The freedom trail Pyrenees

Following in Chalky White’s footsteps during his war escape from occupied France

Freedom trail Pyrenees trek

Sunday, 22 August 1943. New Zealand Sgt. Chalky White, a volunteer in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF), pilots his Spitfire over the Channel. His squadron escorts 36 North American bombers whose mission is to destroy the German fighters based at Beaumont-le-Roger airfield.

A Focke-Wulf German fighter shoots Chalky’s fighter plane down while the squadron is over Normandy. No way to come back to England, so Chalky decides to make a crash landing. An hour later, the Wehrmacht captures and questions Chalky. He punches and knocks out his guard and escapes soon after.

It’s the start of an incredible story; Chalky will cross France and the Pyrenees without speaking a word of French, German, Catalan or Spanish. He will first reach Paris, then Toulouse, and finally cross the Pyrenees into Catalonia with the help of a French guide.

Our Freedom trail Pyrenees trek follows in the Chalky’s footsteps between Mont-Louis, in France, and Ripoll, in Catalonia. To learn more about this an unbelievable story click here.

From Ripoll Chalky made his way to the the British Consulate in Barcelona, then the British embassy in Madrid. He travelled on to Gibraltar and then on to England, where he rejoined the RNZAF.

This is a 6-day trek

Level: moderate

Group: 4 to 8, plus guide

War escape across the Pyrenees
Chalky, 2nd from left, with other 485 Squadron pilots and Sir William Jordan
Freedom trail Pyrenees trek
Route that Chalky followed from Normandy to Gibraltar. With permission of Penguin Random House New Zealand

1st dat - Arrive at Mont-Louis

Rendezvous with the guide in Barcelona or Barcelona airport in the morning. Then the group will travel to Ripoll, either by train or by van. Ripoll is the start and end point of our trek.

A bus will take us from there to Mont-Louis in France, where we will arrive at 5:30 pm. If we can take le train jaune instead, we will arrive an hour earlier.

The first leg of our Freedom trail Pyrenees trek runs between Mont-Louis and Planès.  Planès,  a small village 1520m up in a quiet part of the Pyrenees, is an excellent  viewpoint for most of the peaks in the Conflent and la Cerdanya. You will want to stay forever.

We will have dinner and stay overnight in a welcoming and charming gîte d’étape in Planès. The gîte is three buildings and an outdoor pool. The food is organic; the energy it uses is generated by  eco-friendly means.

Arif and Marta, the owners, will cook for us and prepare a packed lunch the following day.

Duration: 1 hour (breaks included) – Distance: 3.5km – Elevation gain: 125m

Freedom trail Pyrenees trek
camino de la libertad

2nd day - Le Conflent

Freedom trail Pyrenees trek

This is the toughest leg of the Freedom trail Pyrenees trek. The highest point is Coll Mitjà, at 2367m, the ideal pass – its  picture should appear in  every geography book. You can see Coll Mitjà from nearly any point in La Cerdanya.

The route is fairly wooded, and runs into the Parc naturel regional des Pyrénées Catalanes, an area notable for the contrasts between the high mountain and the Mediterranean climate.

We will see many twisted dwarf mountain pines, cross rivers, and climb passes which overlook the main peaks of this part of the French Pyrenees, such as Carlit and Puigmal.

We will stay overnight at Ras de la Carança mountain hut, at 1831m.

Duration: 7 hours (breaks included) – Distance: 15km – Elevation gain: 1100m

Freedom trail Pyrenees trek
Freedom trail Pyrenees trek

3rd day - Mantet nature reserve

This is an easy leg compared to yesterday’s and  despite its tricky descent.

The first part of is a continuous and gentle ascent to two passes. The first, Coll de Pal, is the entry point to the Mantet nature reserve. It is a wide pass which overlooks France, the ideal place to stop for a snack. The second one is the highest point of the hike, a kind of “balcony” (2350m) which overlooks the reserve and Mantet village.

Again, dwarf mountain pine is be the most common tree; it grows up to 2400m.

If our hike is in July we will see the thousands of pink blossomed Alpine rose shrubs scattered over the slopes.

At any time of year we may see isards (chamoix, in Catalan), golden eagles, bearded and griffon vultures.

Our inn will be a gîte d’étape in Mantet (1530m), a small, charming village built on the steep slope of the mountain. Only seven people live here all year round. If you want to be alone for a while, this is the ideal place.

The inn has an outdoor terrace which overlooks the Mantet nature reserve. It is the perfect place to drink a beer after the hike.

Duration: 6 hours (breaks included) – Distance: 10.4km – Elevation gain: 610m – Elevation lost: 890m.

