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Sightseeing in Languedoc
Saint-Martin-de-Canigou
Home > Explore The Region > Sightseeing > St Martin du Canigou

L'Abbeye de St Martin du Canigou - France's most stunning abbey - perched in the Pyrénées.

 

Practical Information:

 

ACCESS:

Drive time from Perpignan: 55 mins

Walk from car park to Abbey: 40 mins - very steep If you can't handle the walk, call the local tourist office to organise transport on 04 68 05 50 03. Nearest town for meals: Casteil

 


View St Martin de Canigou in a larger map

 

PRICING:

The (obligatory) tour costs €4 (although if you buy a tourism 'carnet' this is reduced to €3.)

There is a shop that sells gifts, drinks and chocolate bars (to revive you after the treck up.)

 

HOURS:

Open all year-round, but closed on tuesdays from October 1st to May 31st.Tours at (from June 12 to Sept 30): 10am, 12noon (12:30 on Sundays and holidays), 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm

Tours at (from Oct 1 to May 31): 10am
12noon (12:30 on Sundays and holidays), 2pm, 3pm, 4pm

 

COMBINE WITH:

Villefranche le Conflent >
The Priory of Serrabone >
Les Orgues de Roussillon >

It's only 45 minutes from Perpignan, but l'Abbeye de Saint Martin du Canigou feels like it's a world away. You drive west from Perpignan, and then up into the foothills of the Pyrenees to the small village of Casteil where you park the car. From there, you walk up a rather steep road for 40 minutes, zig zagging through a forest of green oak trees until you reach the foot of the Abbey.

 

(I should mention at this point that the walk up the hill isn't for the feint-hearted. It's unrelentingly steep, and 45 minutes is quite a time to be walking at an angle. So give yourself lots of time - especially considering the guided tours start at set times.)

 

The walk, though arduous, is worth it. Because as you finally arrive huffing to the top of the hill, the Abbey's impressive 11th century entrance looms. It was built in 1009 by Guilfred, Count of Cerdanya (then in Spain) as a Benedictine monastery. The Benedictine monks occupied it for over 700 years, finally deserting it (perhaps it was the walk up the hill that put them off...) in 1783. The abbey then fell into disrepair, until in 1902, the Bishop of Elne and Perpignan decided to renovate it.

 

To be honest, the renovations done at the time give the place a slightly odd '50s' look - the stonework being a little like 'crazy-paving'. Which is a pity, because the layout and basic architecture of the abbey is wonderful. Cloistered hallways run around a small garden (built to represent Eden), and the carved marble columns are stunning (only those in the Priory of Serrabone are more beautiful). The columns represent animals, ancient stories (such as Salome) and elegant leaves and flowers. On the inner wall of the cloister are carved stone tableaux (see bottom) that are equally impressive.

 

Tours are almost hourly, and supposedly in silence (but that didn't last long). The abbey is currently the home of nuns, one of whom will take you on the one hour tour (in French), explaining how the abbey was built and then renovated, what all the carved columns represent, and how the founder was buried (you'll see his tomb) in the grounds of the abbey itself.

 

The best part of the whole experience, however, was after the tour. We spotted high above the abbey, perched on some rocks, people who had continued up the hill past the abbey to view it from above. It's only from here that you actually see the the layout of the abbey (see the photo at the top of this page) and the sheer cliffs that plummet down from the cloisters. It's a breath-taking view, with the craggy walls of the Pyrenees rising beyond and the sun (in late afternoon) lighting up the red-tiled rooves.

 

Carved columns of St Martin de Canigou church

The interior is quite pretty - but nothing compared with
the view of the church from the hill above.

We'd recommend combining St Martin de Canigou with a trip to the Priory of Serrabone (perhaps in the morning), lunch at Villefranche le Conflent (a superb walled village) and then St Martin in the afternoon.

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