When we arrived in Port-Vendres, it was a gloomy morning. The fog was settled over the colorful fishing port and there was a slight chill in the air. One would think that this wasn’t exactly ideal weather for hiking along the Mediterranean, but if you can’t stand the heat like me, it was perfect. Even though the southern French sun wasn’t shining on us that day, I was so happy to be out of my apartment. It turns out, a late winter walk by the sea was just what I needed to get rid of my winter blues.
Only a 24 minute train ride from Perpignan, Port-Vendres is a quaint fishing town on the Vermeille Coast of France. Although it’s more of an industrial site it has an interesting history ; the area has been occupied by Iberians, Romans, Majorcans, and even Nazis throughout the centuries. Today, it’s known for its seafood and coastal walking trails. Because restaurants in France were still closed at the time of our visit, we opted for a hike along the sentier littoral, the coastal trail.
The Restroom Saga
Before setting out for our morning jaunt, I wanted to find a restroom. If you’ve ever been to France, you’ll probably know that public restrooms aren’t always easy to find. I could have used the one on the train, but the ride was so short, I was worried about missing my stop. The train station was quite small in Port-Vendres and didn’t seem to have one so we decided to search at the port. Normally you can ask in a café or restaurant to use one (maybe after buying a small coffee), but due to the sanitary measures we weren’t allowed inside. Luckily a local was able to tell us where to find a public one on the Northwestern edge of the port.
Another important thing to know about many French restrooms is that they are self-cleaning, so when you leave and close the door, they will automatically rinse down the stall. Maybe it was bad judgement or just bad luck, but I chose a stall whose door seemed to not have been closed properly, so when I entered and closed the door, the self-cleaning function was triggered! Luckily I reacted quickly, so I didn’t get a full shower, but my shoes got soaked. Fortunately, the other bathroom stall was working properly and I was also glad I had brought along my own tissues and hand sanitizer, as free public bathrooms in France aren’t always the cleanest or most well equipped.
After the whole restroom fiasco, I wanted a pastry before starting the hike since I didn’t have breakfast beforehand. We walked in to the closest boulangerie, that turned out not quite to be a boulangerie, but kept the original sign up since there is some law in France about preserving historical façades. Although they didn’t have any croissants, they still offered some baked goods and other local products. My boyfriend and I both got apple tarts flambéed with rum (don’t worry they weren’t too strong to be eaten in the morning before a hike!).
Le Sentier Littoral
There are many different sentiers littorals in France, but the one in the Pyrénées-Orientales is quite the gem. This coastal train runs 32 km (19.8 mi) from Argèles-sur-Mer all the way down to Cerbère at the Franco-Spanish border, which you can actually cross and continue on hiking over to Spain. If you go Northwest, you’ll head back towards Collioure and the Fort Saint-Elme. As fun as trekking all along the coast sounded, we aimed just to go to Cap Béar and see the lighthouse, about 2 hours total. After all, we wanted to get back to Perpignan in the afternoon to get a little work from home done.
Le Massif des Albères
Cape Béar is located at the very tip of the Albères Massif, an iconic mountain range that can be seen from almost anywhere on the coast of the Pyrénées-Orientales. During my many cycling and hiking adventures in the region, the Albères, along with the pic du Canigou, have become one of my landmarks while determining my sense of direction. There are a good number of trails on this mountain range besides along the coast including a few that lead to medieval watchtowers.
Walking along the path we were able to admire the Mediterranean seasonal flora of early March like Spanish lavender, yellow Mimosa trees, and other lovely blooms. Although the scenery would have been gorgeous on a sunnier day, I didn’t mind the clouds because it wasn’t too hot for a strenuous walk. The part of the path we walked on is considered medium difficulty and I can imagine that if the sun were bearing down on me during a warmer season, it would have been tougher.
La Phare du Cap Béar
On the way to the lighthouse, we passed what looked like some old military bunkers. We found an informational sign explaining that they were “redoutes,” used for defending the port. Constructed between 1673 and 1700, they are a part of military engineer Vauban’s fortifications. One of them was blown up in 1944 during the German Occupation in WWII, leaving some remnants of its outer wall.
The phare du Cap Béar isn’t a charming as the New England lighthouses I grew up visiting, but I’m still glad I saw it, as its well known in the area. What I found myself most drawn to however, were the waves crashing against the rocky coves. I will say that the bright turquoise of the Mediterranean Sea might just top the deep blue green of the Atlantic waters I’m more accustomed to!
L’Anse de Paullies
We still had some energy after exploring around the lighthouse so we decided to go further; instead of going back to Port-Vendres, we would hike two hours South to Banyuls-sur-Mer and catch the train home from there. Since we went on a weekday, we had the trail mostly to ourselves, except for one enormously large group of retiree-aged hikers. Luckily we were faster than them, so we were able to physically distance ourselves from the group.
At lunchtime we stopped at beach known as the Anse de Paullies, a beautiful little bay that used to be home to a dynamite factory. In the 90s the land was bought by a conservatory and turned into an ecological park and museum. Did you know that the Mediterranean is the most polluted sea in Europe? Its beauty attracts numerous tourists so it’s no surprise that pollution comes along with it. If you’d like to learn more about the Mediterranean’s plastic problem and what’s being done to help stop it, the World Wildlife Fund has an interesting report on their website.
Les vignobles de Banyuls–sur-Mer
Once we recuperated on the beach, we set back out for our final leg of the hike towards Banyuls. We ended up having to take a little detour away from the water’s edge due to trail renovation or flooding, but this meant we would be walking through vineyards! Even after living in the South of France for more than a year and a half, I am still obsessed with vineyards. I was eager to see if they had began to bud yet, but alas, there was still no sign of green. Even though they were barren, I still enjoyed the sight of the twisty vines. If you are unfamiliar with Banyuls wine, its a sweet fortified dessert wine, somewhat similar to Port.
After our deviation through the wineries, we descended into the town of Banyuls to catch our train home. On the way back, I thought about when I first moved to the region in 2019 and how I was really sad to leave Paris, but now I was so grateful to have opportunities like this so close to nature. As I’m writing this blog post, France is in the middle of its 3rd lockdown and since we can only go 10 km away from home, the sea is just out of reach. You bet, once the restrictions are lifted, I’m going to head right back to the beach for more Mediterranean adventures.
À la prochaine,