Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Our first picnic walk of the season and we see snow

We think we are going to be very happy at our new base - Camping
Casteillets at St Jean Pla de Corts in the Pyrenees-Orientales. The site is €16.50 a night with our ACSI card which includes electric hookup. The pitches are large and slightly shaded and set in concentric rings. We have got ourselves one on the outside edge so get sunshine from before I get up in the morning until about 5pm when the sun dips behind the mountains. Mountains!! There's practically no one else here so the site is wonderfully peaceful. About half the pitches are occupied by static caravans so we wonder if there might be a weekend influx? Our last site, Domaine de Fondespierre, had that too and weekends were even more deserted!

Bailey at Camping Casteillets 

There's a pretty good shower block here and a friendly woman in
The friendly donkey 
reception upon whom we have been inflicting our French. So far she's understood everything we've asked! Reception has loads of books too, in French and English, and I've already swapped The Memory Box for a Mario Vargas Llosa. Oh, and we have three donkeys in a field just in front of our pitch. One came over to greet us, but has stayed away since she realised we had no food.

The wifi signal is good and very reasonable at just €3 for a whole week. However each ticket can only be used by a single device so we've had to buy a couple of extras to cover each tablet and Dave's phone. Still pretty cheap though and we think, if we have understood correctly, that by staying here two weeks we might get a free third week's camping. There's so much we want to do here. So long as the weather holds, three weeks is very likely.

The River Tech is close by and we wandered briefly there on our first
Walking along the River Tech 
evening. It lacks footpaths along it and obviously gets far wider when it's in spate. We made our way along white boulders for a while before returning and were reminded of the River Mira in Portugal. Much of the local scenery is reminiscent of our 2013 Portuguese journey. Our walk today passed by recently harvested cork oak trees, their dark red trunks glowing in the sunshine, and we saw an area of strawberry tree plants. They are called L'Arbousier in French and had grown to far more impressive large shrubs than the one that withered in our Polegate garden. These plants could be harvested for the Medronho firewater that Dave sampled at Serro da Bica.

We packed up a picnic - our first of this winter season - this morning for
Cork harvesting mural in Vives 
a 10k walk chosen from a fantastic booklet: Little Guide Of Hiking, Hikes In Vallespir which we picked up free at Le Boulou Tourist Office yesterday. Cycling there was a breeze due to the Veloroute Voie Verte, a cycle path that passes close by the campsite. We are planning to use it a lot so I will write in more detail in other posts. The Little Guide Of Hiking includes sixteen relatively local hikes, all with guide notes and maps, and the Sentier De Vives which we undertook today was also clearly marked along the route with yellow paint lines and proper signposts. The route starts in Vives car park (free) when the cork harvesting mural is painted on a generator building by the bus stop. One steep uphill later, we saw snow-covered mountains in the distance. This range is the Massif De Canigou and we were transfixed by the sight!

Snow in the distance and a strawberry tree in front 
At one point we could see mountains in an almost complete 360 degree
circle around us. So beautiful! If you try this walk, one of the viewpoints at about the hour mark has what appears to be a curved bench above the path to the left. Do go up there - it's a panorama of the mountains with several of the peaks named and also identifies the Spanish border. Downhill through several fields of grapevines after this got us to the outskirts of Saint Jean Pla De Corts and a short different stretch of the Veloroute Voie Verte. We stopped under pine trees for our lunch and had a surprising view of an old windmill. It was possible to see its machinery through the broken door.

We also got close to the fairy tale styled Chateau d'Aubiry which is
privately owned and not visitable, but is certainly a viewpoint in the local landscape. I wasn't close enough to capture it clearly on my phone so am hoping to go back that way on our bikes another time.

Not including the lunch stop, the whole walk took about three hours and we were pleased with how easy it seemed compared to shorter walks that were much harder work recently. Possibly the warmer air makes my breathing easier? We are both looking forward to trying several other suggested hikes and also to cycling the Voie Verte as far as Amelie Les Bains where Dave has discovered the Tourist Office has a whole different hiking book with even more potential walks! And, if we get really keen, it is possible to cycle all the way to the coast. Getting back would make the journey by far our longest cycle ride ever though so perhaps overly optimistic? And Perpignan is supposed to be lovely so we must visit there. It is only one euro each way on the bus! It's going to be a busy December!

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