Sunday, 10 January 2016

Our longest hike of the season - Amelie Les Bains to Montalba

Saint Jean Pla de Corts is a great base for walking and I
There's not much at Montalba 
have blogged several already. Today's was our longest hike since leaving the UK in October. We didn't walk as far as on some of our summer expeditions, however after 11km and with over 300m of ascent, Dave and I are feeling both weary and very pleased with ourselves right now! We were walking for four and three-quarter hours, including quite a few photo stops, and got to see some of the most fantastic views in the area. Several times I thought that I must start taking Dave's big camera on our hikes as my phone really isn't up to the job of capturing a wide panorama. One day I will remember to think about this before we set out!

We nearly had a disaster before we had even extended our
Amelie Les Bains from half-way up the hill 
walking poles. Our map, got from Amelie Les Bains tourist office several weeks ago, indicated that we should park in the multi-storey General de Gaulle car park. On arrival, this car park was completely closed up for the winter break. The what?! It turned out that from the 14th December until the 31st January all the paid parking in Amelie is suspended so the multi-storey was closed, but the roadside car park was open and its Pay And Display machines covered with black plastic. Result!

Starting by ascending the Chemin du Pastou by the General
Woodland path above Amelie 
du Gaulle Parking, we walked alongside the high stone wall of the Hopital Thermal des Armees and on into woodland with lots of cork trees, the occasional olive tree, and huge boulders by the path side. The ascent was pretty much relentless for the first hour to the extent that Dave was a little concerned about his pumping heart rate. (He checked online when we got home and it probably shouldn't beat quite that fast at his age. Oops!) The path was mostly quite narrow and definitely a footpath rather than a vehicle track. We had lots of steps created with rocks or roots and it was beautifully peaceful. Being overtaken by a fell runner - yes, running up! - was mildly galling, but otherwise we had the walk to ourselves.

Uphills do eventually end and this one was almost
Our picnic view of Montalba 
immediately replaced with an equivalent downhill. We got closer to the river which flows along the valley floor and is more of a stream at this time of year. It is tumbled with rocks and boulders which created dozens of diddy waterfalls and, at one point, a deep-looking swimming hole. We ended up right alongside the river for a short almost magical section listening to the babbling water. Then we had to cross to the opposite bank - a tad precarious! And as the river turned away from the path, we saw the remnants of old agricultural terracing on the hillside above us and realised that Montalba was up at the top. Of course! Yay!

Arriving in Montalba two and a half hours after setting out
Cross at Montalba 
from Amelie, we laid out our picnic rug and paused to enjoy the view from 543m above sea level. Not quite as high as our Campanilles picnic last March and considerably chillier. The hamlet seemed to consist of two farmyards, the one pictured above with its chapel and another a couple of hundred metres away. This was also a junction of footpaths including the PR-1 and had a running water fountain of (presumably) drinkable water. I saw this simple cross too. It has a name plaque in the centre which is worn, but I think said 'Laurent Coste 1859'. I haven't been able to find out anything about it online though.

The map had our return route as retracing our steps, but
Old footbridge viewed from the road 
did also suggest walking the road as an alternative possibility. The road is mostly only wide enough for one car and seemed very quiet so we thought we would be ok going this way and it actually turned out to be a perfect contrast to the outward route. Walking to Montalba we had to spend much of the time watching where we put our feet and were often between trees or at the bottom of the gorge. Walking back we could trust the road to be smooth and there were gorgeous long views up into the mountains and along the valley. The road was mostly flat or gently downhill but took a longer route so we didn't expend as much effort, but did still take two and a quarter hours to return to Amelie.

I joked that we could treat ourselves to a cake when we got to town, expecting everywhere to be very closed as it was now late on Sunday afternoon. We got lucky though - a patisserie was open and had a delicious selection of gateaux so we brought a couple home. Dave had a Foret-Noire slice and I had a Paris-Brest eclair. Perfect!

Le Petit Prince by Andres Munoz 

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