This winter, France decided not to open chairlifts at ski stations due to the pandemic. Many people were upset by this because its neighbors, Spain and Switzerland decided to keep them running. The stations, however, are allowed to remain open. This means you can still do all kinds of winter activities like cross country and nordic skiing, sledding, and snowshoeing! This past Christmas, my boyfriend and I decided to make the most of the situation and go snowshoeing in the French Pyrenees, or la raquette à neige en français.
Last winter, we went snowshoeing in the French Pyrenees in Ax-les-Thermes in the Ariège department just south of Toulouse. This time around we wanted to go somewhere in the Pyrénées-Orientales where we live and somewhere that had trails around the mountains, not just on the ski station. After looking up different trails, we found one called the Sentier des Glaciers – the trail of glaciers. It’s a long woodsy trail that leaves from the Bolquère Pyrénées 2000 ski station and does a loop almost all the way to Mont Louis, and passes by the river Têt.
The trail is about 12km (~7 miles) long and is of medium difficulty. The elevation isn’t very high – just 150 m (492 feet) – though Strava recorded 645 feet (196 m). It can be difficult though because of the length of the trail and the rocks hidden under the snow. The time suggested for the hike is 3h45 hours, but it took us 5 hours because we stopped for lunch and to take lots of pictures.
Getting to Bolquère
To reach Bolquère without a car, we took the 560 Regional Lio Bus from Perpignan for 1€. The trip was scenic and lasted about 2 hours. I did feel a little motion sick however with all of the winding roads up in the mountains. On the way back, the bus stopped in Prades, and we were able to take a regional train the rest of the way home, which was a lot more comfortable. If you are planning to drive to Bolquère in the winter, you will probably need snow chains for your tires.
When we got off the bus at the Office de Tourisme stop, we were happy to find that everything we needed was close by. Our Air Bnb was even au pied des pistes – at the foot of the trails. After checking with the tourist office about the trails, we headed to the nearest mountain store and rented our gear. For one person, a one day snowshoes and poles rental costs only 7€! Although I found renting skis in France not to be as expensive in the US, snowshoeing is definitely a more budget friendly winter activity than skiing, especially since you don’t need to buy a lift ticket.
What to Wear Snowshoeing
If you’ve never been snowshoeing before, here’s a list of what to wear:
- Breathable underwear/sports bra
- Thermal Top ( I use the same tops I use for running in the winter)
- Winter Hiking Pants (Or fleece-lined leggings under regular hiking pants)
- Wool Socks
- Warm Hat
- Neck Gaiter or Scarf
- Micro Puff Jacket – or other Winter Hiking Coat
- Hard Shell Coat ( I used my ski coat this time, but last year I made due with a raincoat)
- Snow Boots or Hiking Boots
Other important items to bring with you include: sunglasses, a first aid kit, food and water, tissues, sunscreen, a map of the area/compass, and a flashlight/headlamp.
Hiking the Trail
On our bus ride, once we got closer to the mountains, we began to see snow falling. We were lucky that there was just enough snow on the ground to go snowshoeing! Even if it didn’t snow that day, we could have probably just gone on a regular hike like we saw a few others doing that day. It felt so magical to be surrounded by trees, mountains and falling snow on Christmas day.
Part of the trail we hiked on was called le Petit Canada; in the middle of the woods, it felt as if we were in the Canadian wilderness rather than in the South of France. After going through a second lockdown and spending lots of time at home grading final exams, it felt so good to be out in nature again.
Halfway through the trail we were able to see the fort in Mont Louis and the impressive Cambre d’Aze Mountain through the trees. We had visited the area over the summer, so it was cool seeing everything covered with snow this time.
My favorite part of the trail had to be the part along the river Têt. I see the river all the time in Perpignan, and often pass by it during my bike rides in the French countryside. In the woods and snow, however, it looks completely different. There is an option to keep following a trail that goes along the river, but we decided to stick to our original plan for the sake of time.
Want to see even more of my snowshoeing in the French Pyrenees adventure? Check out the vlog on my YouTube channel:
After our long hike, we headed to the ski bar by the slopes and got some hot chocolate and crêpes to go. As we sipped our chocolat viennois, my boyfriend and I watched kids sled down the bunny trail and saw adventurous skiers hike up the slopes; even though the chairlifts were closed, the station still kept the trails open and even made snow!
Back at our Air Bnb we called our families to wish them a Joyeux Noël, then ordered pizza for delivery from a local joint. Before leaving the next day, we took one more morning walk – this time with wind and blue skies instead of snowfall. Even though I wasn’t able to travel back to the US for the holidays this year, I will always remember this special white Christmas in the Pyrénées!
Thank you so much for reading and let me know in the comments if you’ve ever tried snowshoeing or if you want to in the future!
À la prochaine,