Breathtaking peaks, glimmering waterfalls, or serene lakes might come to mind when planning your next hike. At least, that’s what I used to think of when I still lived in the states! After living in France for almost four years now, I’ve gotten used to stumbling upon castles and fortresses while in the countryside.
During my visit to Argelès-sur-Mer before the last lockdown, I noticed a couple of different towers up in the hills of the Albères. These towers are actually remnants of Medieval watchtowers during the reign of the Kings of Majorca. From the towers, you can see magnificent views of the sea. The tower I chose to visit this time was Tour de la Massane, which has a longer itinerary than the Tour de Madeloc, but offers a better shaded path.
I found the itinerary on Visorando, a great website for finding trails in France. Since I don’t have a car, I arrived in Argelès by train and walked from there to the trailhead. However, if you have your own vehicle, you could park at Valmy or another spot higher up if you want a shorter hike. The trek up to Massane is considered difficult at 800 m (2624 ft) above sea level. I’m still getting into hiking shape after sitting around at home during the confinement, but I was still able to make the 12 mile loop in about 6 hours with a few breaks in between. My legs were sore for a few days after of course, but the views and fresh air were worth it!
The path I took leads from the Château de Valmy, or next to it I should say; the trail is not in the park itself, but just around the corner to the northwest. I saw a few mountain bikers at the start of my journey so be aware of your surroundings if leaving from Valmy.
Not even halfway into the hike your start to have some amazing views of the sea and the château. I went in early May and there were so many lovely wildflowers like Spanish Lavender. It was a bit warm when I began the hike around 9:30 AM, so if you go in the Spring or Summer, consider starting as early as possible because the Mediterranean sun is no joke! Eventually it got cooler further up the path when I was surrounded by trees and some clouds.
One surprise I experienced on the hike were the presence of two dolmens. Before this land was French, Spanish, or even Majorcan, it was inhabited by the Iberians of the Iron Age. These Neolithic tombs are thought to date between 2,500-1,500 BC. Seeing the ancient stone structures made me think about about what our descendants will marvel about from 2021.
Another hour after the dolmens is when it started to get hard for me. I let a few other hikers pass me and I took my time so I wouldn’t strain myself. Soon enough, the signs for the tower indicated I was getting closer and closer. The higher up I climbed, the more breathtaking the views were. I hadn’t even reached the tower yet and I thought to myself this is the most beautiful hike I’ve ever been on!
At last, I reached the tower and immediately found a spot for my picnic. After refueling, I took my camera back out to capture this moment. I almost didn’t hike that day. I went to bed later than I planned the night before and I was nervous about hiking on my own. I’m so glad I pushed myself to go however!
La tour de la Massane was constructed at the end of the 13th century and was part of a defense network of signal towers in the territory. Massane gets its name from a river whose source comes from the Albères. In its heyday it was actually called ” Torre de Parabona” which means tower of good stone, in reference to the granite peak upon which it was built. Today it’s possible to walk around the base of the tower, but you cannot climb up it unfortunately.
After admiring the tower, it was time to head back down so I could catch a train in time for the curfew. I chose a different path to descend to make the hike a loop. The descent was obviously much less strenuous than the ascent, but there were times when I wish I had had hiking poles to help me balance going down the rocky trail. This trail on the western side of the loop was shady, then a little more sunny with some stunning glimpses of the Pyrenees. I could have taken another detour to see a little chapel, but since I was already pretty tired, I continued on.
On the way down I passed a little memorial about the “chemins de la liberté” ; from 1939-1944 the trails in this area served as escape routes for refugees escaping the Spanish Civil War, and for Jews facing persecution. This memorial reminds hikers like me that we are lucky and privileged to be able to walk these trails for pleasure rather than for fleeing across a border for our lives.
As the sun started to get lower and more clouds descended over the coast, I began to see glimpses of Valmy once again. The sea behind it had gone from azur blue to a pale periwinkle. I stopped back in the park to refill my water bottle from the outdoor fountain, a refreshing treat after the hike. I was also happy to see the vines were growing again and I could even spot some baby grapes. Maybe later this summer I’ll be back when more things are open again to do a wine tasting. I made it back to the train station in the nick of time, just five minutes before departure.
Thanks for reading about my adventure to the Tour de la Massane. Let me know in the comments what your favorite hike you’ve ever done is!
À la prochaine,