Saturday, 3 December 2016

Boucle de Saint Polycarpe - hiking in Aude, France

Aqueduct at Saint Polycarpe 
Boucle is the French for a loop and the word is applied to routes for hikers, cyclists and motorists. We picked up a half dozen boucles from Alet les Bains tourist office and set out on the first of them yesterday. Saint Polycarpe is a village about 20-30 minutes drive from our campsite - into Limoux and then almost back on ourselves out again! Like Alet les Bains it too has a Abbaye and also boasts a part-ruined aqueduct which originally brought water to the religious community. I don't think it still does. Our leaflet told us that car parking was available at the Mairie (the town hall), but this building actually fronts onto the narrow main through road so it is better to turn off where parking is signposted for the Abbaye and Aqueduc. There's a small car park here, over an old stone bridge, which might fill up quickly in summer, but had plenty of space at this time of year!

Apple press? 
We set out towards Buc and our route soon left the road at a ruined apple press. Uphill - all the best walks start out uphill - towards villas and past barking dogs, I thought the route was going to peter out almost before it had started, but a grassy footpath leads off into trees and woodland. The steepest climb of the whole walk was this first fifteen minutes and was just enough to make me start thinking that a 'two boot' graded walk might be beyond my capabilities right now. I have gotten way out of condition over the summer! However once we attained the crest and were strolling along the ridge, my breathing calmed down and we were able to enjoy some stunning views over the valley below. Once past a dedicated viewpoint, we were delighted to see numerous strawberry trees (arbutus unedo) which reminded us not only of the one we grew in our former Polegate garden, but also of our weeks spent at Serro da Bica in Portugal. Dave tried the local firewater there which was flavoured with the trees' fruit.

Superb views from the ridge 
Golden vineyards 
I liked the variety of terrain encountered on this walk. We saw the towns of Saint Polycarpe and Villar-Saint-Anselme as well as walking through woodlands and out in the open past numerous golden-leaved vineyards. It seems every spare inch of land around here has a vine planted in it and the resultant local wine is highly thought of - a sparkling wine which is claimed to be the forerunner of champagne. We haven't tried it yet! Back to the walk and I was impressed by how well signed it was. The symbols were a yellow dot over a yellow stripe and these were painted at regular intervals and very clearly at junctions. We almost didn't need the flyer although it was nice to have both. I'm certainly now confident to try more walks in the series and we considered a drive to Couiza to get more leaflets. It has turned distinctly frosty here in Alet les Bains valley though so Dave might prefer to move on to Sigean where the campsite is on an open plain and may have sunshine for longer each day!

Boucle de Saint Polycarpe 

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