2001 Pyrenees

Trails of the Pyrenees
Medieval Towns & Castles
September 1 – 16, 2001
This trekking adventure takes us to the wild, isolated and majestic Pyrenees Mountains which form a snow capped border between France and Spain. Our adventure begins in Barcelona, Spain, a cosmopolitan 2,000 year old city located on the sunny Mediterranean Coast. 

Next, we travel by private coach, accompanied by an English speaking guide north through the small villages and towns of Spain, and through the foothills to the Parc Nacional d’Aigues Tortes, one of the most pristine and remote parks in the Spanish Pyrenees. This park has some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Europe with granite peaks to 9,783 feet, lush mountain valleys, waterfalls, cirques, pristine streams and abundant wildlife. We hike here for two days before going north into the French Pyrenees.

On our way to Parc National des Pyrenees Occidentales in the French Pyrenees we visit the old walled village of St. Bertrand de Cummings and it’s cathedral, which was once an important stop on the pilgrimage road to Spain. This Parc has the highest mountains and some of the most majestic scenery in the Pyrenees Range. The north side of the Pyrenees are lusher and greener, and have an exceptionally rich flora and fauna. The Parc is the best place in Europe to see golden eagles, booted eagles, falcon, izard, bear, and many other species.

Our six day trek starts in the foothills, amid historically interesting, traditional, old villages and gradually winds toward the wild, remote, high peaks. Each day has climbs and descents which end at a comfortable hotel in a small village, or at a refuge high in the mountains. Our luggage will be transported to our hotel, however, for the two nights lodging at refuges, we must carry all essentials in our day pack.

Next, we proceed east along the Pyrenees and across southern France to a region of castles and fortified villages. We visit Carcassonne, the finest medieval fortress in Europe, and several castles which were the final stronghold of the Cathars, a religious sect declared as heretics and persecuted by the Pope and the King of France during the Wars of Religion in the 13th Century.

Our trip concludes with a day of sightseeing in Barcelona and a day free to explore the city or the nearby gay mecca of Sitges.

