Return to the Têt Valley, France

The Têt Valley, located in the foothills of the eastern Pyrenees just north of the Spanish border, is a beautiful agricultural region known for peaches and apricots. There are also vineyards nearby, quaint villages to explore and walks in the mountains or countryside. If you are looking for a French region that sees fewer foreign tourists for a more authentically French experience, this may be the region for you.

We lived outside of Ille-sur-Têt for 3 months in the spring of 2012. For a list of posts on hiking, markets and other activities in the region see the 3 Months in the French Pyrenees page.

On this visit we spent 4 nights in the area splitting our time between a VRBO rental outside of Castelnou and a night in a B&B outside of Ille-sur-Têt, but there are plenty of other choices in the region.

Activities

Castelnou Loop Hike

Castelnou, a Plus Beaux Villages, is a quaint hilltop town of stone buildings with a castle at the summit. It’s a lovely place to stroll and have lunch at one of the hillside restaurants with views over the valley below. See the Castelnou post for more information on the village.

The Castelnou 3.4 mile loop hike starts at the parking lot in the village. The trail climbs the hill behind town with views over the country side and of Canigou peak in the distance. I would recommend starting the hike in this direction with the walk through town and then tackling the steep section going up. It’s very steep at times but it would be tougher and possibly slippery coming down. Once you reach the top and take in the views the way down is easy. The last part along the road has great views of Castelnou with Canigou behind it.

On the day we went, the last day in September, it had rained the night before and snowed in the mountains resulting in beautiful snow-capped peaks which were quickly overtaken by clouds as the morning wore on. It was also a very windy day making it difficult to walk at times near the summit of the trail.

As one of the prettiest towns in France Castelnou gets a lot of visitors, but the parking lot was fairly empty on a Friday morning at 9:30. When we returned later just after 11 it was still easy to find parking.

Lunch in Collioure

The seaside town of Collioure is one of my favorite towns in France. With colorful buildings, frequent sunny skies, a rocking coastline and great seafood how could it not be a favorite destination? While it is not on many international destination lists it is a favorite with the French and is often busy.

There isn’t much to do here except stroll the picturesque streets, take in the sea views, bask in the sun and enjoy a seafood lunch. There are a few sights but honestly I’ve never bothered with them because I just like the feel of the town, wandering the streets of the old town and strolling the promenade along the harbor.

Collioure is particularly known for its anchovies. Collioure is a protected designation for anchovies like Champagne for sparkling wine and Parmesan for cheese. Some claim they are the best in the world. I don’t know that they are but I do enjoy an anchovy salad when I’m in town.

Parking is relatively easy with lots of parking near the train station, a short walk to old town and the harbor.

Other Posts on Collioure

Collioure France – Best Anchovies in the World?

Coastal Walk to Collioure

Hike above Planèzes

This relatively easy 6.5km-hike in the hills above Planèzes and Rasiguères winds through vineyards, garrigue (native vegetation) and villages. On a clear day Canigou can be seen above town and from the higher reaches of the hike. The first two times we did this hike we had no idea there were great views of the peak from this location. On those occasions the days had a mix of cloud and sun but the mountain top remained hidden from view. Today, however, the peak was out. The day started cloudy but turned to clear blue skies after lunch.

The trail starts near the communal winery in Planèzes with parking just behind it. There is a sign that marks the start of the Decourverte du Vignobles.  Even without a map the trail is easy to follow as blazes mark every turn. The only tricky part is not long after the climb up the hill above Planèzes. You come to a junction that has the trail marked the same to the right and to the left to an ancienne mine. Take the trail to the left.

This is one of my favorite areas in this southern region of France because of the rolling hills with a mix of vineyards and untamed garrigue. We saw no one else on the trail on what turned out to be a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

Other Posts of the Planèzes Hike

Vineyard Walk – Planèzes

Vineyard Walk Planèzes, France – Take II

Drive through the Agly Valley

The route up the Agly Valley and back to Ille-sur-Têt is a fun scenic drive with fabulous views overlooking the valley. Take the D9 past Rasiguères. At Lac de Caramany take the D21 to Caramany through Bélesta and on to Ille-sur-Têt. There is a viewpoint for Les Orgues d’Ille-sur-Têt before descending into town.

Day Trip to Andorra

Andorra, a tiny country tucked in the eastern Pyrenees between Spain and France, makes an interesting day trip for those looking for a reason to drive through the mountains or check off another country.

Although Andorra uses the Euro it is not part of the EU, but does have agreements with France and Spain making driving in and out of the country relatively easy as well as being a duty free shopping destination. They still have customs check points at the border as there are duty free limits on what you can purchase, but they mostly just let cars pass through with no check. You are, however, supposed to carry your passport if you are not an EU citizen.

