The holiday season was here again. With Waffle we had a generous 10 days of free time to spend. You probably guessed already, that it was not wasted on the sofa at home. No no. Our car was fully loaded on the morning of Christmas Eve as we drove to work. Around lunch we broke free, our car turned towards south for the next 920 kilometers. Our first stop would be Ardèche, and the house of Waffles parents.
We arrived late that evening and were greeted by a very happy dog and parents, accompanied by a hearty meal. Not much more was needed after such a long day. We gave up and fell into bed happy and eagerly waiting for a few days of hiking the gorges of Ardèche.
The hunting of boar was still going on. The sounds of hunting dogs, running boars and an occasional gun shot gives a hike a special atmosphere. You hope you wont be mistaken to a boar and get shot, you hope no boar will run over you and so forth. In those forests there definitely is a lot of boar to hunt. At places the whole bed of the forest is completely turned over by them!
We had some walks alongside the gorge. The sides of the canyon are filled with wild caves. Sometimes rather big ones, that you can easily walk into, as long as you have a light with you. We explored those, I mainly focused on avoiding the massive spiders. Down by the river we found an old ruin. Suspected to have been built by the Templiers back in the 1300th century. The last day also Hatchi, the dog, got his share of hiking. He was not completely amused by the idea of being carried over the slippery chalk stones…
After three days we left Ardèche, moving further to the south on the shores of the Mediterranean, first visiting the medieval city of Carcassonne. The weather there was still perfect for camping outside. That makes me slightly scared of the global warming, it is getting more and more visible…. Our spot for that night was close to La Franqui, a very nice buggy beach at a lagoon. From there, we had an easy drive to the starting point of the Pyrenees and the Pic du Canigou.
Our walk for the next day left from the village of Vernet-Les-Bains. We were aiming for a total climb of close to 800 meters, ending up to the height of 1500 meters. That was a beautiful climb, on a small trail, winding through the hill side towards the massif of Canigou. It was beautiful to see how the nature changes with the rising height. We walked from an oak forest, to pines and spruces, all the way up to low shrubs growing on the top.
Pic du Canigou was dominating the east side of our views, when we started our descent. The trail passed some ruins and we were wondering who on earth would have wanted to build a village in a place like that. Soon we found out, that they were actually the remaining structures of guerrilla fighters lodgings during the WWII.
After getting down from the mountain we headed to search for the wild hot springs, we had heard rumors of. The Pyrenees seem to have quite some volcanic grounds producing small and smelly hot springs. We got to one of them, pouring out water as hot as 60 degrees. It had collected quite some skinny dippers into its pools.
For the night we drove back to the coast. Forecast promised a bit too chilly night for camping in the mountains. At the Mediterranean it was still toasty and the next day looked sunny. Setting the camp in the evening gave time to develop some ideas. That moment led into a decision to go visit Barcelona for the new year. Since we were not that far away anyways. You cannot believe how difficult it is to find a hotel from there, at a reasonable price, two days prior to New Year. But we managed!
We changed the mountains to a coastal walk, a nice loop around a peninsula next to Port-Vendres. A few kilometers walking by the clear blue sea and through the vineyards, with the sun on our backs. That was a nicely relaxing after the climbing the day before.
We found a camping spot too, alongside the walking route, and started searching for a hike for the third day of that region. We were dreaming of higher snow covered tops for that hike. We managed to find a nice loop going by a few small lakes and climbing well over the height of 2000 meters starting close to Mont-Louis.
We arrived there the next morning. The parking lot was full of people, going on snow shoe safaris. That made us a little bit skeptical on how peaceful could our hike turn out to be. We started to collect some weird looks, while we prepared our hiking breakfast, and a hungry dog, trying to dive in too.
Eventually it seemed, that most of the people were headed to different trails, and after half a kilometer, we were in solitude, on a snow covered and slippery trail, going through a forest. After a mild climb we arrived at a small lake, partly frosty, partly frozen solid. It felt like home, in Finland, when the first cold nights come and the days are still clear. I found myself missing my ice skates. The place was so lovely that we are planning to return to there, in summer with a tent.
Trail went on, and brought us soon to another lake with magnificent mountain surroundings, and one of the more popular GR routes, being GR10, going to Compostela. We headed off to higher grounds again. Passed a large damned lake and climbed up to the next ridge. For such a snowy day, so high up, it was very warm. We were both sweating like pigs wile climbing higher. It must have been up to 15 degrees in the sun.
The snowy trail was slippery but very very beautiful and it took us deep into nature and such peaceful places. Finding so much pure white snow made me really happy! Snow is, after all, something you need to make it feel like real Christmas!
Before going to our hotel, we had some more hot springs to visit. We had an excellent tactic to arrive there after sunset, we were hoping, that most other visitors would be gone by then. The plan was a success. Almost nobody there and in the cover of darkness, we dared to skinny dip into the hottest of the rotten egg flavored pools. Timing was perfect; just when we were leaving, a bunch of Germans arrived.
After many days of hiking, a short dip in a hot pool is surprisingly relaxing. We fell quickly asleep at our hotel. Tomorrow would bring Catalan Spain, more Pyrenees and Barcelona with New Years festivities!
I am afraid this became a two piece story again. Stay tuned for the next part! With Barcelona, more mountains, volcanoes and such things!