On the 1 June 2019 I headed out to the south of France for a week with Albera Expeditions to sample* their latest adventure filled runcation in the Pyrenees. This trip has truly changed my life, I’ve seen views I can’t even begin to describe and had once in a lifetime experiences which I just can’t believe actually happened.
Albera Expeditions is a new runcation company established by brothers Pierre and Pablo Parra. The boys pride themselves on spectacular runs, fulfilling activities and local immersion. Growing up in the south of France, Pablo and Pierre combine local knowledge with a global mindset, showcasing the best of their local region in their two south of France trips, whilst thinking internationally with trips for 2020 to Morocco, Thailand and Costa Rica. Not only do they offer once in a lifetime experiences, their trips are excellent value for money compared to their competitors (so maybe they could be more than once in a lifetime) and as a family run business the brothers offer a bespoke, boutique feel. Please check out their website for the next trips and availability:https://www.albera-expeditions.com/our-trips/
So what does an Albera Expeditions runcation feature? 8 days in the south of France/ Spain, food galore, 6 days of gorgeous trail running and mountains for days. Read on for a snippet of my biggest adventure to date!
Day 1: Arrival and meeting the guests
We (Julie, Jordan and I) arrived into Barcelona airport and the warmth of Spain hit me as we disembarked the plane. After a lengthy wait at baggage claim we met Pablo and guests Brad and Abbie from NYC and headed off in the mini bus to collect the rest of the group. This was a lengthy travel day, we crossed the border into France and followed the coastal road to the small fishing town of Le Racou. The coastline was simply stunning and the crystal clear waters looked so inviting! We eventually arrived at the villa, dumped our bags and headed to the beautiful private pool area. Villa Jaume, our basecamp for the week, is an 8 bedroom private villa in Le Racou, approximately 15 miles from Perpignan. It made the perfect base for our trip with a beautiful pool to cool your tired legs off in, lovely gardens and a gorgeous terrace where we dined al fresco.
That evening we had a delicious buffet dinner, consisting of lots of local french produce, and LOADS of cheese. Pure heaven! Pablo was then able to find a channel showing the champions league final, and I got to watch Liverpool win their sixth title from our rustic villa in France! What a start to the week!
Day 2: The first taste of the Pyrenees
We headed out early to beat the heat and took a short minibus ride to our first stop of the trip. Today would be my very first day in the Pyrenees. I am (used to be!) a road runner at heart and hadn’t done a great deal of trail running so I was a little apprehensive about what to expect. The plan for the day was to cover about 14miles up to Madeloc Tower where we could get a view of the Côte Vermeille and then descend onto the coastal trails finishing with a dip in the Mediterranean. As soon as we got onto the trails I instantly relaxed. The views were beautiful, the company was great and the run was to be taken at your own pace with Pierre at the front and Pablo as the tail runner/walker.
I felt no pressure to run a certain pace, and as the group began to separate based on everyone’s varying speeds and abilities I found myself having some quiet time on my own. I loved this, I live with my boyfriend, I work in a huge open plan office, I commute on the tube packed with people and I can’t remember when I last enjoyed a rare moment of peaceful solitude. However I was enjoying myself a bit too much and a lapse in concentration meant I was lost. However, having done so much fieldwork in groups during my PhD, the key to dealing with this is use your phone where possible, and retrace your steps to where you got lost. Luckily I managed to phone Pablo who ran back for me and was soon united with the group. We ran together through the shaded trails, stopped for a quick snack of nuts, fruits and watermelon prepared by Pierre and Pablo’s brother Luke and then began the descent to the beach.
The run ended with smiles all round, plenty of Fanta Limon, a vast spread of gorgeous tapas and some downtime on the beach. Some of the group enjoyed some wine tasting from a very local vineyard (literally metres from where we ate) but this tired runner needed some vitamin sea. The best part about having started so early was we got plenty of downtime in the afternoon, first at the beach and then a chance to swim at the villa. I was already loving this runcation life.
Day 3: Canigou and the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen!
The third day of the trip saw us venture away from the villa and head into the mountains to climb the great Canigou. We set out early again and drove up to the mountain trail. As we piled out of the minibus the fresh mountain air and the sound of the bells on the cattle hit me. This was the stuff dreams were made of.
Today would be 30km run/hike up the mystical snow topped Canigou mountain. Lots of ascent, lots of descent and views for days. We followed the GR10 route marked by little red and white flags. This route is a hiking path that runs the length of the Pyrenees mountains, approximately 866km in total. Julie and I stuck together, running where we could and hiking where it got too steep or too technical. We kept having to stop and just have moments of ‘oh wow’ the scenery was unlike anything I had ever seen in my life. I couldn’t believe I was there and my eyes were witnessing this.
We ran, chatted and put the world to rights, there’s something really good for the soul about being in the mountains. Eventually we reached our highest point for the day just below Pic Joffre. As much as I would have liked to summit the Canigou the weather was rapidly changing with a hint of thunder. Weather can make a seemingly safe situation change in the blink of an eye so the decision was made to begin the descent. We made the right call as just as we arrived at one of the small refuges the heavens opened with a loud crack of thunder. We waited for things to calm down slightly and then continued our descent. The clouds had descended and we were now running through the mist. Situations like this are part and parcel of being outdoors, which is why it’s so important to carry a light jacket, and respect the weather. We had totally made the right decision coming down off the mountain and once the rain cleared we were treated to some spectacular views, plus the smell of fresh rain on the trees in the mountains is LUSH.
We finished the run in the gorgeous town of Vernet-les-Bains my tired legs were certainly ready for rest day tomorrow.
Day 4: Rest Day Vibes
Waking up in the mountains above the clouds, under the gorgeous summer sun with lungs filled with fresh air sounds divine right? And it certainly was, however my poor body felt like it had been hit by a bus.
