All posts filed under: Pyrenees

Mountains covered with snow

Between Spain and France – on the way to the Pyrenees

The Pyrenees form the natural border between Spain and France and separate the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of Europe. On a warm spring day, we hit the road for exploring this no man’s land at the northern part of Catalonia and for learning what endless wideness and absolute harmony with nature really mean. 

Let’s go!

We start at Torroella de Fluvià and go towards Darnius and enter into another world. Dense cork-oak forests cover the mountainous landscape like a blanket and narrow streets, seamed by blossoming broom plants, lead us upwards towards the snowcapped peaks.

High above the valleys

Our way takes us higher and higher through the mountains.

Narrow streets and small villages

Like a thin thread the street winds upwards to the heights of the Pyrenees and passes small rivers and valleys through bridges, which seem to melt together with the subsoil. We pass Maçanet de Cabrenys and Tapis and get to the French Coustouges. If the street signs were not in French, you would not notice the difference, because time seems to pass slower there. Neighbours are having a chat at the one corner, children are playing at the other and one step further a man makes his way home with a fresh baguette. The narrow and steep alleys of the mountain villages remain silent. The natural stone houses adapt to the hillsides of the mountains and create a pleasant atmosphere.

Blue sky over pass road

Along the mountain pass our way leads us across the easter Pyrenees.

Textile manufacture in the middle of the Pyrenees

Just in time we get to Saint-Laurent-de-Cerdans. It is almost 12 o’clock and they still let us into the showroom of “Les Toiles Du Soleil“ before making their lunch break. Since the 19th century, the traditional Catalan company high up in the Pyrenees produces high quality cotton and flax textiles. We not only find ourselves in the village’s last textile manufactory, but also in a textile paradise. They use the colourfully striped materials to manufacture pillowcases, napkins, cooking aprons and much more. If you like sewing yourself, you can also take home piece goods or rests of textiles. An extensive spending spree later, we sit back in the car and continue our journey.

At the company of Les Toiles du Soleil

The firm premises of Les Toiles du Soleil.

The magic of the mountain villages

The narrow street leads us past the villages of Le Tech and Prats-de-Mollo-la-Preste back to Espinavell in Spain. The houses there seem to stick to the mountains as they are built on top of each other. Down at the river, where they drive by the horses from mountain pastures down to the valley every autumn, there is a small country hotel. There we eat delicious fresh trouts. After this unique taste experience, we head towards Molló. In the centre you can find an incredibly big Romanesque church, compared to the size of the village. We are winding up our way through the mountains, cross various times the river Ter and finally get to Camprodon. Especially the arch bridge “Pont Nou“, connecting both banks like a wooden brick, is something to remember there. Also in Sant Joan de les Abadesses you can find such a bridge. However, this small town is famous for the history of its convent dating back to the 8th century. The last stop is Ripoll with its beautiful Romanesque Benedictine monastery, the first one in Spain. Inspired by the St. Peter’s Church in Rome, the monks created a true oasis of peace.

Monastery in Ripoll

Cloister of the convent in Ripoll.

Church in Molló

Size and age of the church in Ripoll make it something unique.

Back from the mountains

With a few pieces of fresh coca (bread) and a lot of impressions we finally make our way home. Slowly we dive back into the loud and stressful daily life at the feet of the silence found up in the mountains. We leave behind the isolation of the villages, the endless expanse of the mountain range and the feeling of being able to touch the clouds at the highest point of the mountain pass.

Looking at the snowy mountains

Hasta luego and bye bye! We are sure of coming back to the mountains for experiencing peace and freedom.

 

Along the coast

At the other side of the Pyrenees

The sun shines brightly and bathes small coastal towns, the mountain range Serra de l’Albera, picturesque bays, rough rocks, traditional fishing villages and narrow streets in a golden light. Perfect conditions for our trip on a sunny day in spring.

From Perpignan towards the Pyrenees

We start our journey in Perpignan and travel back to Spain along the French Mediterranean coast. Passing salt lakes south-east of Perpignan, very popular for surfing, we get to Argelès-sur-Mer. This seaside resort connects in a way the Pyrenees with the Mediterranean Sea and impresses with its small alleys and fine sandy beaches. However, we don’t stay long and follow the street along the coast, covered with hundreds of blossoming lavender and broom plants.

