Pyrenees Peaks to Mediterranean Plage Tour
World’s collide on this six-day Pyrenees to Plage tour (plage means beach in French) where the French Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean sea and France meets Spain.
One of the best features of this region of France is its concentrated nature. By that I mean snow covered peaks juxtaposed against the blue-green Mediterranean, arid lavender and fennel scented hills next to high mountain grazing pastures and palm trees waving in sea-breezes beneath conifer forests. You’ll get a feel for the diversity here as we taste our way through local and organic cheese farms, vineyards, olive groves and more.
This is a self-contained trip which means you’ll carry all your stuff in saddle bags and arrive at each day’s destination with the self satisfaction of knowing you got there completely on your own. But don’t get tricked into thinking it’s just a downhill coast. We start in the village of Planès in the eastern French Pyrenees at 1,550 m (5,090 ft) and follow back roads up and down mountainsides all the way to sea level. Each day’s ride is 50 to 60 km (30 to 40 miles) averaging 900m (3000 ft) of daily climbing and 1100m (3800 ft) of daily descending. In all, you’ll pedal 228 km (142 miles), climb 3,600 m (12,000 ft) and descend 4,700 m (15,500 ft).
But don’t get bogged down in statistics. All you need to know is that if you’re an active person, you know how to pedal and you enjoy small challenges, then you should be able to join this trip. You shouldn’t sign on naively, but once you know what it’s about I encourage you to throw the mileage and elevations out the window. What really matters is the scenery, camaraderie and discovery you’ll experience along the way. It’s the ride that matters, not the finish.
Accommodations on this tour are private rooms in remote hikers’ lodges, with the exception of one night in a typical village hotel and one night in a rural B & B. Overall, you’ll get a feel for the French country lifestyle where simple dinners are often shared around a common table. Lunches will either be organic picnics in scenic locations or in village bistros. I plan at least one tasting and/or visit at a local, organic producer each day. This is not a luxury chateau tour, but a real tour where you’ll get to meet the farmer who makes the paté she sells in the weekly market and taste pain de campagne (country bread) from the rural baker. I think there’s something pretty luxurious about that and I hope you will too.
PYRENEES TO THE SEA DATES:
• Two passionate bi-cultural trip leaders
• Scott hybrid bike + helmet
• Handlebar bag + rear rack + rear saddle bags
• Maps + cue sheets
• Transport to and from Perpignan train station at beginning and end of trip (by shuttle or train)
• 5 nights in countryside inns, 4 dinners with local wine (one dinner on your own), 5 organic and locally sourced picnics, 5 French-style breakfasts (think croissants and a latté)
• All tips/gratuities for lodging and meals
• A minimum of one daily tasting or visit at a local, organic producer
• A group maximum of six people, insuring a small, intimate group setting
• Pre and post-trip planning advice–we’ll share local travel tips and contacts for lodging and transport around the trip’s start and finish
• Airfare and/or travel expenses to and from tour beginning/ending location
• Lodging and dining expenses before and after tour start and end
• Any shopping or extras you spend on tour
DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Moderate to challenging. Need some experience climbing hills, preferably with saddle bags, but don’t have to be a seasoned adventure cyclist. Read more about difficulty levels
LEVEL OF SUPPORT: Inn to inn, self-contained with trip leaders. Read more about support levels
TO PREPARE: I’ll send you the Pyrenees to Plage Handbook with details on packing, planning and preparing once you’ve confirmed your reservation. You’ll get info on how to pack light for bike travel, how you should train on the bike, what kind of weather to expect and other pertinent information. Don’t worry if this is your first self-contained adventure, I’ll walk you through the essentials.
PYRENEES TO PLAGE TOUR ITINERARY:
Day 1 We’ll meet you at the train station in Perpignan, the capital city of French Catalonia that Salvador Dali famously dubbed “the center of the world”. From there we’ll shuttle up into the edge of the Pyrenees where the first night’s trailside eco-lodge awaits beneath the magnificent Cambre d’Aze presiding at 2750 m (9022 ft). We’ll have a light lunch, bike fitting and short intro ride, and then a little free time to enjoy this authentic mountain village in the Parc Naturel des Pyrenées Catalane. On clear days you can see the sea glistening far below. Dinner will be shared around a grande table sourced entirely from organic farms of the region. After dinner you can enjoy the inn’s multiple language library, study regional topography maps or stroll around the supremely quiet village paths before sleeping soundly in your private room.
