Sunset over Vernet-les-Bains from our balcony
We visited Vernet-les-Bains in the fall of 1998. As with the rest of our trip though the south of France that year, unusual weather, in the form of rain, mist and cold, followed us. However, in the main, we had a wonderful time. We rented a small 2-bedroom apartment for a week at Village Catalan. Our hosts, Eric and Anette, made every effort to make sure our stay was as pleasant as possible. We were hampered in our exploration of the area by the rain and the fact that we did not have a rented automobile. I believe, in fact, that we might have been the first guests they had who did not have a car.
Vernet-les-Bains, at the present, is a small village in the Pyrenees Mountains. In the fall, the primary tourist season is past and we found during the week that we had to village to ourselves. In years past, Vernet-les-Bains was noted for its spas. It was the "in" place to go for arthritic cures. For a great number of years, France subsidized the spas as a health treatment. In that day, Vernet-les-Bains was a thriving community. Many famous names came there for 'treatment'. After the French government withdrew its subsidy, the town lost its great popularity. Today, it is this wonderful quaint village. We were made to feel at home there due to the storekeeper's and restaurateur's generous hospitality. They went out of their way to deal with our limited French. Though some were apprehensive at first by our presence in their shops, they were very willing to meet us more than half way in obtaining the goods and services that we needed.
To reach Vernet-les-Bains, one takes a 'local' train from Perpignan to the end of the line at Villefranche-de-Conflent. From there it is a short taxi or bus trip to Vernet-les-Bains. Even though we were at the 'end-of-the-line, so to speak, we were pleasantly surprised to find a daily English newspaper available at the bookstore. Most of the hotels had closed for the season, but, even so, a few restaurants and bars remained open. Since we had a kitchen in our apartment, we made several trips to the local butcher, grocer and the ever present bakeries to obtain our culinary requirements. This provided an interesting language exchange at times. The French pastries are so good!!
The village is dominated by the church sitting on the hill in the middle of town. But as the picture to left demonstrates, one is acutely aware of the colors of the houses nestled under the red clay tile roofs. What one cannot see in the picture is the narrow winding steep streets - houses built on the edge of the street crowding one's senses as you wander through. Houses with wrought iron balconies, colorful shutters, and flowers cascading over the edge. Streets with children playing and dogs scampering on the steep slopes. When we were there, it was past tourist season. The streets were ours to wander and shoot. The area is great to explore on foot. Trails of varying distance and difficulty are numerous. We were limited by the rain and the lack of a vehicle to get us to a trail head or a historical sight on short notice. We did hike to the Falls of the Anglais. The trail was difficult at times especially with light mist and rain making some of the rocks and steep slopes slippery. Colors abounded everywhere. Reds and oranges were brilliant against the dark green. We were delighted to stumble onto an area in town where flowers were still in bloom and the field was edged with a row of delicious berries. It was a tough choice to make! I think the berries were the eventual winner.
Abbaye Ste. Martin du Canigou is a few kilometers out of town. With our lack of transportation and the uncertainty of the weather for an all-day hike, we had to pass. Built on a cliff face, it was founded in the 10th century and was the inspiration for the Romanesque architecture of the region. From the photographs that I have seen, it is worthwhile if at all possible. Another attraction that we missed was the Petit Train Jaune ("Little Yellow Train") from Villefranche-de-Conflent. It is a narrow gauge line that climbs to the valley head at a slow pace giving you a great view from carriages that are open-air . It would have been easy for us to have taken the bus to Villefrance-de-Conflent train station, but, again, we were deterred by weather uncertainty. We kept thinking that the rain had to end.
And now for the pictures!
Falls of the Anglais Balcony Views Colors (Flora of Vernet) Scenes around Vernet