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France Today

Village Catalan.com  - in the Paradise of the Pyrenees


    Excursion 4.

    Highlights in Les Albères.

    ½ day trip, pic-nic lunch at one of the small streams is very nice.
    Getting there:
    Le Perthus(from Col du Perthus D71 to St. Martin d'Albère)- Col de l'Ouillat-Pic Néolous(asphalt road)-Col de 3 Hêtres(dirt road)-return the same way.

    The natural reserve, Les Albères, is the lowest outpost in the Pyrénées Orientales and stretches right into the sea. A trip into these wooded hills is a must for lovers of nature, and very easily accessible for families. Hiking tracks directly from the villages at the foothills will takes you right into the shady woods - the longest track, GR 10, (grand randonée 10), leads all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

    You do not have to climb very high to have a lovely view of the Plaine du Roussillon and the Med, but of course a car takes you further quicker on the trip described here. The panorama from the top with the antenna, Pic de Néolous, gives you an unequaled view on both France, Spain and the sea. You may bump into cattle walking freely about, but do not worry, they are harmless and used to the clicking of cameras. The bull calves, born in Spring, are brought down from the woods in the autumn and turned into the succulent veal, the Veau de Pyrénées.

    This is also the home of the wild boar though bumping into one is quite unlikely. They are also hunted in Autumn and the meat turned into typical Catalan dishes (sanglier). The vegetation consists of sweet-chestnut-trees, beech, and a large variety of oak - the cork oak is grown in large plantations and stripped every 8-10 years. The cork production is one of the main industries, together with the chocolate industry. On the Pic Néolous only windswept oak trees struggle to survive in the barren, clayey soil.

    Excursion 5.

    Visit to Collioure and Tour de Madeloc via scenic villages along les Albères.

    Day trip. Pic-nic lunch or restaurant.
    Getting there:
    Le Boulou-Montesquieu des Albères-Villelongue dels Monts-Laroque des Albères-Sorède-Argèles-Tour de Madeloc-Collioure. Return via Argèles-St. André-St. Genis des Fontaines-Le Boulou.

    Village view This trip starts out on the route touristique, namely passing the typical, small medieval villages at the feet of Les Albères. You almost sense the whirr of a long bygone past - surely, these pavements and narrow streets flanked by stone dwellings have wit- witnessed galloping, whining horses with knights in shining armors, chatter in Roman tongue and the eerie squeals of dying pigs - history lurks behind every corner, only waiting to be rediscovered!

    Just before entering Collioure, turn to the right and ascend the winding road in the midst of the famous vineyards of Banyuls- wine up to the end of the road. To reach the tower at the top you will have to walk on foot the last yards - you will not regret this last effort as the panorama view from here over the coast is absolutely superb! La Tour de Madeloc was built at the same time as La Tour de la Massane, which is placed further away from the coast but visible from the road along the coast. The first guarded the coast line the latter the plains. Both were constructed during the reign of Aragon and Mallorca and served as warning towers, signaling with fire about enemy movements.

    And now down to Collioure - the picturesque, ancient coastal town right on the water's edge, beloved by kings, worshipped by artists and popular summer and winter with the impressive fortress as a solid immortal center. In the past an important strong- hold against enemies from the sea, now the meter thick stone- walls house exhibitions and serve as a museum. Collioure personifies everything expected from a Mediterranean coastal town - out-door cafés, restaurants, hotels, ancient architecture beaches, colourful fishing boats (the coast is well known for their anchovies, which is an important Catalan dish with red peppers), small shops, music, painters, exotic scents - in short.

    A MUST! On June 23rd a truly spectacular firework in the bay. Return along the coast to Argèles and continue through St. André and St. Genis-des-Fontaines, the latter famous for the carved stone slab above the church door dating back to the 11th century.

    For visitors, interested in ancient church architecture and alters, this trip offers a lot due to the many villages dating back to Roman times.

    Excursion 6.

    Tautavel and "l'Homme de Tautavel" 450.000 yrs. old

    Day trip. Pic-nic lunch or restaurant.
    Getting there:
    Perpignan-Rivesaltes-Estagel-Tautavel-Vingrau-Montpins-Rivesaltes- Perpignan

    How many villages can boast a 450.000 years old cave man? In 1971 M.H. Lumley made an extraordinary discovery in a cave, La Caune de l'Arago in the mountains surrounding the plains of Tautavel. Then a sleepy village of winegrowers on the bank of the river Verdouble, now a very lively town, still growing wine, due to the discovery, the eldest proof of human existence in Europe.

    The plain of Tautavel is surrounded by mountains and therefore enjoys not only a micro climate but also a fairly peaceful life without too much interference from the outside world. Nowadays the land yields an excellent red wine, but during the Glacial Age (Mindel), 450.000 years ago, Hippopotamus, Rhinos, big Bears and other not European animals populated this protected area - rabbits and foxes have taken their place long ago, but the vegetation- tation remains the same.

    The mortal remains of the "l'Homme de Tautavel" and an impressive number of other relics from the Stone Age are accessible to the public in the modern museum in the higher part of town. The cave itself is closed to the public but the entrance is visible from the road leading on to Vingrau and Montpins, two small stone dwellings in the green hills.

    Rivesaltes, meaning "salty banks" lends it's name to the famous sweet white wine, used for desserts and apéritif. You have with no doubt noticed the many signs "Halte, ici Rivesaltes" inviting you to come in for a taste. Beware, on a hot day the alcohol goes right to the head...

    Excursion 7.

    Château de Salses.

    ½ day trip.
    Getting there:
    Take the highway from Le Boulou or Perpignan in the direction of Narbonne and take the turn off at "Salses".

    A legend exists that a troop from the Roman army camped on this site year 218 b.c. trying to prevent Hannibal and his army from Karthago (now Tunisia) from conquering Italy. The plan was to make bad blood between Hannibal and the native tribes, Les Gaules, but this plan did not succeed and Hannibal marched on to the Alps. (The Romans from this very camp planned and constructed an accessible road leading to Spain via Le Perthus).

    Back to the fortress of Salses - it was erected in the 15th century and is an unique example of spanish medieval military architecture. In the 17th century the artillery was modernized and this strategic situated stronghold between Narbonne and Spain underwent a thorough restoration, bringing it "up to date" for warfare. Guided visits take place mornings and afternoons.

    For the archaeological interested visitor a visit to the Roman excavations in close vicinity to Le Perthus is a must - follow the signs to Le Perthus and then to Fort de Bellegarde (which is every boy's dream), continue past the fortress on the dirt road - you cannot miss the site, where the wind of ancient times blows...

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