On the final day, the trail took me from Banyuls to Collioure, the last 18 kilometres, with 750 metres of ascents once again. It was another sunny, hot day and it was pretty tough terrain at times, but the arrival in Collioure made up for any minor discomfort along the way.
Breakfast at the hotel was typically French, just a croissant, bread, butter, jam and orange juice. Nor was it included in the room rate, as it had been all the way through Spain. I’ve never been able to figure out why French hotels hardly ever include breakfast in their room rates (and often charge an exorbitant price for it). As an American friend told me shortly after I moved to France, “C’est la France, ne cherche pas à comprendre.” (“This is France, don’t try to understand.”)
Once again, I set off at 9 (I had no choice there throughout the hike because of breakfast times) and began on the main road out of Banyuls before veering off to follow the coast for the whole day.
The town was soon left behind and I found myself back in the now familiar landscape of stony paths and a fairly arid coastline with stunted trees, a far cry from the woods and forests of the earlier stages of the trail. With the blue sea to my right, I rounded the different capes, with the lighthouse at Cap Béar as a bearing (although the trail markings had improved a great deal over the last two days).
After the Cap d’Oullestrell, the path descended to the Forat and Paulilles beaches where, surprisingly in this natural setting, there was a former Nobel dynamite factory, one of the numerous plants that Alfred Nobel built in various countries and that functioned here from 1870 to 1984. An odd spot for a factory, although given the nature of the product it was wiser to be well away from an urban centre! A number of the factory buildings still stand. The whole complex was rehabilitated skilfully in 2008 and opened to the public. There’s now an open-air museum, various nature trails and access to a couple of fine beaches via boardwalks. That morning, the spot was very peaceful, but I imagine it must get pretty crowded in high season. This interesting blog post in English has a lot of information about the place.
On emerging from a tunnel in the former factory, I bumped into three French hikers, a local lady and a couple of her friends from Marseille. We chatted for a few minutes and then continued to leap-frog around each other all the way to Port-Vendres where they stopped. All three had a great sense of humour and a fair number of witty remarks went back and forth between us, especially on encountering a group of about twenty people preparing for a “swim-run” along the coast (running along the trail and diving into the sea before swimming back to their departure point and starting all over again).
The trail was tricky to follow at times, especially at the end of some of the beaches where the exit point was far from easy to find. But, with four of us looking, we didn’t lose too much time and, by midday, we finally reach the Cap de Béar with its terrific view back to Banyuls along the coast.
From the cape, the trail headed uphill slightly to pass below the massive Fort Béar before beginning the descent to Port-Vendres.
The trail led up and down via a number of bays on approaching the town.
The fairly industrial outskirts of Port-Vendres, where I said goodbye to my fellow hikers, were far from pretty. However, the centre, with its marina and its colourful houses, was much more pleasant. There were plenty of places to eat and, as breakfast had been light, I decided to stop for lunch at Eden Rock where I had a terrific burger with really good fries. The friendly service was excellent too. With only an hour left to go to Collioure, this more than set me up for the rest of the day!
The last few kilometres were pretty easy going, mostly along the side of the road, although I was able to veer off from time to time to stick closer to the coast. This allowed me to find a great juxtaposition of two signs outside the Port-Vendres cemetery.
Just before Collioure, a flight of steps led down to the water’s edge, allowing me to follow a very pleasant path along the shore, past bars and restaurants until I reached my hotel, the simple, but spotless Boramar with its view of the old town on the other side of the bay.
Collioure was absolutely packed with people on this holiday weekend afternoon, although most of them started heading home around 6 pm as they probably had to work the next day. The town was already a lot quieter when I left the hotel after a shower and a rest to go for dinner. The hotel receptionist had recommended a number of places, but one was closed and the other served only a full menu that would have been way too much food. I strolled around the old town for a while and discovered that Collioure is a really charming little place, full of tourists, true, but beautiful all the same. After a celebratory glass of sangria in a bar overlooking the town’s main beach, I went for a very good pizza in the old town. Simple but tasty, just what I needed.
And that was the end of the Travesía de la Costa Brava. As usual, I felt a huge sense of achievement at completing the trail, all the more so this time as I hadn’t prepared that well for it physically. The 270 kilometres of coastline that I had walked from Blanes had been spectacular, incredibly beautiful and charming 99% of the time, except for the approach to Roses and the huge beach resorts at the start. I had discovered some wonderful places – Calella de Palafrugell, Begur, Cadaqués and El Port de la Selva – that I planned to visit again one day (in fact, I would return to Cadaqués a few months later with my wife, at the end of August 2019, to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary). The food had been consistently delicious (I can never get enough octopus) and the hotels comfortable. Apart from the huge French groups on the trail, I had met some really friendly people from a range of European countries. The whole experience served to confirm, once again, that I am never happier than when hiking.