Vernet les Bains and Saint Martin du Canigou Abbey
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Vernet les Bains is located in the Pyrénées Orientales department in the south west of France.
Vernet les Bains and its near town of Casteil are the starting points of jouneys to two major north Catalan sites: the Saint Martin du Canigou Abbey and the peak of Canigou - the sacred mountain - and the departure of the "Course du Canigou" - a famous running race that takes place each summer.
Vernet les Bains is - as its name says - a hot springs resort recognized for its thermal water medical treatment and spa facilities.
The town's booming time was however the so called "Belle Epoque" - the 4 decades time stretch before the break out of the first world war - triggered in part by the advent of the railroad in the region and of the famous "petit train jaune" - which still runs!
At the time Vernet became a well known retreat for British high society arrived here from all corners of the British Empire, one of its foremost members being Rudyard Kipling who stayed here with his wife Caroline in 1910, 1911 and 1914 to cure her rheumatism.
It is during the 1911 stay at Vernet that Kipling writes an article for the British Club Newsletter titled: "Why it snows in Vernet" - a wisecrack directed towards the Club whose members' discussions were more often then not centered around the weather!
The town of Vernet is divided in two parts: the upper town that grew around the medieval castle and the lower town that developed on the banks of the river Cady around the hot springs.
The castle, perched in perfectly middle age tradition on the highest point of the vicinity, was built on the site of the medieval fort dating from 11th century and built itself on the foundation of an even older stonghold. The fort was initially a secondary residence of the counts of Cerdagne - their seat was at the time at Casteil - and under the administration of the Saint Martin du Canigou Abbey - abbey founded around year 1000 by one of the counts: Guifred II Count of Cerdagne and Conflent.
In the 12th century when the County of Cerdagne and Conflent are annexed to the County of Barcelona the fort is transferred to the property of the local layman lord.
From the 12th century dates also the town's first chapel "Notre Dame del Puig" first mentioned in the 1176 and on whose foundation the nowadays church dedicated to Saint Saturnin was built.
In 1659 when the northern Catalonia was attached to the French Kingdom the medieval fort was destroyed later, in the 19th century, to be rebuilt to the shape we can admire today by one of the descendents of Dr. Pierre de Barrera the first owner of the Vernet spas (which he bought from the Abbot of Saint Martin de Canigou in 1788). The restoration of the fort was done with stones of the ruins. The castle is now a private property and cannot be visited
Saint Martin du Canigou Abbey is an active religious center that is home to the members of the "Community of the Beatitude" Catholic movement.
It sits up on a rocky outcrop above the village of Casteil. There is no other way to reach it but via a 45min hike (people unable to walk can arrange a lift by a 4x4 taxi) .
The abbey - a Romanesque style complex - was consecrated on 10 of November 1009. Its building started at the end of the 10th century by the family of the Counts of Conflent and Cerdagne, whose member Oliba becomes the first Abbot.
During the next 8 centuries the abbey was the home for Benedictine monks. In 1783 the last remaining monks leave the site. The abandoned buildings are left to the merci of the historical - during French Revolution it is looted and transformed in a stone quarry - as well as meteorological events during a century , events that slowly transform it in a ruin.
In 1902 the monastery restoration work begins led by the Bishop of Perpignan.
The abbey consists of two superposed basilicas, the inferior one being partially underground.
Today the monastery is active again and the house to a new Catholic community. It also welcomes any person willing to spend several days in a quiet and religious environment.
Closed in January.
Closed Mondays from October 1 to May 31
Tours last about 1 hour.
The tours are in French. An assistance plan to visit is available in 10 languages (Catalan, English, German, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Danish, Polish, Russian and Japanese).
Pets are not allowed in the abbey.
From June 1 to September 30 Morning: 10am, 11am, 12pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm
Note: On Sundays and days of great religious festivals: the morning visit at 10am and 12:30 pm
October 1st to May 31st
Morning: 10am, 11am, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm
Closed Mondays from October 1 to May 31