Friday, 5 June 2015
Villefranche-de-Conflent and Fort Liberia
Soon after arriving back in Perpignan after Christmas I was invited to join a group excursion with some other assistants to Villefranche-de-Conflent, a walled town close to Vernet-les-Bains, in the mountains. I accepted the invitation as I was keen to see more of the beautiful Pyrenees.
I met up with Nathan, Toby and Cristina at Perpignan Station (the centre of the universe!). We caught the 1 Euro train, which I hadn't known existed although I had taken the 1 Euro bus. It was a useful discovery!
We arrived in Villefranche-Vernet Station, which serves both communes. Instead of heading down into Vernet we crossed the river to reach the old town of Villefranche. Before that, however, we spotted the famous Little Yellow Train!
Cristina with the train
Anyone living in Perpignan will be very sick of Maya the Bee. Was it advertised so ridiculously widely in the UK? I don't know.
The river was truly beautiful - so turquoise and clear and the sun sparkling on it was gorgeous. It felt like we were hiking a trail in Colorado or somewhere similar!
The beautiful old town of Villefranche
See if you can spot the intrepid cat in this next photo:
We entered the town. It was still very much Christmas-fied. The narrow streets were very clean and lovely to walk in and the views of the mountains were stunning.
We found a bakery and some overpriced but delicious-looking galettes des rois! (These are eaten around the epiphany and contain a secret character carved in china - if you find it in your piece you have to bake the galette next year!)
Poor polar bear and deer!
American Indian shop!
We were then enchanted by the witch shop...
Don't eat me!
We finished our tour of the town and somebody suggested climbing the hill to Fort Liberia. I was keen - I knew it would be hard work but the views would surely be spectacular and I didn't want to leave without having seen the Fort, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We eventually decided to make the climb. I was excited but slightly daunted by the steep hillside. We set out and though the walk was tough, the scenery was as lovely as I had hoped with the snowy mountain and the green hills around us and the river and yellow trains below.
An underground passage to the Fort - more about that later!
The yellow trains tiny below
Am I the only one who sees a Madonna holding flowers (grass) in this rock?
We made it to the Fort in one piece! It was most impressive from the outside. I couldn't wait to enter.
Inside, the Fort was surprisingly quiet. There was just us four and a receptionist/guide for most of the time - a few more visitors came as we were leaving. It was kind of otherworldly - so high up, so still, so silent, so cold and colourful and beautiful.
There were several pieces of art made with slabs of rock. This one reminded me of the Omnidroid from The Incredibles.
For me there was something slightly Chinese about the layout, the architecture and the tiling - it reminded me of when I visited the Forbidden City in Beijing.
We found ourselves in the dungeon where female prisoners were kept. Complete with waxworks and scary artwork on the walls, it was very spooky. I was glad to be out of there.
The lucky cannon has a great view!
We left as afternoon was turning to evening and were told that instead of walking back over the hillside, as we had come, we had to take the underground tunnel - all 734 steps of it (according to Wikipedia).
It was tiny and claustrophobic - I hated it but gritted my teeth and took it a chunk at a time. The others really helped so thanks, guys! There were also windows at intervals to remind us that the real world was still out there and I was always grateful to peer out of one.
We made it out alive! I was happy and proud of myself. We wandered back through the town and found a café where we ordered waffles with Nutella and whipped cream. After all that, I think we deserved them!
We got the train back and certain members of the group fell asleep: we were all exhausted after such a long and dramatic day.
I was so glad I took this opportunity to spend some time with Cristina, Nathan and Toby and to see a pretty little town and an amazing fort.
Thanks for reading,