As a summer baby, I usually spend my birthday with family in New England. This year, I decided to skip international travel and stay in France due to the pandemic. To make the most of my birthday in France, I booked a weekend trip to the Pyrenees mountains. I thought a quick getaway in nature would help bring me some peace in these stressful times. It turns out that scenic train rides, sunny hikes, and a mountain lake were all I needed!
To reach the mountains, my boyfriend and I booked tickets for the Little Yellow Train, a historic railway that runs through the Pyrénées catalanes. This train has stunning views and is a joy to ride. I’ll have to write a post all about the petit train jaune someday. After an hour on the train, we reached our destination: Font Romeu.
Font Romeu is a ski town that is usually quite busy in the winter. It’s the most popular ski resort on this side of the Pyrénées. We weren’t able to go last winter because the road to the mountains was damaged. Luckily the Yellow Train is now back up and running for the summer, so it’s possible to get there by rail.
To get to Font Romeu from the train station there is usually a shuttle bus, but our train was running late so we missed the bus. Rather than waiting an hour for the next bus, we walked from the station to Font Romeu in a little less than an hour. The walk was mostly uphill, but the views of the mountains and little villages made up for the steep climb. On the way, we saw the Four Solaire d’Odeillo, one of the world’s largest solar furnaces, which is used for research! The Pyrénées-Orientales department of France is a region that is sunny all year long and up in the mountains, that sunshine feels even stronger. It’s possible to visit the four solaire, but we just admired it from afar.
Lunch in Font Romeu
After our hike up to the town, we decided to stop and have a quick drink and a bite to eat before adventuring into the mountains. On the side walk we found a sign for “La Terrace,” a little restaurant above Le Bistro des Neiges. We had some freshly pressed juice and the traditional Catalan dish of escalivades (roasted eggplant, tomato, zucchini, and red pepper with olive oil, onion, and garlic). We ate light because we packed some other snacks for our hike.
How to get to the Mountain Lake
After some inquiring at the tourist office, we figured out where the shuttle bus to take us up to the chairlift was. It was a little white van across the street, with a paper sign indicating “navette télécabine.” Normally you can by tickets at the kiosk outside the tourist office, but it wasn’t working, so our driver let us buy tickets up at the information desk outside the chairlift. For one adult, a round trip ticket for the navette and chairlift was around 16€.
Our main purpose of the trip was to see a mountain lake. To get to the lac des Bouillouses, you have to take two chairlifts, then walk for 20 minutes. The first chairlift was a short 5 minute ride. I would recommend getting off and taking some pictures of the view before directly hopping on the next one. The second lift is much longer, but has a gorgeous view of the Massif du Carlit, the highest mountain in the Pyrénées-Orientales. You can also see the lac des Bouillouses from above! Although the ride was beautiful, it felt a little strange to be riding on a chairlift without snow and skis.
Walking around Lac des Bouillouses
After reaching the bottom of the slope, we got off the lift and just marveled at our surroundings. I felt humbled by the peaks and greenery. Getting out into nature can really put things in perspective. It felt good to be in a natural place and not have to worry about work, Instagram, the bustle of city life, etc.
When we were done reflecting, we set out to find the lake. Well actually, there are multiple lakes and hikes you can do in the area, but we wanted to see the lac des Bouillouses. The path to get to the lake is mostly flat, you just have to watch out for stones and mud. Along the path there were wild flowers as well as a small stream. Up in the Pyrenees be careful not to touch the pretty purple flowers known as Aconitum or Wolf’s Bane because they are extremely poisonous!
Humans were not the only ones walking along the path that day. There were also some herds of cows grazing in the grass on the side of the path! We heard them before we saw them thanks to the bells around their necks. There were also plenty of bees and butterflies buzzing along pollinating the local flora.
Visiting the Lake
When we arrived at the lake we learned from an informational sign that the dam at the end of the lake is used for hydro-electricity! We also saw some small horses and foals hanging out by the lake. Some of the young ones were just lying on the ground because they were tired or too hot. Even up in the mountains, it can get warm in the summer. There is also a hotel and restaurant at the lake called Les Bones Hores , where they apparently serve reasonably priced food and a mean blueberry pie (according to our bus driver).
We didn’t have a lot of time to walk around and hike because we arrived after lunch and the chairlift closes at 5:30 PM. If you want to spend the whole day there it would probably be best to come by bus or car and arrive early in the morning. We found a nice shady spot under a tree and enjoyed our snacks and the view. Before we knew it, it was time to head back.
Ending the Day in Font Romeu
After checking into our hotel, L’Orée du Bois we took a nap because we were exhausted from all the walking in the sun. For dinner we wanted something filling so we looked for a place that had burgers, specifically with a veggie burger option for me. We ended up at Zen Altitude, which had a little terrace with a mountain view and reasonable prices. To be honest, my veggie burger was a little mediocre. Sometimes in France, veggie burgers are hit or miss and they often have a potato patty instead of a soy or bean-based burger. The fries and the dessert were good however, so my birthday dinner wasn’t ruined.
Although there were a few mishaps on our trip, I thoroughly enjoyed this birthday mountain adventure! Thanks for reading and make sure you’re following my blog to stay tuned for day two of visiting the Pyrenees!
À la prochaine,
P.S. Check out my youtube video of the journey on the Little Yellow Train and walking around the lake!
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