Local Region 
 

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.

Local markets

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 Saturday mornings.

Vernet les Bains also has a small market on Monday, Thursday and Saturday in the square right in the centre of the town.

Supermarkets

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:

http://www.cg66.fr/index.html

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, you can 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.

Visits 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.

Each 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  Hernandez Jessed Gispert 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

This 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 descent.  

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.

 http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/6750/fliberia.htm

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.

The 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 and 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 kph.

Caranca Gorge

It is about half an hours drive from Mas Bellonte to Thues les Bains where the spectacular Caranca Gorge is situated.

It 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 du Canigou. 

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 PradesSant Miquel de Cuixà's cloister.

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.

Prieuré de Marcevol 

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 Priory.

Molitg les Bains - an ancient spa

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.

Molitg les Bains

St Thomas les Bains - a spa

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.

http://perso.orange.fr/saint-thomas/

Les Orgues - spectacular rock formations

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 gorge.

Prieuré 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 town

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 holiday season.

Perpignan - the capital of Rousillon

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. 

chateau-peyrepertuse

Figueras, Spain and Collioure, France

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.

Cerdagne plateau

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.

Eus

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 hilltop village

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.

Mosset

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 bar/restaurant.

Villefranche de Conflent - see description above

 

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