Thursday, 8 December 2016

Les Capitelles 8km walk from Couiza

One of les Capitelles near Couiza 
Back in February we were in Spain, near Montroig, and one of our more memorable walks was to discover a number of traditionally built stone structures known locally as Barracas. These little huts function as shelters for agricultural labourers and are cleverly constructed using only stones and rocks. Yesterday, our walk in France took us past a number of remarkably similar structures which are known here as Capitelles. I suppose it was not so suprising to find them as we are just over the other side of the Pyrenees mountain range!

Our walk began in Couiza, a small town about 8km from our campsite, where we parked behind La Poste (the post office). After a quick diversion to find a boulangerie (bakery) we were off. The route started by passing through the Les Oliviers area of town and was a gentle-ish uphill along a residential road and past a Maison de Retraite (retirement home). Looking back over Couiza and into the distant mountains we caught our first glimpse of snow for this trip. If you click or zoom in to the photo below, you might just about be able to make it out on the skyline almost directly above the tiny Dave!

Looking back over Couiza to the Pyrenees 

Once we had turned off the main road through Couiza, our path was clearly marked all the way with yellow stripes and sometimes with Les Capitelles arrow signs. It intertwined with a VTT mountain bike cycling route except that walkers were directed off-road as much as possible so we often strolled along the edges of vineyards or through serene pine copses. We weren't sure that the markers took us exactly on the route shown on the map (at the end of this post) because we twice passed by the Chapelle de Saint Alain at Coustaussa. This is a great lunch spot because not only is there are large stone table and bench seats, but anyone who is a bit bored can play music on the table! It's a bit like a steel drum so tapping different places creates slightly different notes. We thought the sound creation might somehow be the result of how the large stone slab was balanced on its pedestal, but there wasn't a handy expert around to ask!

Capitelle hut near Couiza 
The whole 8km walk took about three hours and our farthest point out was the pretty and sleepy village of Cassaignes. We must have seen at least a dozen Capitelles in varying states of repair although several were in electric-fenced fields and therefore inaccessible. Others were right by the path though so we could go inside and have a good look at how they are built. The huts ranged in size from one which would only just shelter one or two people to another which could have comfortably sat ten. The walk itself was quite easy - it only rated one boot on the exertion scale! - with long but not steep uphill sections and mostly good surfaces on the tracks and footpaths. There was an interesting mix of environments including the aforementioned woodlands and vineyards, two villages which could be diverted into, lots of open countryside which was great in yesterday's glorious sunshine, and superb views across to hills and mountains.

Les Capitelles randonee map 

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