There are many different and diverse places of interest which can
easily be visited from Mas Bellonte, and we have included a
selection of just a few on this page.
Mount Canigou, pictured above, dominates the skyline in this region.
It is the sacred mountain of the Catalan people and stands 2784
metres high. There a number of different ways of reaching the
summit, either totally on foot, or by partial ascent by 4 x 4, but
whichever way you choose, the views and experience of standing on
the summit are well worth the effort.
Every Tuesday morning there is a market in the centre of Prades our
nearest large town. An interesting and relaxing morning can be
enjoyed wandering the back streets of Prades and making a few
purchases of local produce. There are several cafes in the
lovely square, with its large church and plane trees, where coffee
or lunch can be taken whilst soaking up the atmosphere of the
market. A smaller market is also held in the town on
Vernet les Bains also has a small market on Monday, Thursday and
Saturday in the square right in the centre of the town.
There are supermarkets in Prades – Super U and Intermarche and an
Ecomarche just outside Vernet-les-Bains.
Some local places of interest
Prades - the nearest large
town to Mas Bellonte
This is the best place for shopping in
the area with two large supermarkets on the outskirts of the town
and many small shops in the centre. An excellent market takes
place on Tuesdays with a smaller one on Saturdays. There are
cafes and restaurants around the main square - the place de la
Republique - and nearby a 1* Michelin restaurant. There is
lots of rose-pink marble in Prades - even some of the pavements are
made of the stone!
Each year, the Pablo Casals music festival is held here throughout
the last week in July and most of the month of August, when there
are daily recitals and concerts of classical music in the town and
also in many other churches and monasteries nearby.
For further information on the Pyrénées Orientales region,
department 66 of the Languedoc Roussillon, see:
Vernet-les-Bains – a hilltop spa town
Lovely Vernet-les-Bains can be reached
by car, via Sahorre, travelling up the Rotja Valley and then taking
the road over the hill to the next valley in about 10 minutes and on
foot in about 45 minutes, by walking up to the ridge from Mas
Bellonte and then along the road down to the town. On the way,
enjoy great views of Vernet and 'le Canigou' in the distance.
There are many picturesque houses and alleys, climbing to the top of
the town where the ninth century Church of Notre Dame del Puig/St
Saturnin dominates the vista. From here, there are
far-reaching views of the mountains including le Canigou and also
the town below.
The square and main road has shops and
two boulangeries and also cafes and restaurants including a
pizzeria. There is a park and arboretum area by the Cascade
des Anglais and it is a pleasant walk to the top, once again taking
in the great views all around. There is also a Casino in the grounds
of the park.
to Mount Canigou by 4x4 can be arranged from here (also from
Prades), and Vernet is also the start point for a number of paths up
this famous mountain.
year, in the first weekend in August, Vernet hosts the 'Championnat
du Canigou', which is a running race from the centre of Vernet
to the summit of Mt Canigou and back to Vernet. This race is not for
the faint hearted as it covers 33km and incorporates over 2100
metres of firstly climb and then descent, however, the course record is an
incredible 3hrs 4 min 4 secs set in 2007 by
of Spain, beating the previous 2005 record of Frenchman Frederic
Frezoul by over 8 minutes.
Vernet-les-Bains has been well known
since the Middle Ages for the beneficial properties of its hot
springs and they can be taken taken advantage of in the town. The
springs are sulphurated, with traces of sodium, various silicates
and some fluorine and magnesium, and have a temperature between 38°
C and 66° C. They contain microscopic plankton called vernetine,
which help in improving the condition of the skin.
Villefranche de Conflent - an ancient walled town , and Fort Liberia
is our nearest town and offers several atmospheric restaurants,
pizzeria and cafes and can be reached in five minutes. There
is a sunny cafe at the far end of the village which is good for
coffee or lunch. There are also several shops selling pottery,
jewellery and other attractive items. Although there are no
large food shops, there are a boulangerie and tabac in Rue St
Jacques as well as a Post Office. This ancient walled town is
also the starting point for the Petit Train Jaune as it commences its picturesque journey
high into the Pyrenean mountains.