Day 1: (9/1/01) Depart U.S.A./Canada
Day 2: (9/2/01) Arrive Barcelona, Spain
Arrive in Barcelona in the morning and take a taxi to the Hotel Granvia, located near Old Town. The Granvia has a late 1800 palacial style atmosphere; sweeping staircase, columns, arches, tastefully decorated with antiques and objects d’art. The afternoon is free to relax or explore the nearby Les Rambles, the most famous street in Spain, an outdoor theater with a 24 hour cast of vendors, performing artists, portrait painters, restaurants, outdoor cafes, boutiques, etc. The Barri Gotic, or Gothic Quarter, the oldest part of the city, with traces of Roman walls and medieval royal palaces is also nearby. Get acquainted dinner in the evening. (D)
Day 3: (9/3/01) Travel to Parc Nacional d’Aigues Tortes)
We travel by private coach north for about six hours across the coastal plain, through the scenic foothills to the remote Parc Nacional d’Aigues Tortes. We have lunch along the way and our mid day arrival affords us time to do a short afternoon hike in the Parc. We lodge in Espat, a relatively unspoiled ski town. (B,L,D)
Day 4: (9/4/01) Parc Nacional d’Aigues Tortes
Parc Nacional d’Aigues Tortes is characterized by numerous high mountains which approach 10,000 feet in height; over 150 glacial lakes; forests of pine, fir, beech and silver birch; wildflower filled meadows; and wildlife includes chanois, capercaille, golden eagles, kestrels, wild boar, otter and ptarmigan. Our full day of hiking takes us past alpine lakes and marshes, over a pass to the Circ de Saburb and back. (B,L,D)
Day 5: (9/5/01) Parc Nacional d’Aigues Tortes to Argeles
We travel by private coach through the heart of the Pyrenees to the charming old market town of Argeles, France. Along the way we stop to explore the old walled village of St. Bertrand de Cummings. Later in the afternoon we explore Argeles, visit a natural hot spring, or walk to the nearby ruins of several castles. (B,L,D)
Days 6-11 (9/6/-9/11/01) Parc National des Pyrenees Occidentales.
Our six day hike is in and near the Parc National des Pyrenees Occidenatles.
Day 6 (9/6/01).
Our day begins with a short minibus ride to the village of Omex. Our walk takes us across the Pibeste Range where there is a chance to see many birds of prey. We walk to either Gez or Ouzous, both charming little villages but neither able to take a group of our size. Therefore on this one night only we may divide the group between the two villages. (B,L,D)
Day 7 (9/7/01).
We walk through wooded mountains into the very serene Val d’Azun and observe the old farming methods in operation in this very fertile valley as we cross to Arcizans. We lodge in a hotel with a nice outdoor dining patio looking over the massive glaciated Argeles Valley. (B,L,D)
Day 8 (9/8/01).
A big day! We climb up the imposing Cabailliros Mountain for a long ridge walk with views on both sides. Descend to the old spa town of Cauterets; characterized by baroque architecture and marble goddesses. (B,L,D)
Day 9 (9/9/01).
We head off into wilder territory as we hike up to the first refuge, the Wallon. This refuge is located next to a river and among pine trees, and is one of the most scenic refuges in the Pyrenees as it. We may see izard, a Pyrenees type of chamois. (B,L,D)
Day 10 (9/10/01).
We hike over a col and into Spain, then cross back into France again to a second refuge called the Oulettes. This refuge faces directly toward the hanging glacier on the Vignemale Mountain; haunting, severe scenery. (B,L,D)
Day 11 (9/11/01).
Today, we hike over a high mountain pass and into the Valley d’Ossue and then into the Cirque of Gavarnie, a massive amphitheater of rock with a small town nestling below; a UNESCO world heritage site. (B,L,D)
Day 12 (9/12/01) – Carcassonne
In the morning we travel east by private coach across southern France to Carcassonne, the best preserved medieval fortresses in all of Europe. The defenses of Carcassonne are the accumulation of centuries of fortification built by the Gauls, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and Franks. In the 13th Century, Carcassone was a major stronghold of the Cathars. The elaborate defenses were of little use in 1209 when Carcassone lasted less than a month before opening its gates to a crusading army. After checking into our hotel we have lunch and then tour the medieval fortress. The city has moats, an inner wall 0.8 mile long and an outer wall over one mile long, which is punctuated by 52 stone towers and drawbridges. The church of St. Nazaire, a combination of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles, is located within the walls. (B,L,D)
Day 13 (9/13/01) – Carcassonne to Barcelona
The Cathars, declared as heretics by Pope Innocent III, built castles and fortified villages as refuges from persecution. In the morning we visit the two most famous ones, Peyrepertuse and Queribus. Peyrepertuse, the larger, is perched high on a ridge with a drop of 800-900 feet on all sides, it occupies one of the most dramatic sites of any castle anywhere. Queribus, perched precariously at 2,400 feet on a rocky spur, marked the Cathars last stand in 1255. In the afternoon we travel south along the coastal plain of the Mediterranean to Barcelona. We lodge at the Hotel Granvia. (B,L)
Day 14 (9/14/01) – Barcelona
Today we tour Barcelona, one of the most artistic and dynamic cities in Europe. Major attractions to be visited include the Cathedral de la Seu, a magnificent Gothic Cathedral built between 1298 and 1450; Cosa Mila, an apartment block designed by Gaudi; The Boqueria, Barcelona’s most spectacular food market; Plaza del Rei, the oldest and most beautiful space in the Gothic Quarter; Palaca Sant Jaume, the central square behind the cathedral which houses Catalonia’s and Barcelona’s government; and the Museu Picasso, which displays much of Picasso’s early works. (B,L,D)
Day 15 9/15/01 – Barcelona
Free day to explore or visit the nearby beach town of Sitges. (B,D)
Day 16 9/16/01
Return to USA/Canada. (B).
Land Cost: $3,000. Single Supplement add $600.
Cost Includes: All accommodations; all land transportation; all meals except where noted; bilingual cultural and historic guides; and entrance fees to parks, museums, and historical sites.
Land Cost Does Not Include: Airfare to and from Barcelona, Spain; airport transfers; airport departure taxes; dinner on Day 13 and lunch on Day 15; and alcoholic or other beverages with meals.
This hiking adventure is rated moderate to high in terms of difficulty. We hike on well maintained trails from 4-8 hours per day with ascents and descents each day and reach a maximum elevation of about 9,000 feet. While hiking we carry only a day pack with personal gear. Please note, for the two days in mountain huts we must carry additional clothing and toiletries in our day packs.
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