Coloured plants decorate along the coast.

Beautiful plants seam the coastline.

Picturesque fishing villages and unspoiled bays

Our way southwards leads us to Collioure, an old fishing village, which attracts lots of different artists. Again and again we see their framed motifs. At the promenade, a frame shows, for example, the ancient fortified church, captured by Henri Matisse. We make a small break and take in the splendid colours and the hustle and bustle in the bay. Then we leave Collioure and its colourful alleys and soon afterwards enjoy the peace in one of the secluded and delightful bays of Port Vendres.

Fortified church in Collioure

The bay of Collioure invites coffee lovers, sun worshippers and wind surfers.

Great view of the coast

Passing Banyuls-sur-Mer, famous for its sweet wine, we finally get to the Cap Rederis. From there you have a beautiful view of the coastal landscape: from the Cap Béar to the Spanish Cap de Creus, you can enjoy a stunning panorama, framed by various illuminated flowers. Down at the water, waves with sea spray break against the rough rocks of the steep coast and through the clear, turquoise water beyond you can see to the ground.

Looking down to the seabed

Through the clear water you can see down to the bottom of the sea.

A trip full of impressions

Wonderful strong colours and idyllic small bays. Traditional fishing villages and abandoned streets along the steep coast. Clear water in all possible shades of blue and great views over the entire coast. All these impressions make a trip along the southern part of the French Mediterranean coast totally worth it.

There is still snow on the mountains.

Trip to the Pyrenees

When God created the Earth, he was especially nice to the Catalans – or is there another explanation for the fact that they live on one of the most beautiful coasts of Europe and are, at the same time, surrounded by mountains which are perfect for skiing?

 

La Molina – Ski resort near the coast

From December the harmony between the steel-blue sea and white-glittering mountain peaks does not only enchant winter sport fans…
One of the most prestigious ski resorts, which has attracted snow lovers for more than a century, is La Molina between Castellar de n’Hug and Alp. Vast forests, peaks 2,500 metres above sea level, plenty of slopes, chairlifts and various thematic areas make the whole family perfectly happy.

Blue sky and sunshine makes us look forward to a great ski day.

Our way leads us through the beautiful landscape to the snowy mountains. We get exciting about spending a ski day in the Pyrenees.

Outdoor activities for the whole family

While the youngest ones conquer the slope by sledge, the others enjoy snow-boarding in the Snow Parc, downhill or a cosy cross-country trip. All together can explore the region by quads or even a dog sledge.
A perfect infrastructure, ski schools, equipment rental, shops, hotels and restaurants form part of the standard as well as 341 snow cannons which make the station independent of natural snowfalls.

This mountain view definitely motivates for a day outdoors.

Blue sky and slopes covered with snow provide perfect conditions for a ski day.

Ski area with sea view

Another first class resort is Vallter 2000, only 1 and a half hours by car from the Costa Brava. Those who love skiing are not only tempted by perfect slopes, but also by spectacular views over the Gulf of Roses and the romantic valley of Camprodon, next to the medieval village.

Winter fruits bring life into the wintry landscape.

Not only winter sports enthusiasts, but also green hills and shrubs bring life into the wintry landscape.

Ski resorts near Costa Brava

Vallter 2000
2000-2650 m. 50 qkm.
1 día/tag/day/journée : 22,50 €
2 días/tage/days/journée : 42,75€
3 días/tage/days/journée : 60,75€
www.vallter2000.com
972 13 60 57

Nuria
1960-2920 m. 79 qkm.
1 día/tag/day/journée 27€
Cremallera + forfet
www.valldenuria.com
972 73 20 20

La Molina
1436-2540 m. 70 qkm
1 día/tag/day/journée : 36€
2 días/tage/days/journée 68€
4 días/tage/days/journée :132 €
6 días/tage/days/journée : 190€
www.lamolina.com
972 892 031

Masella
1600-2530 m. 43 qkm.
1 día/tag/day/journée : 42€
1/2 día/tag/day/journée : 33€
www.masella.com
972 144 000

