June in the Pyrenees is as close to perfection as I ever expect to get

11 June 2005

11 June 2005

Canigou is more than a mountain. They speak of the Pic de Canigou, Mont Canigou and the Massif de Canigou. A landmark for more than 50 miles around and visible from much of south-west France, from the Spanish Costa Brava and from far out to sea, the mountain soars up from the plains to dominate the range. Canigou is a symbol of the eastern Pyrenees: a beacon over Languedoc and Roussillon in France, and over all of north-eastern Catalunya in Spain.

And the funny thing is that, like some of the best mountains, it isn’t exceptionally high. At about 9,000 feet Canigou is quickly surpassed as the Pyrenees march westward to the Atlantic. But it is by far the biggest thing at the Mediterranean end: the last great peak before the range tumbles down towards the sea.

My family has lived in Catalunya for over 30 years without my ever having climbed this famous mountain, and last weekend, as Saturday dawned bright and clear, was the time to remedy this. So a friend and I rose at 6 a.m. and set out in my brother-in-law’s old Toyota pick-up truck, carrying with us just a bottle of water and a couple of fleeces in case the weather turned.

Those who come from the Spanish side to climb Canigou are the lucky ones, and much the minority. Though the mountain is just inside France, only one forgotten little French valley to the south separates it from Spain; so the obvious way for the French to approach is from the north. That way you can drive quite high, and the walk is only a couple of hours.

Few ever come the other way, but you can, and though it takes six hours each way, the walk is stunning.

There is a seemingly forgotten pass over the mountains from Spanish to French Catalunya, a lonely road from Moll

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