Getting Up The

Everyone's keen to summit this sacred mountain - call it the obligatory pilgrimage when in Roussillon.

Most don their walking boots at the Chalet Refuge des Cortalets (%04 68 96 36 19, 04 68 05 63 57; dm €16, breakfast €5.50; S Jun-Oct), a hostel and mountain refuge at 2200m, from where it is a 1/-to two-hour hike to the steep-sided summit (2784m). Depending on your car (the mountain road is unsurfaced and pot-holed) and the weather (avoid when wet), you can drive as far as Cortalets. Follow the N116 from Prades 2km east to Los Masos, turn right and take the D24 south for 4.5km through the hamlet of Villerach and beyond until the road becomes a dirt track - at which point it's 22km of rough pot-holed motoring at no more than 30km/h to Chalet Refuge des Cortalets.

Or bounce up to Cortalets in a 4WD (Prades % 04 68 05 27 08; Villefranche de Gonflent % 04 68 05 99 89; Cornelia de Gonflent % 04 68 05 64 61); in Vernet-les-Bains, contact Garage Villaceque (p233). The return journey typically costs €25/12 per adult/child aged four to 10 and must be reserved in advance. Most 4WDs access Cortalets along a forest track (off-limits to private vehicles) from Fillols, just east of Cornelia de Conflent.

For mountain bikers and walkers, Vernet-les-Bains (p232) is a great base for attacking the Pic; trails wind up directly from the spa town. Many walkers also tackle the ascent from Fillols (six hours) or from Chalet Refuge de Mariailles (% 04 68 05 57 99, 04 68 96 22 90; dm €13, half-board €29; Syr-round), a stone chalet at 1730m, accessible by 4WD forest track or walking trail (three hours) from the Col de Jou just beyond Casteil (p232). The ascent from the refuge (four hours), the GR10, crosses the Cheminée rock face and is tougher.

Tourist offices in Prades (p229) and Vernet (p232) have comprehensive information on walking and biking in the Massif du Canigou, and sell maps and guides. Trails, tagged with yellow markers, are generally accessible June to October.

down the road from the municipal outdoor pool, has shaded pitches and a dozen-odd wooden chalets sleeping six (low/high season €30/52.85 per night or €210/370 per week).

Castell Rose (% 04 68 96 07 57; www.castellrose; chemin de la Litera; incl breakfast d €69-105, q €109-129; ®@) Predictably this family house with vast grounds, a pool, tennis courts and vintage petrol pump is in much demand. Book well in advance to snag one of its five rooms or self-catering gîte. Dinner costs €25/12 per adult/child.

Casa Nostra ( % 04 68 05 62 66; 2 rue des Marchands; 5-/8-ingredient salad €7.50/11.50, lunch/dinner menu €13/18; S lunch & dinner daily) This simple but soulful Catalan bistro serves gambas (prawns) flam-béed 18 ways (in whisky, pastis, Noilly Prat etc) and inspired pick-your-own-ingredients salads. Products are local and invariably organic. We highly recommend the anchoïade Catalane (anchovy dip) followed by prawns roasted in caramelised Banyuls vinegar.

A robust general market fills place de la République on Tuesday morning and there's a farmers market on Saturday.

Also recommended: El Zocalo (% 04 68 96 1 9 85;; 13 rue des Oliviers; s/d incl breakfast €75/89-119; ®@)

Design-driven with bold colour schemes, this appealing B&B cooks up Mexican cuisine in the evening (dinners €23). Villa Lafabregue (% 04 68 96 29 90; www.villafrench .com; 15 av Louis Prat; d incl breakfast €65-90; ®@) English-run chambre d'hote with mountain view, in a Florentine-styled villa built for a rich banking family in 1873.

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