Marvels of the Mediterranean

Marvels of the Mediterranean

Another Mediterranean Masterpiece

As the Pyrenees reach the Mediterranean, the rugged, unforgiving mountains give way to relatively gentle hills which offer magnificent views over the sea. They also offer visitors to the area the chance to get away from the beaches, deck chairs, bars and restaurants for rambles across some of the most beautiful coastal countryside in Europe. The ascents can be quite steep in places but once up on the hills you can walk for several miles along former mule tracks which are merely undulating. The foothills on the French and Spanish sides of the Pyrenees provide an opportunity to literally get off the beaten tourist track and on to routes usually devoid of any other humans – even in the height of summer.

 

Photo courtesy of David Green

And as you walk past the occasional monastery or ruined fort in what Spain has designated a “natural park” – similar to our National Park designation – there is always the chance of glimpsing magnificent birds of prey.

The temperatures in this part of the world can be very high in summer and lots of water – up to two litres each – has to be carried and gradually swallowed in order to prevent dehydration.

With your packed lunch, your wet weather gear, your sun-tan lotion, first-aid kit, camera and binoculars, your rucksack can feel heavy but you can eat and drink your way to the incredible lightness of being – on top of the world.

 

Photo courtesy of David Green

Ramblers Worldwide Holidays offer a ten-day walking holiday – five days based at Collioure, on the French side of the border, and five at Port de la Selva on the Spanish side. It is called Another Mediterranean Masterpiece and it took my wife and I back to an area we had first visited and walked in 15 years previously. Collioure is an ideal base for such a holiday. You can walk out directly along the coast or inland and it is on a main rail line. It also has a range of good restaurants, bars and art galleries, together with some stunning buildings, including an ancient fort overlooking the harbour, and a centuries-old church where, in the 1990s, I felt privileged to attend a concert featuring a wonderful soprano – one of my great holiday memories.

 

Photo courtesy of David Green

In the evenings, in the Bar de Sol, beside the road which snakes its way through the town, you could watch the European football matches while sipping an after-dinner glass of Ricard. Or, rather, I could watch the football while my wife watched people passing by. At the town’s main art gallery we visited an exhibition of the work of the late painter, Leopold Survage, who painted in Collioure in the 1920s and early ’30s. The hotel in Collioure had a certain small town charm. We would have a briefing from the group leader, Mike Duxbury, before dinner and meet at the allotted time the next morning for the start of the day’s walk. Ingredients of a packed lunch were purchased from the local supermarket Mike, an excellent leader, and his wife, Marjorie, who joined the party for the Spanish part of the holiday, were great company and worked around the clock trying to ensure everyone had a good holiday. The walks were typically between six and nine miles.

The aptly named “traumatana” – a northerly wind quite common in these parts – was blowing at the latter end of our stay in Collioure and at the beginning of our residence in Port de la Selva, another very attractive town, this time on the Spanish side of the border.

Our coach transfer took us past the border area where two French tourists lost their lives earlier this year after being caught in a wildfire fanned by the traumatana. Port de la Selva still has a few fishing boats setting out from its harbour, some shops and restaurants and a few bars. The hotel here was smarter and larger than the one in Collioure. As on the French side of the border, dinner was taken outside the hotel but here the restaurant was owned by the hotel, being located just a few hundred yards down the road and sharing the same kitchens.

As in France, and despite advance notice and the efforts of the group leader, staff struggled to provide vegetarian meals for my wife, and I would not recommend a hotel holiday in this area for those with similar needs. We have stayed in areas of both France and Spain where great efforts have been made for vegetarians but this was not one of them, although the meals served up for us carnivores were generally very good. From Port de la Selva we walked along the coast in both directions and, on one occasion, took taxis to the start of the day’s ramble – to the small town of Cadaques, where Salvador Dali lived and worked for some years. There was a good social side to this holiday, with most members of the group getting on very well together. The talking together started on arrival and continued on the walks, and to the end of some memorable days.

 

Ramblers Worldwide Holidays offer guided walking tours in more than 140 locations in 60 countries.
Mediterranean Masterpiece – price from £1,129 (departures from April 2013)
includes return flights, transfers, ten days’ half-board accommodation and the services of a dedicated tour leader.
www.ramblersholidays.co.uk
01707 33 11 33