The hour drive through the country starting on the French border on the CG-2 and ending on the CG-1 at the Spanish border winds through a valley between the high mountain peaks and towns. Surprisingly, the urban areas look more like modern Swiss ski towns than the regional stone villages of either France or Spain.

Although the distances to get to Andorra are not great the roads are slow and winding. It was only 167km from our location outside of Thuir, France to Andorra La Vella, the capital, but it took over 3 hours.

Puicerdà to Andorra Loop Drive

The loop drive from Puicerdà, on the France/Spain border, is a pleasant scenic drive. From Puicerdà we took the N20, continuing in France to the Andorra border. At the border are a couple of toll tunnels that bypass the windy pass roads. We then took the CG-2 and CG-1 through Andorra, stopping in Andorra La Vella for a quick lunch. At the Spanish border we took the N-145 and then the N-260 back to Puicerdà.

Sleeping and Dining

Mas d’en Llinas

Situated on a country road outside of Castelnou, the large rambling Mas d’en Llinas accommodates up to 25 in 11 bedrooms. We had a studio attached to the main house with a comfortable main room and a terrace with sweeping views over the valley below.

The mas is a beautiful stone structure on a hillside off a dirt road with expansive views down to the sea in the far distance and Canigou peak behind the property. On site they have a huge pool with a lounge area and outside dining.

A bouquet of miniature roses greeted us in the studio. The room is a comfortable size and is well furnished with a couch and table, a bistro-size dining table and a very comfortable king-sized bed. There is adequate storage space but no safe. The Wi-Fi connection was very slow but there were an adequate number of outlets for charging electronics.

The lovely terrace was furnished with a bistro table and 6 chairs. There are two other bedrooms in the mas tower that you can rent that have access to the terrace.

The kitchen is quite small but was reasonably well-equipped with a microwave, induction cooktop, oven, small dishwasher and fridge. There is a decent selection of cookware and other small appliances. Lacking was a toaster and the French coffee press was dysfunctional. They did, however, have a Nespresso-type machine that we did not use. They provided starter coffee and a package of yummy regional cookies – Rousquilles fondantes. It’s a good setup for simple home cooked meals for two. We made Lapin à la moutarde and Guinea fowl with onions during our stay.

The bathroom is good sized with a great shower with good hot water and pressure. The towels are thick and soft. There is little counter space around the sink and there are no amenities other than hand soap. Although there was not a hair dryer one is available on request.

On our second morning we woke to no water. Thankfully we had already put water in the tea kettle for coffee. Once the caretaker woke, before 8 a.m., we had water again but not good pressure. We didn’t need much water for the morning so we let them deal with the issue and went on our day. When we returned in the afternoon the water pressure was restored.

Over all we enjoyed our stay at the mas and loved the remote location. Our only real complaint is that the owner was not very responsive in her replies to us via VRBO. Prior to our arrival responses took longer than they should have with promises of information soon. We finally got the information we needed for our stay the day before our arrival. On site they have a caretaker and a hostess, Audrey, who explains the property and takes care of anything you may need.

Mas Saint Joseph

Mas Saint Joseph, a small B&B on the outskirts of Ille-sur-Têt is run by the charming Kate and Adrian. The late 18th century structure has 4 large en-suite guest rooms and a studio apartment. Our gigantic room, La Suite d’Aragon, with a comfortable bed bigger than a king has a small reading nook and an average sized bathroom. The bathroom has a good shower and a reasonable amount of counter space. The room is smartly decorated with a modern country flare. Thoughtful details included fresh flowers on the table in front of the window, delicious tiny muffins and a carafe of filtered drinking water. The room has plenty of outlets for charging electronics. The Wi-Fi connection was OK in the guest rooms but weaker in the common areas.

Dinner can be prearranged and is served on the back terrace in good weather and in the dining room when it is chilly. Generally they serve only vegetarian meals. They do, however, sometimes serve fish.  Kate is a certified vegetarian chef.

We enjoyed a 2-course dinner starting with a salmon filet with an Asian influenced preparation served with pickled ginger, roasted baby potatoes and ratatouille. Everything was well-executed and flavorful. Dessert was an almond flour chocolate brownie type cake with fresh raspberries and mascarpone. Again  beautifully prepared.

Breakfast is a buffet of good quality cold items – yogurt, granola, cut fruit, homemade jam, honey, pastry and bread, butter and juice. Coffee is self-serve French press.

On a personal note, we rented this house for 3 months when we lived in this part of France 10 years prior. Adrian and Kate bought it shortly after we left.

For links to all the posts in this series see the French Pyrenees page.

September 28 – October 2, 2022