Villefranche also has Les Grottes Canalettes, an impressive network
of underground caves and caverns which are open daily. Above
Villefranche is Fort Liberia which can be accessed either on foot
via a track or by 4 x 4. Descent from the fort can also be made by
walking down 842 marble steps which descend in an impressive tunnel
within the mountain. There are great views from the top of the
fort and also from several galleries leading from the stairs on the
Villefranche de Conflent was built by Count Guillaume-Raymond de
Cerdagne in the 11th century and until the 18th century was the
administrative capital of the region. It is a lovely walk through the village where the
pink marble houses, some of which date back to the 13th and 14th century, and
the Church of St Jacques
can be seen along with picturesque alleys and shops with old wrought
iron signs. Sightseeing tours are organized by the Office of
Tourism and include a tour of the ramparts and information about
their history. The same pink marble quarried from above
Villefranche, as used at
Mas Bellonte, can be seen on the sculpture on the two Romanesque
doorways of the parish church and also on the 13th century bell
tower and the belfry which dates from the 12th century.
The same building materials which were used for Serrabona, St Michel de Cuxa, and
Corneilla de Conflent were all quarried at Villefranche.
The Little Yellow Train
Mas Bellonte is perfectly located for a trip on the famous "Petit
Train Jaune ", one of the highest train journeys in France.
journey starts from Villefranche de Conflent station which was built
at the beginning of the 20th century, Construction of the railway
started in 1910 and was completed in 1927 by reaching Latour de
Carol with the highest station in France, Bolquere at 1592 metres.
The 62km line, with an average incline of 60 millimetres per metre,
meanders through the picturesque Catalan mountains and villages,
passing through 19 tunnels and over 2 famous bridges,
le viaduc Séjourné
le Pont Gisclard,
which are both now listed historique monuments. The whole journey
takes around three hours each way at an average speed of about 20
It is about half an hours drive from Mas Bellonte to Thues les Bains
where the spectacular Caranca Gorge is situated.
is also possible to use the Petit Train Jaune which is again about
half an hours ride
from Villefranche to the gorge.
From the carpark at the entrance, you
can choose which side you want to start walking. To do the
complete walk to the end of the gorge and back will take the best
part of a day. Alternatively you could choose a half day's
walk up one side and down the other following the course of the
river at the bottom.
There are many wonderful spots for a
picnic lunch with fantastic scenery all around. It is a really
exciting place with sheer drops,
catwalks and ladders and one-man wobbly suspension bridges -
probably not for the vertigo-prone!
St Martin du Canigou - a
beautiful mountain monastery in a wonderful setting
Just south of Vernet les Bains is the
appealing, quiet hamlet of Casteil, from where it is a steep walk of
around 45 mins, up a winding roadway to the Monastery of St Martin
Dating back to the early 11th century,
this is one of the most impressive
monuments in the area and,
together with its mountaintop setting, makes it a must to visit. The
monastery was built in 1009
by Guifred, Count of Cerdanya , in atonement for the murder of his
son, and was populated by Benedictine monks. The monastery was
abandoned by the monks in 1783-1785 and fell to disrepair.
In 1902, Monseigneur de Carsalade
du Pont, the bishop of Elne and Perpignan, restored the ruins
radically and completed his work in 1932.
From 1952 to 1971 further restoration
was carried out by Dom Bernard de Chabannes. Today it is occupied by
the Catholic Community of the Beatitudes
There is an alternative descent route
back to Casteil via the entrance to the Gorges du Cady, which
meanders down through the beautiful wooded mountainside, and once
back in Casteil there are also a number of places to eat.
Abbaye de St Michel de
Cuixa - a Benedictine monastery in the hills above Prades
The restored Abbaye de Saint Michel-de-Cuixa,
originally dating from the 9th century,
is 2 miles
(3km) south of Prades near the village of Codalet on the D27, and is
one of the most important ancient monuments in the south of France.
The pre-Romanesque church with traditional Byzantine arches dates
from the 10th century.
The Abbaye has undergone much
restoration after being ransacked following the Revolution and there
are many interesting features. It has a tall crenellated bell tower and
crypt from the early Romanesque period which dates back to the 11th
century. There are also impressive cloisters, whose capitals were carved in great detail in
the twelfth century from the rose pink coloured marble which was
quarried locally at Villefranche. Some of the capitals are
also now in the cloisters museum in New York.
The original altar slab from the church
was rediscovered being used as a balcony on a house in the nearby
town of of Vinça.
The monastery is still inhabited by a
small community of Benedictines from Monserrat in Spain.
Adjacent to the Abbaye is a garden which
is full of the most wonderful collection of Iris flowers.
This is situated a short drive east of Prades, up in the hills on the North side of
the River Tet. There is an hour's walk uphill to reach the
Molitg les Bains - an
Molitg is a small spa town, with baths
dating back to
Phoenician and Roman times, situated in the centre of Conflent at 500
metres high, between the towns of Prades and Mosset. The
source of warm water has regenerating properties, believed to help
cure some dermatological problems and has curative properties to aid
respiratory disorders and rheumatism. A variety of reasonably priced
treatments based on the 'curativre' waters are available.
