It turns out the Southwestern United States and the Southwest of France have something in common geologically: incredible rock formations! When I first saw photos of these funky rocks, I could not believe it was in France. Last weekend, I finally got to see these fairy chimneys for myself and had quite the adventure.
What are Fairy Chimneys ?
Before I get into the adventure part, let me tell you a little bit about what fairy chimneys are and how they got there. Fairy chimneys, also known as hoodoos, are tall rock spires that formed by the erosion of water. In French these formations are referred to as demoiselles coiffées (ladies with their hair styled) in addition to cheminées de fée. The site des orgues is called so becuase the tall rock towers resemble the tubes of an organ instrument. These four-million year old rocks were carved by the river Têt. These towers seem to have little “hats” on top because the rock on top was more resistant than the softer rock that make up the columns.
How to Get There
Les Orgues are located just outside of a little Catalan village in the Southwest of France called Ille-sur-Têt. It’s possible to arrive there by car, TER (region train), 1€ bus, or even by bike!
I chose to cycle from Perpignan to Ille-sur-Têt. However, cycling there is not the easiest option. After running out of cycle path, the only two options my boyfriend and I had were to cycle through small paths by farms or to ride on the départementales big roads. We chose the former and passed by beautiful peach and apricot orchards. We also got lost a few times and even got yelled by an angry lady and her ferocious dog for accidentally turning down her private road. Google Maps is not the most reliable when it comes to back roads, so if you are thinking of cycling here, it might be more practical to take the main roads. Unfortunately my bike’s front tire went flat from running over a big rock on a rugged path and I had to walk the bike the rest of the journey.
Once you arrive to Ille-sur-Têt, head Northeast and follow the signs for Les Orgues. If you came by train you can walk from the city center to the site in about 30 minutes. Just be aware that after crossing the bridge over the river Têt, and turning right at the roundabout, the sidewalk runs out and you will have to walk on the side of the road for a little bit. If you are arriving by car or bike, there is a parking lot at the site of les orgues.
Visiting Les Orgues
The entry fee for visiting is 5€ for adults, but there are discounts for children, students, etc. You can also bring your dog with you as long as you keep your furry friend on a leash! After buying your ticket at the welcome desk, you will need to walk 800 km up to the site to actually see the rock formations. There is some incline, but nothing too steep or difficult to walk up.
We took about 15-20 minutes to visit the whole site. You cannot touch the formations because they are fragile, but you can admire them and take lots of photos! My favorite view was defininetly the one with the Canigou in the background, the sacred Pyrénées mountain of the Catalans. We visited during the mid-afternoon and it was bright, sunny, and hot. Even though the light was not ideal for taking the best photos, I still got some good shots. The park opens at 9:15 AM and closes at 8:00 PM. If you want to get sunset pictures, I suggest visiting in any other season besides Summer because the sun sets around 9 or 10 PM during the Summer in France.
After visiting the fairy chimneys, we went back to Ille-sur-Têt and saw the Église Sainte-Étienne, then had a drink on the terrace of a little café. Since we couldn’t cycle back due to my flat tire, we decided to take the train home to Perpignan for only 1€! I’ll be honest, there isn’t much to see in this tiny town besides the rock formations, but if you enjoy road tripping and camping you can organize it through Le Colomer.
Thank you so much for reading and let me know in the comments if you’ve ever seen any incredible rock formations!
À la prochaine,