Pyrenees and Costa Brava- Horses, Castles and monuments

Espinavell

We take a step out of the house. The first impression is simply breathtaking. Sun rises up at the sky of the Costa Brava. Pictorial Pyrenees in the background. The smell of firewood creeps into our nose. Early in the morning we start from Torroella de Fluvià towards Espinavell to experience the annual horse-drift down from the mountains. The path takes us through stunning mountain scenery and small villages high up in the Pyrenees. Passing Besalú and Olot we stop in Camprodon. Crusty bread and delicious cheese of the region get packed. A traditional Catalan ´Coca´ with a sugar hood sweetens the rest of our way. Slowly moving forward to Espinavell we cross red-colored vine. Brightly colored trees are lining the serpentines. Only a few spots are still green. Autumn is knocking on.

Tria de Mulats- the traditional horse-drift

Horses running down the hills

Horses going downhill to Espinavell

We are moving forward to Mollo- a little municipality right in the pyrenees. For those who are afraid to ride the cliffy street up to Espinavell on their own buses are made available. We follow the numerous people up to the parking lot with our own car. Mud covers the floor and makes it pretty difficult to reach the parking lot. After several attempts we finally succeed. Crowds immediately passing us to the fairground. Many locals got dressed up for this special event. Every year on the day of St. Edward – 13 October – retailers and animal lovers meet to experience the traditional horse-drift in Espinavell. The little village seems do be in a state of emergency. Families, school classes and even tourists don´t want to miss the local spectacle. After months on the meadows, high up in the Pyrenees, horses and foals now get handed over to their owners or buyers. With concentrated power herds storming down the slope. The gathered crowd gives a brawly applause to „man and beast“.

Artesania- the colorful market

Olives in Espinavell

Delicious olives on a market stand

We stroll along the many market stalls. From traditional products of animal husbandry to sweet and savory delicacies of own production- everyone is able to find something. You definitely should take a walk up to the centre of the small romantic mountain village Espinavell. You will enjoy a fantastic panoramic view up there. A warming catalan coffee is irreplaceable. Later on the most beautiful horses will be awarded by an expert jury.

Horses grazing

View down to the horses and fairground

Free wild life on the mountain meadows with delicious wild herbs is over by now. When the last snow thawed and the spring sun attracts the first flowers in the next year the horses will be back in the highlands. The festival lasts until the evening. Many take advantage of the culinary coffer to enjoy a delicious lunch at the unique restaurant of Espinavell. For us it´s time to move towards the French border.

French Impressions

The french border is only half an hour to go and we use the afternoon to visit the neighboring country. Enjoying picturesque landscapes and charming little villages with a typical French atmosphere. From Ceret over to Le Boulou the way leads us back near the coast to Collioure. Even in mid-october the small colorful artist-village is still well attended. Since Henri Matisse and his fellow artist André Derain discovered the sleepy fishing village in 1904 it is considered as a „mecca of art“. Red roof tiles. Ornate balcony railings. Blue shutters. Pastel-colored facades. Winding streets. Steep staircases. Ancient fortresses. Different kind of boats in the harbor. All that details form a picturesque backdrop and beautiful holiday memories. So, no wonder that even the kings of Majorca were huge supporters of the village and used the castle – now a museum – as their summer residence.

Castle in Collioure

Former castle of the Majorcan kings

We stroll through the small village center, browse through small boutiques and delicatessens. Enjoying a cappuccino and the view to the harbor before we go back on the road towards Spanish border. Vines now dominate the surrounding landscape.

We are in the middle of Roussillon and drive through the wine-growing region of Banyuls. A wine of Banyuls may remind you of a good port wine, characterized by intense flavors of honey, dried fruits and vanilla.

Unlimited

Further along the coast we are now back in the direction of Spain. No barrier, no fence, no border post market the crossover from France to Spain these days. Once upon a time many refugees killed themselves across the Pyrenees because they had no way out.

