Foothills of the Pyrenees & Collioure to Cadaqués
I have just returned from two back-to-back holidays, Foothills of the Pyrenees and Collioure to Cadaques, my eighth and ninth holidays with Inntravel.
The Pyrenees walk begins in Mollo just under the Pyrenees crest which forms the French border and winds down initially through tiny mountain villages to Olot in the Zona Volcanica and finally to the preserved medieval town of Besalu near the edge of the hills. The area is fervently Catalan, and as my seatmate on a city bus at the end of one of the walks told me in no uncertain terms, I was not visiting Spain, but Catalunya, and the two were definitely not to be confused.
As has been my experience with Inntravel trips, the hotels and inns were each unique and interesting in their own right with the exception of the rather generic modern hotel in Olot. My favorites were the Hostal el Forn, a four room rural inn run by a local couple in Beget, a tiny mountain village in a remote valley; Can Pei, a seven room inn in a converted 350 year old farm house outside the village of Oix; and Hotel Cal Sastre in Santa Pau, an inn set in a group of medieval houses set into the original city wall and facing the original village square over a series of 12th to 14th century arcades. The last inn in Besalu was an interesting contrast in that it is a converted "indiano" mansion from the turn of the twentieth century with much of the original decor.
Walking in the first week of October, there were almost no other people on the trails except for the volcanic park area, and even then, I heard mostly Catalan, not even Spanish. The only place that I saw selfie sticks was in Besalu, which has a very generous restoration budget for its old town, but even there most of the visitors were there for a weekend book fair which appeared to be sponsored by a local political party. As has been my experience with other Inntravel trips, the notes were clear and concise, and the mechanics of the transfers were seamless. I would very much recommend making the effort to climb all the way up to the fortress on the pinnacle above Santa Maria de Finestres on the ridge above Santa Pau if the weather is good. As others have mentioned the trail is steep in parts and the final climb requires a minor bit of scrambling, but the views of the Pyrenees crest and the route down from the first stop at Mollo are spectacular.
I was really happy to have made this trip to the Catalan heartland, as it was in an area that I would probably never have visited left to my own devices, and it gave me a more sympathetic perspective as I eventually watched the demonstrations in Barcelona before returning home.
The second walk was very much a change of pace and scenery from remote, ancient mountain villages and inns with simple but delicious home cooked meals to stylish seafront towns in the French vermillion coast and the Spanish Costa Brava which came into their own at the turn of the twentieth century.
The walk starts in Collioure, which is very much a French resort and one of the original venues of fauvism, and indeed the old town today is a study in fauvist color schemes, for the most part very carefully thought out. As one moves down the coast the towns turn from French pastel to a white Spanish color scheme, and the Catalan flags and slogans become much more assertive. The final stop, Cadaques, was Salvador Dali's home for many years and is almost achingly picturesque. One of the happy surprises in Cadaques was the visit to Dali's house just over the hill, which Dali designed in his inimitable way with an eye to make sure his legacy would be unforgettable for generations of future visitors. It is important, however, to purchase tickets in advance for the Dali house as the spaces are small, the timed entry rigorously enforced, and days are often completely sold out in advance.
The walks are a good combination of coastal trails, which often are a post card dream of what a Mediterranean seacoast should be, and inland circuits. There are transfers to start the walks on the days moving down the coast. The transfers are actually quite important as the coastline alternates between relatively built up areas and fairly open coastline. Even though the entire coast ranges from pretty to spectacular in its own right, walking in front of a parade of vacation homes in the transfer segments would lose its appeal quickly. Along the coast one learns to be extra careful on the days with tramontane winds blowing out of the north, as even though they produce spectacular visibility, they can make balancing on steep trails near drop offs tricky. One day it was blowing steadily at about 45 mph with gusts over 60 mph, and despite my best efforts, my walk notes went sailing away well over a hundred meters to land somewhere in a forested gully.