Written May 23, 2012
Villefranche, officially listed as one of les plus beaux villages de France (prettiest villages in France), is the start and end point of this loop trail that includes a tour through the village and neighboring village of Corneilla de Conflent (attractive 12th century church), a forest climb with views of Canigou, and a walk through fields of wild lavender and pastures of grazing sheep. While the trail is not always easy to follow – a confluence of trails all blazed yellow and unmarked turnoffs, making the experience feel more like a scavenger hunt than a true hike – for the adventurous it’s a fun day out in the French country side with plenty of sights along the way.
Coming from Prades on N116, park in the first pay parking lot in front of the ramparts of Villefranche.
Cross the bridge and enter the fortified city. Follow this main road until you reach the Church square.
After admiring the church door and marble columns take the small road to the right that leads to a parallel road. Turn left and follow this road out the back entrance of the cité (there will be a picnic area on your right). Continue to the stop sign and turn towards Olette on N116. Follow this road until it turns right and crosses the bridge, Saint-Andre. Do not cross this bridge, instead find the trail on the opposite side of N116 heading up the embankment to the left.
From here you can follow the yellow blazes to near the top of the hill where you will come to a trail junction. Follow the trail to the right continuing to climb and soon finding the remains of an old cistern. Just past the cistern the trail turns to the left with views of Canigou and the villages below.
Follow this road about 200 meters, crossing two fences. At the intersection with another dirt road turn left and follow the road another 200 meters to a bigger dirt road which you take to the right. Follow this road down to a parking area by a dolman.
Just before the dolman look for a sign pointing left to the village of Corneilla de Conflent. Continue down this trail following the yellow blazes through the woods, eventually ending on a road that crosses two streams.
Closer to town you cross a main road, still following the yellow blazes to carrer d’Avall. At the oratoire
turn left and continue up to the church of Sainte-Marie.
Take a moment to notice the ancient door and the marble archway on the right side of the church. Continue around the right side to the back of the church. Turn left and follow this trail down and across a small stream, through the woods, fields of wild lavender
and finally pasture land with grazing sheep and cows.
Yellow blazes and the occasional sign to Villefranche mark the way, about 3 kilometers until you reach the power lines. Somewhere past the power lines is where we missed the left turn back to Villefranche (#7 on the map). Instead we continued on taking a longer route via the redoute (small fort), also marked with yellow blazes. While this trail is easy to follow and eventually connects back to the shorter route, it adds another five kilometers with the opportunity to see the unremarkable redoute and the more impressive views of the Canigou peak and the surrounding valleys.
Both trails take you back to the parking area in front of the rampart.
Shorter route (shown on map below) 11.5 kilometers with 675 meter total ascent.
From Les Pyrénées-Orientales – balade et randonnée à pied, #21 La Cité de Villefranche.