Background and Objectives:
A specialty travel agent asked us to create a completely new product, a small group adventure tour, where participants would get some exercise and fresh air, could take an active part in driving off-the-beaten track, blended with local culture and good food.
The trip would be classified as a moderate adventure, some walking, and some harder alternatives. The age group is 40's and 50's, mostly couples, and they have a week.
The following is an outline of the program. It should be suitable for companies, perhaps a team-building event, or for clubs or a group of friends.
To organise a tour for your party please contact us for further details and pricing.
1- and 2-weeks adventure tour which comprises a blend of Pyrenean wilderness and Catalan culture and cuisine. Hiking, excursions away from the tourist trail, visiting medieval villages, tasting local foods and wines, soaking in hot springs ...
Option: The stay can be extended for any number of days beyond the planned period, subject to availability, in which case it becomes a self-catering stay.
Age group: 18 to 70. Couples and singles.
Arrival at Perpignan airport (see optionals below), met by local guide, who will assist with rental vehicles. Drive to Vernet-les- Bains, our base at 700 meters altitude ( 1 hour from Perpignan, or 2½ hours from Barcelona) . Those who arrive with their own cars will join the party in Village Catalan. Welcome wine and briefing in the garden of Village Catalan. Evening meal at restaurant Le Temps de Cerises.
Breakfast prepared by the group. Hike directly from the cottages through the forest to Cascades des Anglais, the waterfalls 1 hour from the village. Picnic lunch at or near the waterfalls (suggestion: fresh baguette, cheeses, ham, wine, coffee or tea).
Return to Village Catalan in 1 hour for those who want to acclimatize (read: relax) or take an individual excursion. - Alternative longer trek goes to Casteil and Tour de Goa (1300 meters), the medieval watch tower providing superb panoramic views of the mountain range, or visit the monastery St Martin de Canigou. Return to Vernet-les-Bains via Pic de la Pena (1000 meters), about 3-4 hours walk.
Afternoon: Relax in the hot springs spa of Vernet. Optional: jacuzzi, sauna, relaxing massage (every day except Sunday).
Aperitif in Village Catalan.
Evening meal at local restaurant: 3 courses and wine.
There is a casino in Vernet-les-Bains, open until 3 AM.
After breakfast we drive 4 kms to the fortified village Villefranche and visit the remparts, created by Vauban (Louis XIV), and from here there are two options:
Option 1: Canyoning: continue by car to Prades, the capital of the Conflent region, visit the medieval village Eus, clinging to the mountainside, elected one of the most beautiful villages of France, then to Molitg, to meet our canyoning instructor for a half-day exhilarating experience down the canyons (for beginners). Marco, our very qualified instructor, hands out wet suits, harnesses, helmets and ropes, and practices with each participant, before descending the waterfalls - first small ones, then slides, then larger ones - two hours in the whitewater and all the muscles are ready for the hot springs upon return to the village.
Option 2: From Villefranche, drive to the Caranca canyon - this is walking, not canyoning, but the scenery is among the best in France. The canyon starts near the road and gets steeper as we go further in. Choose to walk half an hour or 3 hours, it is suitable for beginners as well as experienced walkers. After Caranca it is possible to drive up to the open air hot springs pool at Saint Thomas, for a relaxing swim, (36 degrees sulphuric water). Return to Village Catalan, 40 minutes drive, for local evening meal.
The big day for hikers, to reach the summit of Mount Canigou (2785 meters), the sacred mountain of the Catalans. The walk from the village is for the most experienced hikers, so we plan a combination of off-road driving and hiking. The 25 kms up to the Cortalets chalet at 2150 meters takes about 1½ to 2 hours and provide superb views en route. A bit of a driving challenge too. For security the group is accompanied by the 4x4 support vehicle. We park the cars at the chalet - or below - depending on the road conditions - these are rough mountain tracks and the quality may vary. The hike to the top of Canigou takes about 2 to 2½ hours. The views are of course superb, the whole range of the Mediterranean Pyrenees can be seen, and on clear days the coastline of Spain is visible. Descending to the chalet takes about 1½ hour.
Picnic lunch on the plateau below the Canigou, before we descend by car, 2 hours drive. Participants who do not wish to try the summit, will find spectacular scenery on shorter walks on the plateau. The return journey follows the mountain road through the Llech Valley, famous for canyoning.