Freedom trail Pyrenees trek
El camino de la libertad | Viajes en Francia
El camino de la libertad | Viajes en Francia

4th day - Crossing the border

El camino de la libertad | Viajes en Francia

Doubtless the best leg of the Freedom trail Pyrenees for two reasons: the scenic views along all the way up, and the moment when you cross the border and imagine how Chalky felt at escaping the Germans.

This leg is easier than the second one, although it is longer, a continuous but gentle ascent.

The path between Mantet and the Porteille de Rotja follows the western limit of the Py nature reserve, another important area in the Eastern Pyrenees due to its wildlife.

We will leave the Conflent and enter the Vallespir in the Porteille de Rotja. Half an hour later we will reach the border and leave the Vallespir. Vallespir and Conflent are French districts in this part of the Pyrenees. They were part of Catalonia before the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659)

Once in Catalonia we will join a greener landscape with steeper mountains, where meadows and woods harmoniously combine. Cows and horses graze everywhere.

Our descent to Setcases (1270m) will be in a nearly straight line, and sometimes there is no path.

Our inn in Setcases will be a charming hotel built in stone and wood. Dinners are hearty and the service is excellent and friendly.

Duration: 8 hours (breaks included) – Distance: 17.5km – Elevation gain: 920m – Elevation lost: 1200m.

Freedom trail Pyrenees trek | Crossing the border

5th day - Upper Ter valley

Freedom trail Pyrenees trek

Chalky followed a dirt road which linked Setcases with Camprodon, hardly used in 1943 but now paved.

We will follow a more interesting path instead, which goes the same direction but at a higher altitude, and crosses woods, meadows and streams. The path is sometimes difficult to follow because it is overgrown in places..

Then we will rejoin the Ter river in Vilallonga de Ter, a small village in the valley. From there on, the path, wide and quite flat, goes along the river and stays in the shade.

The next village will be La Roca, pretty small but built on a big rock (Roca is rock in Catalan). La Roca is classed as one of the most beautiful villages in the Pyrenees. We will cross La Roca from West to East, and then go down to rejoin the Ter river.

We will spend our last night in the Pyrenees in a charming hotel in Camprodon (940m)

Duration: 5.5 hours (breaks included) – Distance: 12.5km – Elevation gain: 370m

6th day - Ripoll

Chalky followed the dirt road which linked Camprodon with Ripoll. That road, too, is now paved so again we will follow a more interesting path, this time  along the valley, closer to the river.

This is the easiest leg because the path is wide and very flat. We will follow the Ter valley where farms raise cows and horses. However, we will also see colonies, ancient textile industrial factories where workers lived around the facilities in houses built and owned by the textile company. These colonies are now abandoned although some of the houses for workers are still in use.

Our walk ends in Sant Joan de les Abadesses, which has an outstanding medieval bridge you will find in nearly every tourism brochure about Catalonia.

A bus will take us to Ripoll.

Duration: 4.5 hours (breaks included) – Distance: 17km – Elevation gain: 200m

Freedom trail Pyrenees trek

Accommodation during the Freedom trail Pyrenees

Freedom trail Pyrenees trek
Freedom trail Pyrenees trek
Freedom trail Pyrenees trek
Freedom trail Pyrenees trek

This trek has a great variety of inns: two gîtes d’étape and one mountain hut in France, and two hotels in Catalonia. Chalky bivouacked in the mountains for some nights but we will not.

All inns offer excellent food and are located in small villages, except:

    • The mountain hut, which is isolated in a valley
    • The hotel in Camprodon, a big village.

 

The inns will supply breakfast and dinner. The gîtes d’étape in Planès and Mantet and the mountain hut also provide a packed lunch. We have to prepare our own lunches in Setcases and Camprodon, villages where we can find a grocery.

Freedom trail Pyrenees trek

Still available places for the Freedom trail Pyrenees:

– June 12  2021

– June 26  2021

– July 10  2021

– August 7  2021

– September 4  2021

– September 25  2021

Price from: contact us by completing
this form

What’s included:

– Half-board accommodation in

— Hotel in Setcases. Double/twin or single room.

— The two gîtes d’étape. 4-people dormitories.

— The mountain hut. Big dormitory.

– B&B in

— Hotel in Setcases.  Double/twin or single room.

– Packed lunch on 2nd, 3rd and 4th day.

– Accident insurance while in the wilderness.

– Qualified English-speaking local mountain guide.

Excluded:

– Flights

– Transfers

– Travel insurance

– Meals and drinks not indicated in ‘Included’

Essential info:

The guide has the right to change the itinerary at any time if deemed necessary to guarantee the security of the group

Walking gear & equipment – We send you a list when you book

Tailormade tour: let us know the dates that best suit you and/or the changes you would like to do on the trek by completing
this form

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