We are lucky to have friends who live in the Languedoc and they were kind enough to look after us for a while at the end of June. We know the area well as we owned our own villa in the region for many years before we set off travelling long term. While here we decided to set off on one of our favourite journeys up into the Pyrenees to lounge in the sulphur baths of the volcanic waters that abound in this area.
It may seem a long way to got to take a bath, but the scenery is spectacular, whatever season you travel in, and that makes for a great day out taking in breathtaking landscapes, cute Catalan towns and a relaxing time at the spa.
We set off early morning (from Ceret) taking the Péage north to Perpignan before heading west on the N116. The road is easy to drive and the first part of the journey will take you along the Conflent Valley before you hit the mountain roads for your winding journey up into the height of the Pyrenees.
There are plenty of places to take a detour on the journey, or to stop off for lunch. Our favourites along the route would be the hill town of Eus or Prades.
The village of Eus can be spied from the main highway as you approach you will see it nestling amongst the hills of the Conflent. Dominating the town is the Church of Saint Vincent sitting at the top of the village. This was a former castle and has been used by both the French and Spanish to repel each other as the domination of this part of Europe switched between the two countries in the 16th and 18th Centuries.
The streets of the village are cobbled and half an hour wandering around the place will leave you filled with medieval French life.
Prades is the largest town you will pass on your journey, just a few kilometers from Eus. Like most French towns, a church dominates the centre, in this case it is the Church of Saint-Pierre. The town square here is probably a nice place to grab lunch and a coffee or beer and watch the town go about its business before you start the uphill climb into the Pyrenees.
Villefranche De Conflent
Villefranche was established in the late 11th century by the Count of Cerdagne. He used it as a stronghold against the Count of Roussillon in the medieval feuds of that time. This village at this time was the border town between France and Spain. The ramparts of the castle walls are impressive as is the old town thats sits behind them. This town is also the starting point for Le Petit Traine Jaune (the little yellow train) which will trundle you up into the Pyrenees, if your don’t fancy making the journey yourselves.
There are also three caves nearby Grotte des Canalettes, the Grotte des Grandes Canalettes, and the Cova Bastera. By far the most popular are the Grandes Canalettes. A journey into the mountains can be both cooling and fascinating on a hot summer day.
Perched on the edge of the mountain you will pass through very tiny villages which are a collection of houses perched on the edge of the cliff face. From here you will start your climb proper into the Pyrenees. The views become more spectacular and as you pass another baths, at St Thomas Le Bain, you head even higher to the final destinations, near to the winter ski resorts of Les Angles and Font Romeu.
We have also visited St Thomas Le Bain, they are good baths, but the journey down to them is a little more scary. Down single lane of curvy mountain roads. Today we passed them by and continued the climb higher towards Saillagouse and Les Bains de Llo.
The entrance fee is 11 Euros for adults and 9 for children. This gives you access to the baths for as long as you want. Well for the day anyway, I guess they might frown if you tried to sleep there. They are open from 10am until 7.30pm and until 8pm from mid July and August and during bank holidays.
For this you get access to five pools, three outdoor and two indoor, all at a wonderfully warm 35 degrees centigrade. All have various jets to tickle all areas of your body, from your feet to your head and the bits in between. Music is played in the water and if you dip your head under the surface you will hear classical or relaxing sounds reverberating through your ears.
When you are fed up with the bubbles and the sulphur you can have a sunbathe on the terraces or get even hotter in the sauna or hammam steam room. If you are brave after that you can take the ice cold walk through shower but be prepared for a shock.
After your treatment you can have a wander in the local village of Saillagouse for a beer or a coffee before you start your journey back. With a few stops along the way for photographs of the view we were back in Perpignan within an hour and a half.
Yes this is s long journey to take a bath, but the entertainment along the way is well worth the trip, you can have a couple of hours of pampering before your head back. The journey back is just as interesting as the sun has now moved across the sky and the views are lit in a completely different way so all seem new and interesting.