A fortress, a glass of Banyuls and a yellow train in one of France’s most beautiful villages

Vilafranca de Conflent, in French Villefranche de Conflent, is a medieval style and well fortified village, located in the south of France; founded in 1090 by a count called the Count of Cerdagne. It is considered one of the most interesting villages in the Eastern Pyrenees, where the valleys of the Rotja, TĂ©t and Candy rivers meet.

During the time of Charlemagne it was also part of the Marca Hispanica, that is to say, of the cities conquered by Charlemagne. It then passed into the hands of the Crown of Aragon, and in the fourteenth century its architecture was modified by the king of that time; finally the military structure was completed by the Marquis Vauban, for the seventeenth century. 

Later it passed to the Kingdom of Majorca, until in 1659 it became part of the Pyrenees, thanks to the signing of the Peace, which put an end to the Franco-Spanish War, which began in 1635. This village today is on the list of the most beautiful villages of the French country, in addition to being an excellent historical heritage; contained in several streets and some squares. Apart from its beauty in architecture, it also has cultural, gastronomic and commercial attractions.

What was the work of the architect and town planner Marquis de Vauban, during the reign of Louis XIV? 

The Marquis de Vauban, called Sebastian Le Preste, was a key and important character in the history of this town. During the reign of Louis XIV he was commissioned to build all the military architecture and fortifications for the security and defense of the kingdom, placing walls around the village and the castles.

In this way he formed a kind of military network with his architecture because, as already mentioned, he was an architect and town planner. His most important and main work towards the heights of the town is the fortress of Fort LibĂ©ria. 

This network can be seen in Bellegarden, Perpignan or Amelie-Les-Bains. In 2008, Unesco recognized both Villefranche de Conflet and Mont-Luis as World Heritage Sites. This last citadel began its construction around the same date of the Peace of the Pyrenees, where the prisons for the poisoners, who were locked up for life and who took care of the looms, were located.

These constructions of some centuries ago, which were used with a military and defensive function, today have acquired tourist value; in which you can admire from its viewpoints the beauty of the landscape; and, of course, walk through the passages.

For example, there is the passageway that connects Fort LibĂ©ria with the rest of the town. A subway passageway, also called “the one of the 1000 steps”, which really only consists of 734 of them; moreover, it is considered the longest on the planet. It is a great attraction, especially for the more energetic, who walk it upwards. 

Why is it said that here you can observe the mixture of different traditions?

This region, being a border region, offers a certain mix of traditions of both French and Catalan culture, as we have seen that the region has passed through different hands, becoming a characteristic identity of the area. Finding several French products, such as Roquefort, foie gras, champagne, crème brulĂ©e, crepes, Ă©clairs, among others. 

And also Catalan dishes such as meats, mountain stews, sausages, snails, lamb and desserts like crema catalana, coques catalanes, mel i matĂł, and others. In addition, in the French Pyrenees there are a good number of Michelin Stars; demonstrating their loyalty to the gastronomy of the place, but with some modern touches.

Likewise, within the village you can find second hand book sales stores; also pottery, traditional textiles, wooden toys, Moroccan objects, handmade musical instruments and, of course, wines. In the Pyrénées-Orientales they have 14 types of natural wines and sweet wines such as Banyuls, which is well known throughout the country.

This French wine comes from old vines grown on the steep slopes or terraces of the CĂłte Vermeille, at the eastern end of the Pyrenees. Some grape varieties are used such as Grenache, with a minimum of 50% for the Banyuls and 75% for the Banyuls Grand Cru. 

Other Garnachas are also used, such as white and gray Garnacha, as well as Malvasia, Macabeo and Moscatel. Also, some complementary varieties such as Cinsault Syrah and Carignan. 

What is the greatest emblem of the Eastern Pyrenees?

The most characteristic emblem of the Pyrénées-Orientales is the famous Yellow Train, which was built in the first decade of the 20th century, specifically in 1903. However, its operation began 7 years later, in 1910, but only the first section. Later, in 1927, the rest of the current route was put into operation.

The purpose was to link Cerdanya with Perpignan, and today it has become a tourist train linking Vilafranca de Conflet with LaTour de Carol. In addition, the route skirts LlĂ­via and crosses the valleys of the Eyne and TĂ©t rivers, which are next to the famous CanigĂł Massif. It also passes through the highest station in France, 1593 meters above sea level; with the name of BĂłlquere.

This beautiful landscape of the high mountain is the main attraction of this route of the yellow train, with the idea of being able to enjoy these views and travel in a quiet way, making a journey of 63 km, which takes about 3 hours to complete the journey. This is done in locomotives that are powered by electricity from the Boulloses; its power plant.

This train runs on the unique suspension bridge of France, called the Gisclard Bridge, traveling at a low speed of 30 km per hour. In addition, it has 22 stops along the 63 km, which you can take at any of these intermediate stations. 

Among these stops are also located some tourist places, such as the village of Villefranche de Conflent, Mont Louis, Font-Romen, the baths of Saint-Thomas, among others. So, it is a nice tour with which you can know from the heights the whole region, its beauty and much of the French side, as is the Cerdanya.

Posted in Europe, France.