Its benefits on skin diseases were discovered by chance by the
Marquis de Llupia, in the 17th century, when his sick dog rolled in
the mud and was miraculously cured of its sickness. There is
also a ruined
chateau that overlooks Molitg which can also be visited.
St Thomas les Bains - a
Just over half an hours drive towards Mont Louis and Font Romeu in the mountains, this spa has two large
hot spa baths outside
which are popular with walkers, all year round and skiers in the winter. There is also a hamman, jacuzzi and tea/rest room. Steam rooms are also
available. The spa is open to the public nearly all year.
Les Orgues - spectacular
These natural column like structures are
close to Ille sur Tet and can be seen from the main Perpignan road
They are so called because they resemble church organ pipes and
have been formed by natural erosion of the rocks over millions of
years They can be explored by footpaths laid out within the
de Serrabona - a Romanesque priory
The Prieuré de Serrabona is about half
an hours drive away, just off the main road towards Perpignan, behind
the village of Bouleternere. There are also gardens here
showing the diversity of the region's flora. From the priory
you can also take about an hour's walk uphill to the ridge where there
are great views of Perpignan and the Mediterranean, Mount Canigou
and distant views into Spain.
Thuir - a small market
The small town of Thuir is an
interesting place to visit to browse the shops around the main
square and stop for coffee or lunch, and for anyone interested in
wine it is perhaps best known for having the world's largest oak wine vat,
holding over a million litres!
This is at the Byrrh Winery which produces the local red aperitif wine
of the same name and which is open to visitors during the main
Perpignan - the capital
It is just under an hour's drive from Mas Bellonte to Perpignan
which is a large, multinational city with a small medieval centre.
The heart of the city is the cafe-lined place Arago on the
flower-decked bank of the canalized La Basse river. There are
numerous shops in the centre, including Galeries Lafayette, and many
major retail areas on the outskirts.
Cathar castles of
Queribus and Peyrepetuse, Tautavel and the Galamus Gorge
About an hours drive away is the
impressive old hilltop Cathar Castle of Queribus and a further 15
minutes drive takes you to the even more spectacular Peyrepetuse
castle which is perched high on a knife edge ridge, from where the views are breathtaking from its mountain top
position. During July and August there is a mediaeval festival
and falconry displays
also take place near the castle.
The cave of Tautavel became famous because of the
discovery in 1971 of the front part of a skull dating from half a
million years ago. There is also a museum of pre-history.
Further on, is the Galamus gorge where the road follows the
overhanging gorge and the views are once again lovely.
Figueras, Spain and
Travelling further afield, it is an hour and a half's drive to
Figueras in Spain where the Dali Museum is situated. This
Museum is hugely popular with lovers of modern art. The town
of Figueras is also pleasant and the square is an ideal place for
coffee or lunch. It is possible to take the coast road back
perhaps stopping at one or two of the coastal towns along the way
although this will obviously take considerably longer than taking
the autoroute! The most famous and popular of these towns is Collioure which
is a real gem. It has lots of small shops in the backstreets
and restaurants and cafes line the two lovely bays. It's a
great place for a seafood lunch and a lovely walk by the sea or, of
course, a dip in the Mediterranean! It has some history with
two forts, a church that juts into the sea and a restored windmill.
A visit is thoroughly recommended.
For walkers wishing to venture higher into the mountains, just
further on from
Mont Louis are the lakes of
Bouillouses, a beautiful group of some 27 crystal
clear lakes. This area on the Cerdagne plateau is huge and
provides the opportunity for walking which can span days.
Les Plus Beaux
Villages de France
France has a number of lovely small villages throughout the country which
are recognised for their picturesque nature and several of these are easily
accessible from Mas Bellonte.
The small village of Eus is draped over
the hillside visible on the right of the main Perpigan to Prades
road, just before getting to Prades, with its church crowning the
village. It has been the sunniest village in France in recent years,
and is well worth a visit for its views of the Canigou.
Castelnou - a medieval
Castelnou is a beautiful medieval
village nestling in the hillside. With the castle situated on top of
the hill, originally built
around 988 to 990, Castelnou used to be the military capital of
the Viscount of the Vallespir region, and the church and the ramparts enjoy panoramic views of Mt Canigou from the belvedere. There a
number of small craft shops and a restaurant in the village.
Situated just a few kilometres higher up
the valley from Molitg-les-Bains is the lovely medieval village of
Mosset, where you can walk the narrow streets and climb up to the
old chateau on the hilltop before having a drink or meal in a local
Conflent - see description above