Wonderful Secret Valley Discovered in Pyrenees-Orientales, France | Day Hike in Vallée de l’Orri
In this trip report we are excited to share the one day hike in Vallée de l’Orri, Pyrenees-Orientales, France that we did at the end of September. It is a 20km hike starting from Fontpedrouse town going through the hot springs “Les Bains de Saint-Thomas”, then doing a circuit around the valley, get to the Planes village and finishing at the fortified site of Mont-Louis.
Vallee d’Orri was a completely new area for us to explore as we have never hiked before in this area. We expected it to be a moderate difficulty with the elevation gain of 500m with several uphills and downhills just looking at the map. But we couldn’t be sure about how steep the trail would be so it was one thing we were going to find out.
We have started our hike in the village Fontpedrouse that was a historic rocky village standing on the side of the hill and thus had many stairs to move up and down the village. We had crossed the river Tet, and were heading out in the direction of the hot springs Saint Thomas. We walked on the secondary car road all the first part but fortunately there was little traffic. The sun was just getting up and we could feel that the day is going to be beautiful and warm.
Soon we came to the Hot Springs “Les Bains de Saint-Thomas” with the thermal waters of 37°C which were located in the little corner deep in the gorge. It had a nice resting area with picnic tables close to the river too.
From there we started to ascend the mountain hill leading us to the Prats-Balaguer village. It was quite steep at times but wasn’t too long. We enjoyed breathing the fresh morning forest air and met lots of mushrooms as well as delicious blackberries growing on the side of the trail.
The trail went quite narrow twisting around the people’s gardens and not long after we could see the houses of the Prats-Balaguer village. It was an old small village with lots of historic buildings in it. It was located on a sunny relatively flat spot that was open to the great views of the gorge and mountain peaks in the distance. It had several fields around it too.
Leaving the village we went out to the gravel dirt car road surrounded by some fields. There we met two handsome bulls peacefully pasturing and eating the grass. Soon we came to the point where the trail was turning in direction to the Valley d’Orri and there we saw a half ruined Castell de Prats-Balaguer that in the old times must have been quite a bit bigger.
From there the easy gravel road finished and we began to follow the PR3 yellow sign of the local trail that was leading us uphill. At times it was quite steep but most of the distance we’ve been following the old bricked route that may have been left from Romans to our time. It was going mostly through the forest and lots of shade and was very peaceful to walk on.
At one point we came out to the magnificent viewpoint from where we could see the high mountain peaks overlooking the valley in front. The peaks were covered in a bit of snow also that was only making it even more beautiful picture.
The weather was very nice and warm with practically no wind during the whole day and we were very grateful for such a gift from nature. Because lately we had had an extreme drop to the freezing temperatures and even a snowfall, which had never happened in 3 years we had been living in the region.
As we were getting higher more and more amazing views of the valley were opening to our eyes. The beautiful green hills covered in dense forest nicely framed the contrasting snowcapped rocks in the distance.
Shortly we arrived to the lake that turned out to be the artificial water reservoir d’Aumet and lots of cow pastures spread around it. There we came across the white and red GR sign that served as a universal mark for all the numerous GRs around Europe. We knew that there should be a GR10 trail – Great crossing of Pyrenees on the French side somewhere close passing by but we weren’t sure about this one.
The trail continued to go along the dirt car roads which were very gentle and easy to walk on. It was going in the forest and we had to cross several quick water streams on the way.
After a couple of kilometers we came out to the Refuge d’Orri mountain shelter with a splendid view of the mountain peaks in front. It gave an impression of the guarded refuge even though it was small as we could see it being quite well equipped and taken care of as well as there was some information about it at the front door.
The views were magnificent there and they even reminded us of some place in Dolomites or Alps again because of how dramatic was the picture of the steep and impregnable rocks. These were the beautiful memories to go back to and it was the proof of the well-known fact another time that you don´t have to go far away from your home to find the incredible places, you just have to get out and explore and you´ll find them. The only thing that made the picture less impressive was the harsh backlight we got at this time of the day and we thought that getting here in the evening would be much better for taking nicer shots.
It was the middle of the day and we were at the mid-point of our hike for that day, having done the first 10 kilometers and having 10kms yet to do ahead of us. So we arrived at Jaca Grossa area of 1826m high, crossed the river and decided that it was about time for us to have lunch. So we spent 40 minutes or so eating our home made bulgur with fresh salad and bread and just resting laying down on the ground for some time.
We have started our half circuit on the other side of the valley turning back from the peaks and directing to the village Planes that was in 6.2km away from us. Right from the start the trail was going much narrower and steeper than on the opposite side of the valley following the rocky paths and ascending the first several kilometers. It continued to go through the forest that was a mixed one of mostly pine and birch trees. At one moment, we met a cute fur friend – the marmot that was standing still as soon as he saw us and pretended to be a part of the rock. It was one of the rarest cases for us this hiking season so we were very happy to be able to observe him from a far.
We continued to follow the GR marking and at that moment, we knew for sure studying the map closer that it was actually the sign of GR10 and GR36 two in one at this part of the trail. We were glad to have these marks as we already had the experience with it and were convinced that the GR marks are one of the best and most accurate and normally you can follow them without double-checking your map. And as it was perfectly going in our direction for some time we could relax and just enjoy the trail.
The narrow path was coming up and down quite a bit still going mostly in the forest and the shade. And having hiked for several kilometers on that side already we could definitely say that it was more challenging than the other side. There were a lot of rocky and steep uphills and downhills compared to the gentle dirt routes and old bricked paths on the other side. It wasn’t anything extreme though. But we thought that maybe it would be a good idea to start from this more challenging side when you have more powers and finish peacefully on the other side of the valley.
After some time we came out to the area of Foret de Planes of 1732m and had only 1.2km to go until the village. The path began descending down and went more gentle and easy. The already familiar views of the Cerdagne valley opened to our eyes with the Pic Carlit mountain range and plenty of black roofed villages spread in the distance.
Soon we came to the village Planes and walking by several fields and small old rocky bridges over the rivers arrived to the final point of our hike – fortified site of Mont-Louis.
We enjoyed this 20km hike a lot as it allowed us to discover the beautiful area of Eastern Pyrenees – Valley d’Orri. It was moderately steep and wasn’t very hard so it makes this hike accessible to most of the fitness levels. The Prats de Balaguer side of the valley is very easy and laid back hiking experience and the Planes side is more challenging. We are very happy about this trail discovery of ours and plan to come back there another time.
If you are interested in exploring more hiking trips in Pyrenees you can check out our other hike reports from the region here: