(this one is a Sean and Naomi mashup, it might be hard to follow who is writing at any given time.)
When discussing which towns have been our favorites so far this one always makes top three. We randomly chose it because we were considering going down to Barcelona and it seemed close and nice. What Rick Steve’s said about it was not why I loved it though. Sure it has a beautiful old city, castles and fortresses, blah blah blah… but it also has miles of hiking and Mt. Biking (or VTT in French I’m guessing means Velo Tough Terrain) trails in the hills surrounding the villages. The trails take you through cascading vineyards built high into the hills and up to ancient stone lookout towers with magnificent views over the Mediterranean. We stumbled on these by accident and once we looked into them further our plans were sealed. We spent the majority of our time here hiking. (side note: Pretty sure if you got there right before grape harvest time that it could possibly be one of the most amazing places to take a hike or bike).
We had noticed the towers high on the hills when we first arrived and thought they’d make good day hikes, so we asked at our campsite and got a (terrible) map with directions. The map ended up taking us to a small stone chapel at the end of a dusty road. To say the least we were disappointed with the outcome of the hike to this point. Several cars past us shuttling Mt. Bikers up the road, several bikers past us sweating their way up the road. Right before the chapel we did notice a small rock cairn on the side of the road, the “trail” heading off of it was more of a scramble up a steep rocky embankment than a actual trail. It looked hardly used but since we had come this far with nothing much to show for it we decided to check it out. We started our ascent, both of us wearing Nike Free Runs which Naomi seemed fine with but I knew that much more of this and my feet were going to hate it. We scrambled up the trial and about 100 meters later it came to a T. We were just like “ehh, i think that way looks like up” and turned left. Before we knew it we were ascending high into the hills, through forests, open meadows, ridge-lines (where the 20-40 mph wind gusts we were in earlier felt more like 60-70 mph). We knew we where onto something when we spotted other human beings, most of them sporting fancy walking poles and all weather gear. I (sean) was wearing jeans, a cotton hoody, Nike Free Runs, and a backpack that luckily contained both Naomi and I’s Jackets). We followed the signs upward occasionally being passed by a trail runner (seemed to be the hot thing there, made me feel lazy and jealous) until we hit the Tower. We walked out of the trees and BOOM, there it was. There was a problem though, the tower was being guarded by a pack of grazing “Bulls”.
At first taken aback by this site of large “wild” animals with horns on top of the hill I quickly gained my composure and was like “What up Bull, I’m gonna walk this way. Your just gonna chill and eat that grass.” and they listened to my every command. We climbed the tower, put on jackets and quickly took some pictures before we were blown off the side of the hill. The views were magnificent and we descended quicker than we thought we would.
Back in the port town before our camp, both of our feet were hurting pretty badly so we stopped for a medicinal bottle of local rouge before heading back to home base. 19-20 miles after we started we were done and went back to enjoy some celebratory at will (all you can eat) moules-frites at our campsite restaurant. Hoping that this would not make us suffer later.
The next day we decided to seek out another trail so we asked at the reception desk and they gave us a better map. This time we headed straight up through vineyards passing “mouverdre” and “sancerre” signs as we climbed higher and higher. We walked through the tiny hamlet of Le Rimbau and I swear a dog walked out of every other house to bark at us. It was a little unsettling but we kept going. We weren’t totally sure where we were but figured as long as we could see the coast and the towers we would be fine. Our first plan involved a loop that would take us partially up one of the exterior loops that would then connect with the other side of the trail we had done the day before. It turns out we read the map wrong and did the entire exterior loop before connecting with the trail from the previous day ending at the Tower before descending back into town.
The highlights of the day were seeing both towers up close, the amazingly large amount of vineyards we passed, and this crazy tunnel that Naomi and I walked through high in the hills. The tunnel was probably 200 feet long, dark and came out of no where. We weren’t quite sure why it was there, it seemed too small for livestock but that was our best bet. We had to crouch super low at some points walking through it and of course we had no flashlights so we were guided by Sean’s handy flashlight phone app once again. I (Naomi) have got to get me one of those!
We had talked about the possibility of walking over 26 miles that day but after rejoining the trail we’d been on the previous day it wasn’t looking good. We stopped and drank some tall beers in Port Argeles and then picked up a bottle of wine for the remainder of our hike to Collioure, which was past our campsite on the coastal trail.
Sipping wine from the bottle like classy folks the whole two miles or so we talked about the day’s sights and how unexpectedly amazing this place was. In Collioure, we stopped at a cafe that advertised WIFI and had two more half pints. While sitting outside the gentleman next to me leaned over and slurred some words like”whurrbout you from?” Warily, I told him the states, not sure if I wanted to open a conversation. Before I knew it we were acquainted with Dave, from outside of Manchester who was in Collioure for his 35th birthday. He was visiting with his two brothers and father, a lively crew who had spent the night before in Barcelona and watched their marathon that morning very hungover. They asked about our travels and then labeled our endeavors respectfully “proper traveling” and invited us eagerly to visit them in England. Two of the brothers fought over whose house we would be staying at when we came to visit. Within half and hour they’d invited us to Dave’s birthday dinner, “no” was not an option.