• Welcome aperitif
• Light farm-fresh lunch
• Local, organic dinner with regional wine around a grande table
• Sweet dreams in a solar-powered lodge where design and comfort shine
• Intro bike lesson and short ride
• Scenery—high mountain cattle pastures, conifer forests, Carlit mountain range, stunning Cambre d’Aze, authentic Pyrenean village, Mediterranean in the far distance
Wake early for a stroll in the mountain air or stumble directly down for a hiker’s organic breakfast of fresh bread, yogurt, local jams, muesli, sheep’s cheese and fresh fruit. Today we’ll begin our descent from the village at 1550 m (5085 ft) toward the sea, but not before climbing the Col de la Llose at 1866 m (6122 ft). A col is a high mountain pass and many in the Pyrenees are famous like the Tour de France’s mythic Col d’Aubisque and Col du Tourmalet. No need to worry, the Col de la Llose doesn’t even rank among those. Our edible discovery of the day will be mountain cheese where we’ll meet the maker and the herd (either cows or sheep).Lunch will be in the remote village of Ayguatébia-Talau that clings to the mountainside and is named for its warm springs (aqua tebeda in latin). After lunch we’ll roll down a narrow mountain road into a secluded ravine with a sigh of relief not to be among the cyclists climbing in the other direction. We may pause for a quintessential French café in the roadside village of Olette for a little boost before climbing up to our second night’s lodge in the remote village of Escaro, an old iron mining town. From here you’ll enjoy views of the region’s sacred Mount Canigou and a convivial atmosphere at this colorful lodge. Dinner will be around a shared table based on local ingredients before retiring to your private room in this authentic hiker’s inn.
• Organic breakfast
• Meet the maker: mountain cheese
• Picnic lunch in scenic Pyrenean village
• Locally sourced dinner with regional wine
• Private room in authentic hiker’s lodge
• 49 km (31 miles) by bike with a total ascent of 1011 m (3318 ft) and total descent of 1632 m (5356 ft)
• Scenery—high mountain grazing grounds, conifer forests, Carlit mountain range, stunning Cambre d’Aze, authentic Pyrenean villages, Mount Canigou
We’ll have breakfast at the lodge before mounting our bikes and making our way down into the valley of the Têt River with Mount Canigou watching over. We’ll pass through the town of Vernet-les-Bains where the writer Rudyard Kipling often wintered and where the tradition of ice running began. Runners in the early 1900’s would climb to the snow covered Pic du Canigou and haul blocks of ice back for all the English tourists ordering afternoon aperitifs. From Vernet we’ll head down to the town of Prades (250 m, 820 ft) where the American Catholic mystic Thomas Merton was born and where the internationally acclaimed cellist Pablo Casals sought refuge during Spain’s Franco regime from the 1940’s to 70’s. On the way we may stop to tour the Abbaye St. Michel de Cuxa, a wonderful example of the region’s Romanesque architecture and sculpture, or we may head straight to Prades so we can enjoy the weekly outdoor market.
Our day’s farm tasting may include sheep cheese from the abbey, mountain honey or organic olive oil. For lunch, we’ll either have a picnic with a view stopping midway on the day’s big climb to the Romanesque Prieré de Marcevol that’s open to the sky and dieu 564 m, (1837 ft), or we’ll stop in the town of Taurinya or the perched village of Eus for lunch at a village bistro. From Marcevol we’ll meander down and down through vineyards and a unique geological formation called Les Orgues, before calling it a day at our bed and breakfast nestled in peach orchards in the valley town of Ille-sur-Tet. For dinner we’ll enjoy an organic, locally sourced meal prepared by Kate and Adrian, the warm and welcoming innkeepers. This is our longest day, with the steepest climb. So we’ll toast to that with a lesson on local wine!