Optionally for advanced hikers: Stay the night at Chalet des Cortalets, evening meal there, continue to the Canigou the next morning, and take the southern route known as the "Chimney" down to Mariailles (1750 m) and to Vernet-les-Bains (650-700 m). Bring picnic lunch. Participants who choose this option will travel in the 4x4 to the chalet and walk back the next day (day 5).
A fairly long driving day, we travel off the beaten track into Spain - from the Tet to the Tech valley, up to Coustouges, a small road into Spain (old smuggler route) to see the very beautiful, unspoiled Boadilla lake. Lunch at local restaurant in Spain. Continue to the contrasting madness border shopping area at Le Perthus, to cross the frontier into France along the Roman road "Via Domitia". From here we escape the traffic and head for the quiet mountain roads again, along the Les Alberes, where the Pyrenees reach the Mediterranean. At the time of planning we can opt for a night at a small guesthouse in Les Alberes, or return to Village Catalan - about one hour drive the quick route.
Day 5 option: Andorra. The drive from Village Catalan to the Principality of Andorra is very scenic, and Andorra itself is mostly known for skiing and 40 kms of tax free shopping. The recommended drive is via Pas de la Casa, up to 2400 meters on the way up, it takes 2 hours, then a good lunch at a local Borda in Andorra (1000 meters) a bit of shopping, and return via Seu de Urgell in Spain (or reversed itinerary), it is about 5 hours driving, but adds up to full 10 to 12 hour day.
On earlier occasions we have successfully planned these options when discussing the participants preferences on the first day, off season. (In the high season accommodation should be pre-booked for any options).
Day at leisure, but we have two optional activities: Drive from Village Catalan to Mariailles (1750 meters), 11 kms of which 5 kms is on dirt track. Walk to Pla Guillem, 3 kms, but over 2000 meters altitude - incredible views. A more leisurely drive would be the twisting mountain road via Py (picture) to Mantet 22 kms each way, below Col du Mantet at 1760 meters, the last village in France - the locals call it Le Bout du Monde - the end of the world!
Optionally: Full day adventure: "Grand canyoning" in the Llech valley with Marco, several over 10 meter jumps - not for the faint- hearted.
Evening meal in Vernet-les-Bains.
Breakfast, market day in Vernet, return to the airport.
Accommodation: Mountain cottages in Village Catalan, 2 to 4 persons sharing each house of 1 or 2 double bedrooms, lounge, kitchen, terrace with views. Alternate accommodation depending on chosen itinerary: 1 -2 nights in local guesthouse en route, 1 night in simple mountain chalet.
Transport: Self-drive, own or medium size rental cars with 4x4 support. 2 to 4 persons per car.
Group size: 6 to 16 participants. Alternative programs exist for larger groups.
Included on the tour price: Accommodation, utilities and tourist tax, breakfast, evening meals with wine, focusing on experiencing the regional Catalan cuisine, hire car and insurance (optional quote excluding rental car) , services of local guide and support vehicle, canyoning / climbing instructor, depending on chosen activity.
Not included: lunch, often picnic lunches are the most appropriate, fuel (calculate 50-70 Euros per car), access to the hot springs (4 Euros/visit), personal gear, travel insurance, flight. Prices are ex Perpignan airport. Alternative airports: Barcelona, Girona, Montpellier, Carcassonne or Toulouse.
Distances: Most days involve short drives from Village Catalan, 20 to 50 km plus hiking, each day being 7-8 hours. Certain days are long, i.e. Andorra or Les Alberes, each about 200 kms plus short walks, total 10-12 hours. Total driving in one week, approx 600 kms ex Perpignan airport, or 1000 kms. ex Barcelona.
Weather: The recommended periods are from May to mid-July and from September to mid-October, avoiding the main tourist season of mid July through August. June and September are the best months, predominantly sunny and warm, but freak rain storms can occur.
The climate in Vernet-les-Bains is pleasant and not too hot, due to its altitude (650-700 meters). Bring light summer clothing, and warmer clothes for the higher altitude. For hiking at high altitude a windproof anorak is recommended. Remember swimming gear, even in the mountains - for the lakes, rivers, rock pools and hot springs...
Erik G. and his Team at Actionsites.
About us: This event is proposed by Destination-Pyrenees, a club registered in France under law 1901, founded to develop sustainable tourism and the economy of remote Pyrenean villages, and based at Le Village Catalan in Vernet-les-Bains.
The founder, Erik Gundersen, is an expedition organiser and adventure tour operator. Recognized as one of the pioneers of modern adventure travel, Erik has escorted overland expeditions, exploratory, educational and theme travel in Africa, Asia and Europe since 1973.