Monday, 26 December 2016

Walking from Paulilles to Banyuls

Spooky driftwood head at Place de la Pelle,
near Paulilles 
We visited Alfred Nobel's former dynamite factory, Paulilles, back in January and walked northish along a little of the coastal path passing it. I remember the walk being quite an exertion so was pleasantly surprised on Friday that following the path to the south is actually much easier going. We drove from Latour bas Elne to Paulilles where there is a large free car park, grabbed our hiking poles and set out for the nearby seaside town of Banyuls. It was only about 4.5km and took us just over an hour to get to the town outskirts.

From the car park we followed the pedestrian route through a short tunnel to Paulilles entrance, turning right onto the Chemin du Fourat where the path splits into three. The chemin is a wide track with occasional traffic and we got a great view of a huge factory chimney - although it came out looking tiny on my phone camera!

Sentier littoral signpost 
The coastal path is well signed with yellow painted stripes and detailed signposts at frequent intervals. It is pretty solid underfoot and not too steep up or down (apart from one short section) so we felt we had a good walk. I have no idea what the spooky driftwood head at Place de la Pelle was all about and I haven't been able to find it online. It is a bizarre sight out on its own on a small headland! We both loved the gorgeous views across bays and out to sea, and after twenty minutes or so we found ourselves looking back down at the earlier factory tower, now dwarfed by its landscape. Luck with the weather meant gorgeous blue skies and blue-green sea!

Vogue by Claude Gomez 
Heading down into Banyuls we were both disappointed to be walking through streets past large appartment blocks - not very picturesque. It turned out we just needed to keep our heads down until we got to the centre where it is much more picturesque! If you follow in our footsteps though, keep your head up enough to see Vogue at the top of the concrete arched road. The sculpture was created by Claude Gomez in 1991-92 and I think it depicts boats and beams although I may be completely mistaken! Banyuls also has a sculpture trail of works by 'local boy' Aristide Maillol. We saw two which were early 20th century female nudes. There is a museum dedicated to Maillol just outside town which we might go back to.

Banyuls harbour front has a cute row of artisan shops and studios underneath the promenade. It is dominated by two large buildings, the first of which we passed was an odd pink structure that apparently houses oceanographic researchers and students. It's meant to look like a coral reef and the award-winning(!) design is by Atelier Fernandez and Serres. There's more information and photos on this architecture website, Inhabitat. The other large building is the far more stately Universite Pierre et Marie Curie. The oceanographic department is located here. As to be expected, Banyuls is a tad pricey and the front has many restaurants, several which were open. We chose a blue decorated Restaurant De La Plage and Dave treated us to a posh lunch for Christmas. He had entrecote steak and I had 'loup' which we established was fish, but weren't sure what sort until the waiter suggested 'dorade' as similar. We knew that is bream and, when it arrived, discovered loup is sea bass. It was very good!

Attempting our return walk after a good lunch was more demanding than anticipated although we completed the return leg in about the same time so weren't slowed unduly by all the food. Passing the Hotel de Ville, I saw this tile mural created by Eric Freixinos in August 1999. It depicts the GR10 walking route from Banyuls to Hendaye - some 900kms which is walked in, on average, 55 days. Perhaps that endeavour is best left until next year?!

GR10 by Eric Freixinos 

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