Final Day of Tour du Canigou – Our Final Thoughts and Tips |Day 5 -Pla Guillem – Refuge Marialles
It was the final 5th day of the Tour du Canigou trail for us when we made 18kms and 1700m of elevation change from the Refuge Devesa to Pla Guillem, passed Refuge Marialles and then finally arrived to the village Casteil.
The morning of that day at Ravin Comail was a bit cloudy and foggy but the sky was clearing up and it was promising to be a bright day. We didn’t have a good night sleep because the place where we set up the tent wasn’t very flat and had lots of uneven ground and also it was quite chilly and even our warm clothes didn’t help. We thought it was because of the proximity of the river down the gorge we could feel a lot of humidity in the air and on the skin and the wind was blowing from that direction. Also the smell of the smoke we had in all our things after the evening before cooking didn’t air out that much and so we had quite heavy heads in the morning.
Nevertheless we woke up early to be able to do most of the uphill distance in the first half of the day. We had a plan to do 18kms back to the village Casteil and had to do 700m of uphill elevation and 1000m of downhill. So we knew it is going to be a challenging day. Also on the forecast we saw the probability of rain later in the afternoon after2 or 3 pm so we wanted to finish most of our trail before that.
So we packed our things as quickly as we could, had our fast breakfast- food left from the evening’s meal and were out on the trail. The first kilometers were relatively easy going gently uphill and following the farmer’s road in the forest shade. The forest air in the early morning was very refreshing and smelling very good of the wet ground, grass, pine cones, and needles all together.
Then we came out onto the mountain plain where many cows were pasturing scattered to all sides. From there the beautiful mountain range views of the valley below were opening to our eyes. It was only the start of the day but as the sun was coming higher and higher on the horizon the temperature was raising and it was getting warmer.
We passed by the refuge Devesa part of which was closed as we understood for the exclusive use of the shepherds or foresters. It was very nice and quite big rocky house and had everything for the off grid living in it like several solar panels and clean water source.
There in the rocks for the first time on this trail we´ve spotted the little marmot hiding and standing still the second it noticed us. But we were still glad to observe it for some time. From that moment the forest car road ended and we suddenly saw the direction leading us to climb a steep hill. On the direction pillars we saw the GRP yellow and red sign but since then on the trees there was only the white and red GR mark left to follow. It was perfectly fine because it was following the same direction and we think sometimes they just don’t want to double it when it goes the same way.
The uphill was quite straightforward, rocky and steep at times so we had to slow down the tempo quite a bit. Also it was going mostly in the open sun which didn’t help and we constantly felt overheated. The trees on the sides were very low and small and mostly there were bushes so it couldn’t provide enough shade. We had to stop several times when we stumbled across more or less deep shade just to cool down a bit.
But that steep path was accompanied by the amazing panoramic views on all sides and it was a joy to look around. In the hard times it always keeps us motivated to move forward to discover more such incredible sights.
At the Roc Descargues which was one of the direction points we saw that our ways with yellow and red GRP are separating. It was going in the direction of Las Conques which we weren´t sure where it was exactly and we had a plan to continue our uphill to Pla Guillem. Then we realized that these were just the different options to take depending on your goals, difficulty or length of the trail you want to do. But as we had to make it to Casteil, we chose the shorter way, also we had our GPS map inintially following this way to Pla Guillem.
The uphill continued following quite steep slope all the way to the highest point so were out of breath most of the time. Part of the reason was the fear of rain or storm coming after midday so we were moving faster than usual to do the uphill part as early as possible. Fortunately, there was still no sign of bad weather as we were getting close to midday and the sky was blue and clear.
There was less and less vegetation as we were getting higher up and in the end we were walking in the open fields in direct sun. It was a quite enjoyable walk as the views around us were fascinating and it was nice to see the blue horizon line right in front of us and endless mountain ranges in the blue haze disappearing in the distance.
There were not so many people on the trail maybe because it is not popular or it wasn’t the right time of the day.
This way we got to the highest point of Pla Guillem (2300m). We made our uphill faster than normal only in around 2 hours and it was still only 11.30am. It may be one of our personal records for the uphill. We had our snack sitting on one of the rocks and could enjoy the wonderful pictures around us.
We thought this place was pretty incredible and unique because you can see both the Spanish and French side of the Pyrenees and you have a great view on every side. We regretted not having enough time to spend at the top just walking around this huge plain and taking photos. It would be nice to do this hike without backpack and just taking your photo camera make a lot of beautiful pictures of every side. It just needs time and maybe better to do in the golden hours of the early morning and late evening. It is quite a convenient spot though because it is mostly flat and so it is easy to move around. Also we found great that there were several refuge houses on top so that if you are caught in a bad weather you can always take a shelter. Not every mountain pass has such on top and we think it would be nice if every place had it.
Then we started to descend down in a slower pace as we realized that the forecast may not come true and we wanted to enjoy the down part more. We had to do more than 1000m down and at least 8kms more. We still had amazing 360 degree views around us almost all the way.
