is well worth a visit, Remember to climb the stairs to the side of the altar to view the paintings in the room behind. The rest of the building has been converted into a walkers hostel and inn which is open throughout the year. In the winter months, you need to phone or send a Facebook message to book or risk having nothing to eat. It is probably advisable to book in summer too, just in case. There is a pilgrimage and festival in August when all the locals come up.
The friendly, talkative owners have a couple of pot-bellied pigs that they took in when they got too big for their owners, ducks and geese and two Catalan donkeys.
Dogs are welcome which was good as our party of 10 had 5. It was a freezing day outside with nowhere to leave them out of the wind. We had tied them all up to the banisters in the hallway but were told to put them into the visitors lounge instead, as they wouldn’t like being tied up for that long.
The food is a set menu with no choice except for desserts, but it was good. The starter was a chicken salad with crunchy garlic croutons. The main course was chicken in an orange and saffron Tunisian style sauce with couscous. Isabelle, the cook, lived with a Tunisian for 15 years and his mother taught her how to cook the cuisine. Dessert was a choice of “Milky Way”, a sort of apple compote with spices in it and almonds flaked on top, or egg flan. The Milky Way was very nice and the only criticism of the whole meal was that the egg flan was a bit bland, but then in my opinion, it normally is. It cost €18.50 each plus drinks which amounted to about 4 litres of wine and 8 coffees. We rounded the bill up to €25 each which meant a big enough tip to bring a big smile to the owners’ faces and then made our way out to walk back to the cars.
The way back is the same as the way there, except, it being downhill, it was only about an hour even for the slowest of the party. Lamanère appeared bathed in sunlight at the end of a delightful day.