We ended up at some great little restaurant that their father picked out and after having hiked twenty some miles it was a “proper” treat. I had some duck with peaches, sean had white fish. Our hosts forced me to order for them in French which was funny because they were all yelling their orders simultaneously and it was the exact same thing: steak. There were also rounds of aperitifs and digestifs, four all together not including the wine we had with dinner. Sean and I pieced this together the next day because some how in the process I got drunk, lost my coat and acquired a day long hangover.
After the day I spent wishing for death from inside our tent we made plans to go to Spain. One of Dave’s brothers had literally threatened to kill us if we didn’t go to Barcelona, “because it’s so brilliant, you’d be stupid not to go”. Despite the threat of our murders we decided that it was too expensive. Just in case though we chose a coastal hike that would take us across the Spanish boarder so we could (sort of) say we tried.
Our original plan was to take a train down to Portbou in Spain and then hike back up to our campsite. However, when we arrived at the Collioure train station there was a handwritten sign in the window that said they were closed for the day. Fairly furious, muttering curses about “the French way” of working we went to the internet cafe where we had met Dave and Co. a few nights before but their internet was down. So I had breakfast. Good for me, more angering for Sean. We saw the trail markers for what we thought was the coastal trail (on a post in town) and decided to walk to the next town, because the map I had said that it was only 1.4km. We had accidentally taken the wrong trail which was on offshoot (not marked different in any way we could tell then the main coastal trail) and ended up walking like five miles and 1000ft + elevation out of our way. Annoying. We met some really nice cyclists in the hills who asked where we were from and where we were walking to. I told them out plans to walk back from Spain, but that the train station had been closed. (It’s times like this that I’m really happy to have studied some French). They directed us to the next town and after we’d been walking for a little while, one of them rode down the hill to make sure we’d taken the right turnoff and wished us “bon chance!” We finally came to the train station in the next town and found that we’d missed the train by ten minutes and the next wouldn’t be arriving for over two hours. Not wanting to waste daylight we decided to just start heading down the coastal trail. We got a schedule for the last trains heading back towards our campsite for the night and purchased our tickets in advance. Then we started hiking for real.
It was beautiful. Think crumbly white cliffs with succulent plants tumbling into crystal clear blue-green water with air that smelled like pine, juniper and occasionally flowers. We kept saying things like “as soon as we get there we’re jumping in the water”. But neither of us wanted to risk not making our deadline- the Spanish boarder. I started daydreaming about the water in Spain and telling myself it would be worth waiting to jump into. Overall the trail was well maintained and marked. With incredible views the whole way. There were a lot of people out hiking some of them with trekking poles and hiking boots, others in flip flops. We passed an elderly couple who told me they were searching for wild asparagus, “had I seen any?”, holding out a few scrawny stalks. We were making excellent time until around mile 19or 20 when we caught up to a man and woman hiking together. Generally, when you catch up to someone on the trail, it means you’re faster and they let you pass automatically. These two didn’t want to let that happen. I kept thinking maybe they were looking for a good place to let us pass, until at some point I realized they didn’t get it. I (Naomi) felt a little rage fire inside of me that these two thought they were as fast as us! Clunking tiredly and clumsily along in their giant hiking boots with scrunched socks, they were trying to out-hike us. I replayed the times I’d graciously let faster people pass me on the trail maybe even congratulating them as they did. Just as I was thinking of how to alert them in French to their gross trail abuse I saw that we were approaching the beach and the end of that trail segment. As soon as my Free-Runs hit the sand I jetted past them, this time without the pleasant “bonjour” or “pardon” just straight speed. The entire next two sections of trail were devoted solely to putting space between them and us and we did. At some point looking back, I spotted her pink shirt far across an inlet on a cliff. I might be a little competitive after all.
We were on a time limit because we had our return tickets on the last train of the day so we were racing against the clock. But we were also well ahead of schedule. Finally seeing our last stretch of trail we started up a hill towards Spain. It was possibly the most brutal hill of the entire hike and we were about twenty-four miles in already. This trail climbed about eight hundred feet in about a quarter of a mile. As we neared the top we could hear the sounds of town below us carried up by the wind, a drum circle we had passed and the distinct melody of the SNCF station “bah bah bah” that plays with every announcement. It was surreal because we were struggling high over this little town, fully exposed, but could hear everything clearly.
Then all the signs were in Spanish, the neatly stenciled French trail markers turned to expressive brush splatters and at the top of the hill we looked down on Portbou.
We headed back towards the train station on the French frontier, taking the road this time not wanting to kill our knees or fall off the cliff with the super steep downgrade. We stopped for some more water and celebratory tall boys and rested on the pebble beach for a little while before crossing the gauntlet of the rape-y graffiti-covered subterranean tunnel to the Gare and hopping on our train back to Collioure.
I didn’t get to go swimming. But I went on my longest hike to date and crossed and international boarder. I guess that will suffice.