The downhill part wasn´t that steep, at first it was a bit rocky but not extreme at all. At that part we started to see huge big white rocks looking like marble to us and the sight of them was pretty impressive.
Then our way crossed with the dirt car road again and we decided to follow it. The official trail was going steeper down in the gorge closer to the river but as we already felt a bit tired and the direction of both was the same we decided to go with the easier one. It is a nice thing about this region that there are a lot of such farmer´s roads that you can take as an alternative to more steep paths and still enjoy the mountain views and forest shade.
At one point we saw the mountain peaks quite close in front of us and recognized the Peak du Canigou that we´ve climbed only 3 days ago. It looked a bit different from that perspective but we couldn´t confuse its rugged edges with any else. It was a definite sign that we had almost completed the circuit of Tour du Canigou at that point and were coming to the same side where we started.
So following this easy gentle car road we didn’t notice how we arrived to the Refuge Marialles that was our last point on Tour du Canigou trail from where it begins the circuit again. And we turned to the village Casteil direction descending 700m more to the valley.
The first part of the downhill surprised us a lot with how scenic the trail was going. It was following the deep shaded forest along the river channels going alongside the trail for at least several kilometers. It reminded us a lot of the Berkwaal Sentiero del Sole trail we did in Val Venosta, South Tyrol, Italy and it ended up being one of our most favorite trails there. So it brought back many nice memories.
At times the path was going quite steep descending down the rocky trail but as we were getting lower it was becoming more gentle. It took us around 4 hours to do the whole downhill part and it turned out to be longer and more tiring than the uphill. But at around 5pm we arrived to the village Casteil and caught our bus back home.
So this is how we finished our 5 day trail on Tour du Canigou. Here we would like to share with you our final thoughts and tips that we found useful and important when planning and doing this trail.
- This trail is 69 kms long. And it can be completed in 4 or 5 days depending on the option you choose. But keep in mind that you always have to count an extra day in order to get to the trail. Normally the villages are located at the bottom of the mountains at low altitude and you’ll have to go up at least 1000-1500m.
- If you want to start from the village of Casteil as we did start your hiking up in direction of the Refuge Marialles. Instead of how we did it, climbing to the Abbey of Saint Martin du Canigou from where we had to go 1.500 m up on the steepest uphill we’ve ever faced.
- We highly recommend you to start climbing in direction of the Refuge Marialles because we found that the trail is much more scenic and less tedious.
- You can start the trail at the refuge Marialles, refuge Cortalets or refuge Saint Guillem depending where for you it’s easier to get to. This whole area is very well connected to the city Perpignan which is one of the biggest cities in the Languedoc region so it shouldn’t be a problem.
- The direction of doing the circuit is irrelevant in our opinion. It will depend on your preferences and whether you want to climb the peak at the start or finish of the Tour or you don’t plan the ascension at all.
- The trail overall is a moderate difficulty and anybody with more or less good physical shape and some mountain experience can do this trail. The only real difficulty is the ascension to the peak du Canigou itself.
- If you are planning to climb to the peak we would strongly recommend you to do it from the side of refuge Cortalets because we found that the climb is much more gentle and possible to do even with a backpack. If you choose to climb form the side of refuge Marialles be ready to climb with your hands the last 200m or so as the way is very steep. In our opinion, it is too dangerous to do with the heavy backpack.
- The marking of the trail is quite good all the way through. But it’s always better to study your map beforehand and have your navigation or classic map always ready. Normally you have to follow the GR marks that can be white and red or yellow and red. Also there may be some alternatives if you want to take them.
- The best season to hike is summer or early autumn, we did this hike in the middle of September and found that the weather was great. It was sunny and warm and not too cold and rainy. But the nights are quite chilly and if you are going to camp you have to take your warm sleeping bags.
- Also you have to always keep in mind the afternoon storms that they can happen quite often. So you want to start your trail as early as possible and finish it in the afternoon ideally. This is the rule that applies to all the mountain trails.
- Take some spare warm clothes like fleece shorts, raincoats and warm pants for sleeping especially if you’re hiking in autumn. But in the mountains spare warm clothes never become useless. Also wear good hiking boots or trail running shoes.
- The bivouac or a night stay in your tent is allowed in any place close to the trail and also close to the refugees as well. And we didn’t face any particular difficulties with it rather than just steep slopes and difficult rocky terrains.
- If you prefer you can also stay at the refugee houses. There are 4 or 5 major refugee houses that are payable where you need to reserve your accommodation in advance. And also there are many shelters on the way where you can just spend the night if it’s your thing or you don’t want to carry your tent and more camping gear.
Overall we enjoyed this hike very much, we found that it can be very relaxed hiking and escape to beautiful natural world, many peaceful forest paths, passing through lots of rivers. And also of course many incredible mountain views and panoramic views of the seacoast which is the specialty of this hike. So on this hike you can enjoy the proximity of the Mediterranean seacoast and hiking in the Pyrenees mountains with its beautiful flora and fauna, breathing the fresh air and enjoying the incredible panoramic mountain views.
We really hope these tips will help you to plan your own hike and inspire you to come and visit this beautiful region of Eastern Pyrenees.