Rudyard Kipling compared Canigó (or Canigou) to the mountains of South Africa or the Himalayas. But why compare what cannot be compared? The Canigó massif is unique. A true stone giant that rises to 2,784.66 metres, it is the guardian of the border between the south and the north of Catalonia and the protector of the passage between two worlds: the plain and the mountains. Visible from the sea, it has become one of its natural lighthouses. Zoom on a spot of choice for hiking enthusiasts.

The Canigó, an incredible natural space

You have to imagine the massif of Canigó as an island, held back only by some rocks. The West turns towards the mountains, from the softness of the Pla Guillem plateau to the chaos of the Esquerdes de la Rotjà ridges. The east plunges towards the sea. From north to south, the balconies dominate the Conflent valley, carved out by the Têt, the longest river in the department, and the Vallespir valley, shaped by the Tech. These balconies are totally different. On the Têt side, the valleys are gentle and open towards the Roussillon plain, planted with peach trees and other fruit trees, unlike the Vallespir, which is more incised and much wilder and wooded with mountain species

The arrival by the road that leads to Prades shows the powerful mass of Canigó, protected by innumerable hills, forming small islands on which the villages of Los Masos, Espira-de-Conflent or Finestret cling. In this landscape shaped by Man, terraces supported by dry stone walls directly from ancient cultures called "Feixes".

One of the particularities of the massif is to present the fusion of different types of climates. A Mediterranean climate at its base, characterised by a plain of fruit trees and scrubland. This is followed by mountain, sub-alpine and alpine climates inviting the hiker to go from lemon trees to beech and conifer forests, from scrubland to a hanging glacier. Even the winds don't seem to agree. To the north blows the tramontana, powerful and dry, while to the east the marine brings softness and humidity. In winter, time seems to stand still and the Canigó is covered in a white coat.

The Canigó, a land full of history

The origin of the presence of the Man in the massif is lost in the night of times. Rock engravings and various vestiges found allow to date a human activity since the end of the Neolithic. Menhirs and dolmens abound and testify to the desire of the inhabitants of the time to be buried in the bowels of this already sacred mountain. Emerging from the depths of time, the dolmen of the Col del Tribe in Molitg-les-Bains draws its originality from its superb view of the Canigó. In Arles-sur-Tech, the "Caixa de Rotllan" is a dolmen from the 3rd millennium BC.

Then, the shepherds built buildings out of piled up rocks called "Orris", real igloos of stones, which were and still are used to protect men and animals. The origin of these constructions is very old but it is especially in the 19th century that they are most used.

The signal towers of Batère or Mir were part of the communication network allowing a rapid transmission of information between Roussillon and Haut-Conflent or Haut-Vallespir. These watchtowers are called "guardies" or "farahons" in Catalan.

With the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees between France and Spain in 1659, Catalonia was cut in two. To protect these territories, the famous engineer and soldier Vauban was given the heavy responsibility of building and improving a line of defence. In the massif, three works are particularly remarkable. Fort-les-Bains in Amélie-les-Bains, built in 1683 on the ruins of a 13th century fortress, Fort Lagarde in Prats-de-Mollo-la-Preste, built in 1686 as an extension of the town's fortifications, and Fort Libéria in Villefranche-de-Conflent, dating from 1681

Abbeys and priories, discovering Romanesque art

Like Olympus, the Canigó could be the mountain of the gods. The massif has so many churches, priories and monasteries in its valleys and on its peaks that one can speak of a true Catalan Romanesque art. The priories of Serrabona and Marcevol are almost opposite each other and are witnesses of this 12th century which will see the birth of the most beautiful cathedrals.

The abbeys of Saint-Michel de Cuxa, Saint-Martin du Canigó and Sainte-Marie in Arles-sur-Tech are jewels of Catalan Romanesque art, built in the 10th century and evolving over time. Saint-Martin is the most impressive by its situation, posed on a rocky peak like a stone vessel. These places of spirituality are always occupied by believers and religious

From the 17th to the 19th century, the mountain suffered from the benefits it brought to men. The forests on its sides had to be burned to extract the iron from its entrails. This deforestation was a real ecological disaster.

The opening of the trails to motorized vehicles and the consequent ease of access to the summit have contributed to the ecological and environmental endangerment of the massif. We were approaching a destructive mass tourism that could have caused irreparable damage. It was therefore in 1951 that the Pic du Canigó was classified on 443 hectares. Finally, on July 13, 2012, the massif of Canigó obtained the label Grand Site de France. Today, the classified site counts 23 000 hectares and integrates the three National Nature Reserves and the five refuges kept by the Tour du Canigó.

A unique fauna and flora to discover

The massif has four nature reserves, Mantet, Nyer, Py and Prats-de-Mollo-la-Preste. These reserves offer an important diversity of habitats ranging from forest to moorland or grassland, from torrents to micro-habitats such as ponds, from peat bogs to ponds. Forests on the northern slopes can be extremely cold, while the southern slopes are much warmer

Large mammals abound in the massif. You can easily see isards while hiking. The three big European predators, the bear, the wolf and the lynx are not all present. The bear has practically disappeared from the Pyrenees. Officially there is no lynx, despite some visual evidence. For many years the wolf has been leaving tracks in the snow and its routes are known

In the sky, you can admire the golden eagle, the griffon vultures, the bearded vulture and its orange-red belly. Recently, the Egyptian vulture has been nesting in Vallespir. The birds are varied and numerous, such as mountain passerines, the rock ptarmigan or snow partridge, the great raven, the crossbill. The capercaillie is also present.

The massif is not only populated by wild animals. Pastoralism contributes to the maintenance of an accessible and well-maintained mountain. The approach of a herd is announced by the bleating, the tinkling of the bells, the incessant back and forth of the black and white sheepdogs, or the barking of the patous, the large white coated protection dogs

The Canigó protects its biodiversity and its natural beauty. But the mountain has also fed men, given them work and cured them thanks to its waters coming from the depths. From its belly millions of tons of iron have come out. From its flanks, man has cut down entire forests. He has exploited all the treasures that this massif could bring him; with excess in ancient times, with reflection nowadays and above all with an immense desire to protect what exists.

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When to visit? As soon as the weather is fine to enjoy the hikes.

How to get there. By car, train or plane (Perpignan station and airport), everything is possible.

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