Memorial of Walter Benjamin

Memorial of Walter Benjamin in Portbou

We stop near Portbou to take a look at the Walter Benjamin Memorial which is called “passages”. This was designed in 1994 by the Israeli artist Dani Karavan in memory of the philosopher Walter Benjamin. “The Temporary, short duration” describes his escape from the Gestapo in an impressive way and which ended tragically. The quote of Benjamin at the end of the tunnel high above the sea is even more relevant: „It is heavier to honor the memory of the nameless than the famous. The memory of the nameless is therefor dedicated by the historical construction.“

Thoughtfully we continue towards Figueres.  The contrasts of mountains and rugged coastline captivates us. Flora and fauna show themselves in their most beautiful way. Winter seems still far away. But the first migratory birds already landed on the Mediterranean. The last tourists soon leave the beaches. Hibernation is coming.

The many impressions of today will be with us for a long time…

Road Trip to the French Border

Curious about what the Pyrenees might look like from the other side, we start out on a road trip with direction to France. The sun is shining through the open hood of our car and the nothern wind Tramuntana causes the leaves to dance. Our journey takes us through the countryside, passing by numerous little villages of the Empordà which provide a view at the mountains and the sea.

We cross the Aiguamolls at Castelló d’Empúries. In the midst of the marsh land which is a nature conservation a swarm of storks stops us. The huge birds strut around sociably among cows.

Aiguamolls-Storks-Cows
We go uphill to reach Vilajuïga where the mineral water’s source of the “Aigua de Vilajuïga“ is located. We know the water from the supermarket. The inhabitants of Vilajuïga are allowed to draw the water from the source’s public tap for free. The water is said to have magic powers, so we need to try it.

Next, we follow the signpostings to Sant Pere de Rodes, taking the pass up to the foothills of the nature park Cap de Creus. We stop high up at Mas Ventós and enjoy the breath-taking view over the Empordà’s vastness up to the sea. The Pyrenees’ white peaks mark the horizon.

We go onwards to Sant Pere de Rodes. The former Benedictine monastery thrones illustriously upon a rock. The road steeply leads down to the sea from here. The view down at the coastal town El Port de la Selva and Llança is enchanting. We go further through vineyards and cliffs until we reach Colera. The sleepy little village just before the French border attracts us to take a break and to drink a coffee nearby the sea.

Portbou is our last stop before we cross the border. We visit the memorial of Walter Benjamin. The Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan has created an impressive accessable memorial by creating “Passages“ – a tunnel made of rusty steel leads the visitors many stairs down the cliff and nearly meets the sea. A glass screen on which one of Benjamin’s quotes are engraved bolts the access to the horizon.

The last Pyrenees’ foothills dive into the Mediterranean Sea between France and Spain. We take the winding road up to the neighbouring country. O

nly the deserted border houses, now covered with graffiti, remind of the formerly guarded French border. Everybody is now able to pass in both directions.

Time and time again, wars create limits which were many people’s undoing. Today, we are happy to live in a united Europe and are able to detect – travelling freely – that the Pyrenees are as impressive as from the other side in Spain.

Sport, Art, and Countryside in the Catalan Pyrenees

From the Cantabrian Sea to the Mediterranean, the Pyrenees’ mountain chain rises like an immense natural barrier between Spain and the rest of the continent. Its dominions extend along 450 kilometres of peaks reaching 3000 metres high, leafy valleys and picturesque centuries-old towns and villages. A meeting point for a variety of cultures and gateway to the Route to Santiago, the Pyrenees have countless treasures waiting to be discovered in each of the autonomous regions which share them.

Pyrenees-Handstand-Snow
The first snows usually come to Spain in late November/early December. This is when the country’s 34 ski resorts get up and running. Mountain passes and snow-covered valleys, along with facilities which are constantly being refurbished to provide enthusiasts with a whole range of exciting options after a day’s sport. Spain’s ski resorts all offer excellent infrastructure and transport links.
The chance to enjoy other outdoor sports in the countryside, cultural routes, history, art, leisure, unique mountain villages and delicious gastronomy will make a skiing holiday to Spain all the more pleasurable.