• Breakfast with a view
• Meet the maker: monastic cheese, mountain honey or olive oil
• Picnic lunch with a view or regional bistro lunch
• Dinner with fresh, locally sourced ingredients and “watered” with superb local wine catered at the inn or in town at a restaurant
• Private room in a monastery converted to modern bed and breakfast
• 61 km (38 miles) by bike with a total elevation gain of 1020 m (3347 ft) and a decrease of 1759 m (5770 ft)
• Scenery—Conifer forests, authentic Pyrenean villages, Mount Canigou, historic sites and towns, Têt Valley, vineyards, peach orchards
Rise and shine among the peach trees for a beautiful breakfast at the inn. From here our morning course will be relatively calm with rolling hills rather than a big climb. We’re now in wine country so today we’ll visit a local vineyard to taste some of the region’s oldest grape varieties, like Carignan and Macabeu. Lunch will be either be a picnic in cellar or among the vines. After lunch we’ll tackle the day’s climb cresting the Col de Llauro at 380 m (1247 m). Once over the top we’ll get expansive views of the Tech River valley from the L’Hermitage de Saint Ferriol with its 13th century chapel. From there we’ll coast down to the artistic village of Céret, made famous by Picasso who painted there. You’ll have the evening on your own to dine where you like, and to enjoy the winding pedestrian streets that hide art boutiques and wine bars. Your typical village hotel is ensconced in the town center, walking distance from everything.
• Breakfast at the inn
• Meet the maker: artisan winemaker
• Picnic lunch at a family winery
• Dinner on your own in the artistic village of Cèret
• Private room in a traditional village hotel
• 58 km (36 miles) by bike with a total elevation gain of 677 m (2220 ft) and a decrease of 650 m (2133 ft)
• Scenery—Mount Canigou, historic sites and towns, vineyards, peach orchards, olive groves, Tech River Valley, views of the Mediterranean
We meet at the corner bakery for a typical French breakfast before you attach your saddle bags and ride to the sea. We’ll follow the Alberes (Pyrenean foothills) tasting our way to the Mediterranean. We may stop to see a cork harvester (it grows on trees if you didn’t know), visit an organic almond grove or taste from a natural winemaker. We’ll lunch at a roadside bakery or sit down in a local bistro before we coast to the coast. But don’t get too settled, because the day’s big climb still awaits—well worth it for the spectacular views of the Mediterranean coastline and dramatic vineyards that drop into the sea. We’ll stay in a remote hiker’s inn tonight and share our final dinner together around a communal table at the inn. You’ll sleep well in your private room perched high above the sea.
• Breakfast at the corner bakery
• Meet the maker: cork harvester, almond grower or natural vintner
• Lunch at a roadside bakery or village bistro
• Arrive at the Mediterranean!
• Family-style dinner at the inn
• Private room in a hiker’s inn perched above the sea
• 60 km (37 miles) by bike with a total elevation gain of 953 m (3127 ft) and a decrease of 676 m (2219 ft)
• Scenery—olive groves, vineyards of Les Alberes, Le Canigou, Pic Neolus, cork oak trees, the blue-green Mediterranean at your feet, shoreline cliffs, coastal lavender and seaside vegetation, the tip of Spain
Wake early to enjoy the sun rise over the Mediterranean and then join the table for breakfast at the inn. After breakfast we’ll shuttle down to the picturesque coastal village of Collioure for one last taste of the Mediterranean before putting you on the regional train to Perpignan where you can continue your personal journeys. Don’t forget to exchange addresses with your new friends before waving goodbye to the southernmost region of France. Bon voyage…
• Breakfast at the inn
• Picturesque Collioure–coastal village made famous by Matisse who painted here
• Regional coastal train to Perpignan (or shuttle)
• New friends, powerful memories
• Scenery–rolling vineyards dropping into the sea, medieval signal towers defending the Franco-Spanish frontier, Le Canigou, historic coastal village
NOTE: TOUR DETAILS ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE ACCORDING TO WEATHER, AVAILABILITY AND GROUP DYNAMICS. PLEASE KNOW THAT ANY ALTERATIONS WILL BE KEPT TO THE SAME STANDARDS AS OUTLINED IN THIS ITINERARY, WITH THE SAME THEME AND FEEL. I’M COMMITTED TO SHARING THE BEST OF THIS REGION AND WILL MAKE SURE EACH TOUR SHINES.
- Active Travel France, Biking, Cycling, Food and Wine, France, france bike tour, French Catalonia, Languedoc-Roussillon, Mediterranean, Organic, Organic Bike Trip France, Organic Food and Wine France, Pyrenees, South of France
- September 27, 2014