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Walking and Hiking 

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The Department of the Pyrenees Orientales is a fantastic area for walking, and at Mas Bellonte in the Rotja Valley you are ideally situated to take advantage of the amazing variety of walks on offer. There is a huge network of well-marked footpaths, some of which link villages together, some are ancient  tracks made by "bergers" to take their herds of cows, goats or sheep to and from the summer pastures, and many must have been created purely for recreational use.

We are located in a veritable mecca for walking and hiking enthusiasts, with routes varying from the gentle and scenic, to more serious routes on the higher mountains. Regardless of the route, they are all set amongst the most beautiful Pyrenean landscapes with stunning views of mountains, rugged gorges, glacial valleys all featuring in this diverse landscape.

Directly from Mas Bellonte walkers have access to over 250 km of mountain paths. You can take a gentle stroll from the house along the valley floor, or along either of the ridges which enclose the valley. These will give you beautiful panoramic views and within the scope of an easy afternoon walk you can see an old partially restored chapel, a dolmen, a disused quarry of pink marble and a 17th Century cistern built by General Vauban whose many achievements include the forts at Villefranche, Mont Louis and Collioure.  Still walking from the house, you can take a superb undulating ridge to the Tour de Goa, one of the remaining signal towers built in the 15th Century, from which there are stunning views of Canigou and the other surrounding mountains.

Within a short drive, there are several walks possible from the small spa town of Vernet les Bains, including one up to the Pic de Cogollo on the slopes of Canigou, a climb of about 700m, or a little further to the mountain refuge of Bonne Aigue, 1000m of ascent. Also from Vernet, or from nearby Casteil, you can do a circuit including the magnificently situated abbey of St Martin du Canigou. Driving from the Col de Jou above Casteil on the rough forestry track up to the refuge of Mariailles gives several further options of high-level walks on summer pastures and rocky peaks. The windy road above Sahorre will take you to the picturesque village of Py, where you can walk in the nature reserve, or further to the Col de Mantet, where an easy climb takes you to the summit of Tres Estelles, or in the other direction, up onto the Pla de Segala. 

The Canigou itself (2784m), which is a local landmark and has long been considered the sacred mountain of Catalonia, can of course be climbed. You can hire a jeep from one of the surrounding villages which will take you to the Chalet des Cortalets, from where it is a 3 hr 30m round trip, with a 630m climb, on a rough and stony path, but without real difficulty. From Mariailles (mentioned above) it is a climb of 1060m, but is a long walk, of 7 to 8 hours, and involves tackling the infamous “chimney” in at least one direction. There are many other routes, and you can walk from Vernet les Bains or Fillols, but it is recommended to do this as a two-day trip, sleeping overnight at the Chalet des Cortalets, which is very close to a beautiful glacial lake (2144m).Alternatively, there are the Refuge de Mariailles and Batere; these all offer food, drink and overnight facilities. Alternatively there are a number of unmanned refuges which can provide a basic shelter, open fire cooking and simple sleeping facilities.

All these walks are based around the green valleys of the Rotja and  Cady rivers, and you will find forests of chestnuts, beech, conifers and oaks, carpets of sweet-smelling wild thyme, and, on the higher slopes, a colourful assortment of wild flowers in early summer – gorse, broom, azaleas, lilies, yellow and blue gentian, orchids, globe flowers, monkshood and many more. Wildlife may include red squirrels, isards (the Pyrenean version of the chamois), deer and occasionally marmots, and you will see traces of wild boar, where they have dug in the soft earth around mountain springs, though the wild boar (or sanglier) themselves are not often seen in daylight. Butterflies are plentiful, with a huge number of species present in the area, and you may see many birds, including buzzards, eagles and vultures.

As you go further afield, the possibilities become too numerous to mention in any detail. You can drive up towards the plateau of the Cerdagne, or down towards the reservoir at Vinca, and walk up one of the many side valleys off the main N116 road. There are many Romanesque chapels, old castles, and tiny hamlets, some still inhabited and others abandoned. On the South-facing slopes to the North of the main Tet valley, the terrain  is harsher and rockier, with a typical garrigue vegetation, but you can also see carpets of  wild narcissus on some of the slopes, and many other flowers. Up on the Cerdagne, the Eyne Valley is a nature reserve, with a beautiful mountain river, a superb variety of wild flowers and a good chance of seeing marmots. The area around Lac des Bouillouses, up from Mont Louis, offers a paradise of small mountain lakes, at 2000m altitude, and a range of beautiful walks, including the ascent of Mt Carlit, which at 2921m is even higher than Canigou, a round trip of about 5 hours and 900m ascent. All of these are within a 1hr 30m drive from Mas Bellonte.  

The famous GR10 (Grand Randonnee 10), which follows the French Spanish border from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic coasts passes within a few kilometres of the Mas. This is a serious walk of some 870km in total, but a portion can be tasted to whet your appetite. www.balades-pyrenees.com

Finally, a word or two of caution. Most of the walks require a reasonable level of fitness, though there are gentle options in all the areas mentioned. It is always worth taking the normal precautions when walking in mountains. Tell someone where you are going and roughly when you expect to be back. Most of the paths round here are very well marked, but it is always possible to get lost, so take a guide book, map and compass if you are going on a long walk. Take enough food and plenty of water. The sun here can be very strong at all times of year, but equally, the summits can turn cold in the wind even on hot days, so always take a spare layer of clothing. Be prepared for sudden changes in the weather – summer storms can come up in the mountains later in the day, so it is always best to start off fairly early and be on the way down by early afternoon.  Having chosen and prepared for your walk, it just remains to get out there and enjoy some of our wonderful countryside.

Bonne promenade!  

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