The 10 ski resorts in the Pyrenean Mountains in Catalonia offer more than four hundred kilometres of marked ski-runs. Beginners, more advanced skiers and experts all flock to this resort, surrounded by peaks reaching more than 3,000 metres above sea level, and offering a privileged setting which provides the ideal conditions for conserving its high quality snow throughout the season.

Pyrenees-stream-snow

The main resorts are centred around the Arán Valley, Boí Valley, the area around the Aigüestortes i Estani de Sant Maurici Nature Reserve, and the Cerdanya region. These are areas of extraordinary beauty, home to cosy mountain villages with unique traditional architecture and monuments.

Following The Footprints of The Pilgrim

Comfortable shoes at our feet, a map and plenty of water in our pockets, a full tank, which should take us to the twisting mountain landscape of the Pyrenees – this is how our trip started.

A small, tight road carried us onto the mountains that lay near to the highway we took before. A mile-wide landscape, surrounded by wild and flourishing vegetation and countless streams that clear their way through the mountains, spread before our feed. My view got further, swepping over the peaks of the mountains that seemed to hang in the clouds. I was bemused and banned at the same time. Besides,the feeling of freedom captured me, respectfully facing the vastness of my surrounding, which carried me to unknown dimensions.

pyrenäen-costa-brava-august-2014-costa-live-international-magazine

We passed by narrow curves, meter high stone walls, and had an overwhelming view. Soon we should reach our first stop for today which was Espinavell, a small village in the middle of the mountains – a place of total isolation and intimacy.

pyrenäen-oma-costa-brava-berge

To a certain extent we felt like intruders with backpacks and cameras, respectfully immigrated to the idyll of this peaceful, small town. We were warmly greeted by the villagers who climbed the high-pitched streets of their village, peacefully watering her vegetable garden of feeding their animals.

It was difficult for us to break loose from the peace and privacy we found there, but our trip through the mountains should carry us further and we were excited about the upcoming day. Back onto the pass, which offers an exhausting route to one or another cyclist, we rarely enjoyed the company of other vehicles. Instead there were loose cows and sheeps with their loudly ringing bells round their necks, grabbing our attention.

pyräen-kirche-beget-berge-costa-brava

This is how we made our way to the small villages of Rocabruna and Beget, which quickly filled the memory cards of our cameras with beautiful pictures of their gorgeous churches and stunning façades made of stones.

pyrenäen-boget-costa-brava-august-2014

pyrenäen-kirche-treppen-berge

Classy restaurants as well as cozy bars offered us a little breather of the never-ending impressions, that also attracted other hikers to vistit those small mountain villages.

pyrenäen-berge-costa-brava

I found my resting place. A piece of land surrounded by the majesty of the mountains, which not only opened me a totally new perspective but also time for myself.

 

 

 

 

 

Fort de Bellegarde in France

Fort de Bellegarde

Fort de Bellegarde

Fort de Bellegarde in France

What a view!

What a view! exclaimed Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban when he entered the ruins of Bellegarde for the first time. Marquis de Vauban, already in his lifetime awarded with the honorary title “Ingénieur de France“, is considered as the most important military architect of baroque. The master builder of Louis XIV is the creator of the “ceinture de fer“, the iron belt which was designed to protect the external frontiers of France. Until today, Fort Bellegarde is marked by the personal style of the famous architect, which engaged in the construction or remodelling of 160 fortifications.

Located solitarily on a rock in a height of 420 metres.Located solitarily on a rock in a height of 420 metres, the potent Fort de Bellegarde towers until today above the village of Le Perthus. After having entered over a drawbridge, one is immediately stunned by the views, just as Vauban a few centuries ago. In the South, one’s eyes travel over La Jonquera, Figueres and the vast plain of the Empordà. On the other side, mountain Canigou touches the clouds in heaven; and in the East, the mountain chain Albera extend to the Mediterranean.
Since the Treaty of the Pyrenees, signed in 1659, the powerful fortification has marked the borderline between France and Spain. During the Middle Ages the castle owners demanded tolls for crossing the mountain pass of Le Perthus and thereby financed their expensive lifestyle. Later on, there had to be paid customs duties and nowadays we are driving on toll roads.
300 years before the construction of the first highway, Vauban was aware of the strategic importance of this place. On behalf of Louis XIV, he ordered the demolition of the old castle and planned a strong fortification, which would be able to control the arterial road of the Pyrenees and demonstrate the absolute power of his king. In today’s united Europe, military border posts have, fortunately, disappeared. The renovated buildings have been transformed into museums. One of the expositions explains the history of the fort and one might also visit the fountain system of 18th century, including a well of 62 metres depth and a diameter of six metres. It was drilled into the rock and later plastered over a height of 50 metres.

