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davidx Vernet-les-Bains - A travel report by David
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Vernet-les-Bains,  France - flag France -  Languedoc-Roussillon
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davidx's travel reports

Vernet-les-Bains in Pyrenées Orientales

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We went here in 1993. Our first thought was Carcassonne and this broadened into a circuit: Carcassonne, Quillan, Perpignan, Vernet-lesBains and via le Petit Train Jaune and Latour de Carol to Toulouse – public transport throughout.


Church and castle
Church and castle
Given some better known places above, you may well ask why this report is centred on Vernet-les-Bains. I was looking desultorily through guidebooks for a place worth spending a few nights. Vernet didn’t appeal massively but it was one of the marginals I brought up online – principally to eliminate it. I read the website, http://www.ot-vernet--les-bain s.fr/uk/PAGES/verne t_les_bains.php# and changed my mind. The decision could have been reversed when we got there but it never occurred to us. Vernet is reached from Villefranche-de-Conf-lent on the railway from Perpignan by bus. It has three major attractions – unless you want to include the casino as well. The three are its position, gloriously placed for mountain walks of all levels below the peak of Canigou, which would suffice in itself, its trees [it was the first village-arboretum in France] and its geological museum, which claims to have the largest quantity in the country of specimens on view to the public. In addition it’s a delightful village in itself with a castle [private and church pleasantly situated on a small hill. There was one peculiarity. It was the very end of May and the leaves were fully out. However the checklist wouldn’t be available until ‘summer’. ‘Summer’ in this context means 1st June. The same applies to their book of walks – happily the hotel lent me an old one. The positive aspects are far more important. Take the museum first. It’s the owner displaying his own collection of specimens and he gives a full explanation in four languages if required. I’m no geologist but anyone could see that this was an outstanding collection with a heavy bias towards France and its neighbours but by no means exclusive to them. Now take the arboretum bit. There are over 1500 trees of 200 listed species in the village. Most can be identified without the ‘summer’ list, because they have a number on them and there are numerous placards up with the numbers of the nearest trees identified.

Favourite spots:
* Oh, yes I did!
* Oh, yes I did!
Very appropriately I turn to the walks now. When I say they were of all standards, I mean just that. A bit later in the year advanced walkers could go to the Canigou, still restricted to serious climbers when we were there. At the other end of the scale there was one walk up a peak which was so gradual that I found myself able to do it*. I thought previously that I had done my last peak without a mechanical aid in 1995, when I had severe heart problems. We also enjoyed the walk by road and return by a high pass for a visit to the wonderful little hamlet of Fillols with a spectacular Romanesque church, whose key was kept for lending out at the adjacent inn. What could be nicer? We also walked to the Cascade des Anglaises, a picturesque riverside walk to a waterfall so named for all the tourists who apparently used to pile in from England in Victorian times. For more on walks click on ‘Green tourism’ on the website and scroll well down. See end of report for St Martin’s Monastery.

What's really great:
Le Petit Train Jaune
Le Petit Train Jaune
Villefranche de Conflent is a completely walled town with a great feeling of antiquity about it. It is also a tourist trap and once you have spent a short time there, you may well feel ready to leave. However the station is the eastern terminus for the ‘Little Yellow Train’ shown on the Vernet website. [or see http://www.countryco-u sins.co.uk/yelltren.-htm] This is a beautiful line through the mountains with much splendid railway architecture. It goes up to the highest station in France, Bolquère, and on via Mont Louis, another completely walled town to the station of La Tour de Carol. This is now grotesquely oversized. It was once the main route from Paris to Barcelona and was the French frontier station. You can still get a train to Barcelona or head towards home via Toulouse. Although the peaks around Mont Louis, where we spent one night, are considerably higher than those round Vernet, we much prefer the latter.

Sights:
Railway scenery, Petit Train Jaune
Railway scenery, Petit Train Jaune
If you’ve not been to Perpignan, it would be a pity not to fit it into your itinerary. It feels like a capital and is certainly one of the most Catalonian towns in French Catalunya [where the red and yellow Catalunya flag normally goes beside a tricolour – not on its own as is more common on the Spanish side].
Two things not to miss are the Catalonian Museum in Le Castillet and the Palais des Rois du Majorque. Yes, it does mean Mallorca and I keep meaning to look up the history but it’s back to about the 13th century.
Don’t get tied down to specific sights though. It’s a fine place to enjoy a wander.

Accommodations:
Fillols
Fillols
At Vernet-les-Bains we stayed at a Logis de France, the Hôtel Eden,
2 Promenade du Cady, tél. 04.68.05.54.09, [open April to November.] This is well up towards the top of the road where the bus goes up past the town. It is moderately priced but I strongly advise not taking the option of cheaper rooms, if you can manage. The normal price gives you a good sized en-suite rom with a small blacony and a wonderful view. The hotel does a good breakfast but only provides an evening meal on a Sunday, when most of the local restaurants are closed. That meal was just fine!

Hangouts:
If you can walk to Fillols and go into the pub next to the church and get the key, all without having a drink, you can claim a strong character. I’d use a different explanation.

Restaurants:
Vernet-les-Bains travelogue picture
You won’t lack choice and we enjoyed a meal at the other Logis de France, the Princess, However our favourite was Le Pommier
Placette du Cady, tél. 04.68.05.57.83 near the large square at the town centre. This is one of those restaurants where you pay for the food rather than the decor, although there’s no problem with the latter. What’s more, you are pretty fussy if you can’t find something at a very reasonable price, although you can pay more if it suits you. Anyway it was good enough to get us for a second visit in four nights!

Other recommendations:
Vernet-les-Bains travelogue picture
You will not be able to avoid seeing trips advertised in Land Rover Tractors to St- Martin-du-Canigou, a monastery which could just be spotted from our hotel bedroom. These can be taken from at least as far away as Villefranche de Conflent. As far as Casteil, a delightful little village about 3km above Vernet, these take the ordinary road, which makes the prices absurd in relation to those on the bus. So, if you want to get there, definitely forget the land Rover taxi until you get to Casteil. However, even when you get to Casteil, the reason you can’t get up in your own car [if you’ve got one] is only that you aren’t admitted to the concrete track. To be fair, it would create problems of parking and passing [not driving] if you were Unless you are seriously disadvantaged, you can probably walk up! I didn’t but only because we’d already done a lot that day.

Published on Thursday February 24th, 2005


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Sun, Feb 27 2005 - 09:37 AM rating by marianne

Hi David,
Good picture of yourself!
Marianne

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