The fort’s real highlight, however, has always been the panoramic view. Therefore, on clear weather days the excursion to our neighbour country is always worth it.

Museum in the Fort de Bellegarde

Expositions explains the history of the Fort

 

Panorama view on the road to Setcasa.

“Suddenly, I feel really, really small…”

Suddenly, I feel really, really small. Endless wideness spreads out in front of me like a map, the shadows of the clouds above me move on the grassland like blackbirds. A huge painting, spreckled with trees and cattle, the air is so crisp, I almost don‘t dare breathing it. Freedom is a slippery word, which escapes our fingertips as soon as we try to catch it. A dancing feather in the sky of our wishes as it were – we‘re all looking for it, but no one knows where it‘s hiding. At this place, I suddenly get a feeling of catching a fleeting glimpse into it‘s face. I was never a mountain lover, I always gave priotity to the cliffy coastline and the view of the limitless ocean, but now, my heart suddenly beats faster.

Panorama view over the Pyrenees.

We‘re hitting the road into the rocky heart of the Costa Brava early in the morning – the weather coulnd‘t be any better, I‘m sitting in an old car, a full cool bag on the backseat, the wind is stroking my face and the air smells of fresh mowed grass and endless summerdays. The route takes us across Castell Follit de la Roca via Oix, Beget and Espinavell to Setcasa, a tiny point on the map, looking like a coffee stain in the centre of green surface. I‘ve only read about the spectacular pyrenees in several travelbooks before, but it was not until now that I understood it.

Beget is one of the villages we passed.

The rustic charme of the little villages we‘re passing is quite diffrent to the classiness of the coastal towns. I can‘t tell whether the stony walls or the old framehouses are more beautiful, the buildings are decorated with blooming flowers, tired hikers are taking a break in front of the restaurants. From their wrought – iron balconys, the inhabitants are looking down on the narrow streets. I can‘t take my eyes of the wide wilderness – even the most unromantic person in the world softens up on this atmosphere.
Although our cool back is already full as a tick, it‘s impossible to resist the nordic treats – freshmade bread, cottage cheese, smoked ham. I really love seafood and fish, but I have to admit, that this is at least just as well.
After our stop in Espinavell, we finally reach the road to Setcasa. Whereat road is probably not the right word for it, it‘s more a narrow gravel path, curling trough the heart of the mountains like the body of a sleeping snake. It‘s a two hours journey – we‘re extending to three, because we‘re stopping every two minutes to take a look out of the window and to breathe the fresh air.

A cow next to the road to Setcasa.

And at this point, it‘s happening. I‘ve had this feeling once before, when I was on a sixday roadtrip along the Great Ocean Road and the cliffy coastline showed it‘s face with all it‘s roughness. This time, it‘s even more crazy. In the centre of all this endless wideness, becomes the border between human and natur suddenly blurred and the immenseness of it‘s power is awaking to me. I actual get the feeling, that it is impossible to decribe those impressions – they don‘t even fit into my head. I just want to fall into a state of trance and stare out of my window for the next hours.

Setcasa is tiny but beautiful.

After three hours, Setcasa hustles us back into reality. The farm track runs over into a paved road and 80 km/h appears like a car race. I‘m still a bit dazed – but I also grin like a Cheshire cat. Setcasa is as charming as the other villages – it seems to be a attraction pole for hungry hikers, the restaurants are full of people, there are almost more hotels than normal houses and honey, almonds and cheese are sold on the village square. It‘s a perfect place to breathe deeply and return to civilisation after this journey. On our way back, I look back to the silhouette of the pyrenees once again. I‘m gonna come back.