We had covered 55kms over two days and only a week or so after I had run a tough road marathon, my poor legs needed this rest day! So whilst the group explored the caves and the monastery we took Pablo’s suggestion of visiting the local spa. Vernet-les-Bains is famous for its hot water spring and after a very lengthy exchange using my limited french we managed to negotiate three passes to the spa. I was sad to miss out on the caves, but I wanted to enjoy this runcation to the full and I knew a soak in the warm and cold baths would serve me well.
We materialised two hours later fully relaxed, grabbed an ice cream and met up with the rest of the group to sample some traditional Cider and crepes in the medieval town of Villefranche-de-confluet. Food and relaxation in beautiful surroundings- what more can you ask for.
We finished the day at our mountain refuge for the night. The accommodation was simple, but a real taste of life in the mountains. I will never forget an evening spent sipping french wine, eating an entire Camembert to myself and playing what felt like a never ending game of uno whilst watching the sun dip behind the Pyrenees. Another beautiful day in paradise.
Day 5: I’m in France, I’m in Spain
I woke up to the sun creeping up from between the mountain peaks whilst some mist hung in the valley below us. I can’t even describe this feeling. I guess if I could it would be equal amounts of wonder and gratitude with some humility thrown in, as it’s only when you find yourself in such a big landscape that you realise how small you are and how precious our beautiful world is.
We set off ready to run the crest between France and Spain, the border simply marked by a rusty and at times non existent barbed wire fence. We dipped into Spain then back into France, got chased by some cows and witnessed more incredible views.
I think this was my favourite day. All the days so far had been amazing but I don’t think anything will ever top the sensation of waking up in the mountains and running down to the coast. It was also great to get my tired legs going again, and they certainly appreciated the rolling descents.
As we left the crest trail behind there was a quick pit stop at Massane Tower (more awesome views) then we ran through the grounds of Valmy Castle and snaked our way through the vineyards back to the villa. I spent the rest of the day stuffing my face, relaxing by the pool and enjoying a much needed yoga class and stretch session. Runcation I love you!
Day 6: Spanish trails, more tapas and some angry seagulls chasing Clarisse
Hola to the Spanish trails, day 6 was a full day in ESPANYA. We set off in two groups, the first group doing some crazy speedier miles whilst the rest of us packed together for 12kms on the coastal trails. We descended from Cap des Creus in the eastern foothills of the Pyrenees to the coastal village of Cadaqués.
The route consisted of beautiful rocky coves with some unmissable beach stops, mainly flat trails and some cactus! When we arrived in Cadaqués it was sangria and tapas all round, before ice cream on the beach and watching the drone (fondly named Clarisse) being attacked by some pretty angry seagulls.
We then headed back to the villa for some pool time and an epic evening of Paella, home made by Pierre. One thing I really loved about this trip was how Pierre and Pablo welcomed you into their family and immersed us into life in the border region. The days were filled with Pablo’s favourite local runs and the evenings were dominated by Beautiful food Prepared by a professional chef and wine from their brother Luke’s vineyard.
Day 7: Will run for rose
I couldn’t help but feel sad for our final day on the trails, I had loved this trip and the scenery had been incredible- going back to my 9-5 in London would be tough. I also had been totally converted to trail running. People warned me this might happen! So for the final day we set off from the villa for one last jaunt in the foothills then to run the coastal trails to the medieval town of Collioure. Compared to our days of mega ascents and technical descents this felt like a much easier run and a chance to zone out and enjoy the little coves along the way to Collioure.
We arrived in the town to a gorgeous spread put on by Pablo and Pierre’s family and just like that it was over, 6 days of mountain running done! And what a life changing experience it had been.
We enjoyed our final time on the beach, having ice cream and plenty of Rose before a boat trip back to the villa. Reflecting over celebratory pre dinner bubbles that evening Pablo and Pierre spoke about their idea of setting up Albera expeditions (this was the inaugural trip) and what the experience meant to them. They had done an incredible job, we had enjoyed unbelievable views, once in a lifetime experiences and been submerged in the culture of the region. There was something for everyone from the newbie trail runner like myself to the more seasoned runcationers!
As I headed to bed that evening I caught a glimpse of the sky full of stars above the villa. I’ve never seen a sky so littered with glistening lights and wondered if I ever would again. This trip had been life changing, and a total world away from my life and work in London. I’ve definitely decided I’ll be back and I’m already beginning to plan my next trip. Thank you so much Albera expeditions for showing me such a beautiful part of the world.
- The night in the mountain refuge was an incredible experience. The accommodation was basic but that was all part of the charm. I never imagined I would watch the sunset over the Pyrenees.
- The food- it was in abundance, you never wanted for anything and you certainly wouldn’t go hungry. We actually ate out most days in beautiful local restaurants which was included in the price.
- The villa- simply the most beautiful basecamp with a gorgeous pool and grounds, a real taste of french life.
- The company- from the moment you arrived you were welcomed into the family. I’ve always felt daunted by trail running largely because I find the tight knit groups intimidating, but the atmosphere was different to what I expected. The group was a real mix of characters and nationalities and I’ve had the chance to make global friends. Also Pablo and Pierre welcomed you into their family. Their Mum, Dad, brother and sister helped with a lot of the aspects of the trip and it was simply lovely to see the family rally round and support the brothers, plus they’re all incredible cooks!
- Value for money- compared to other trips on the market the value for money is exceptional. The accommodation we had was wonderful and the food was great. The brothers were so generous too- if you wanted more food or another drink at the restaurant that wasn’t a problem. You were also very well looked after and there is no way I could ever attempt to plan a trip like that, the days were something you would need local knowledge for.
What’s included? Your transfers including to and from the airport and the boat trip, 5 nights in Villa Jaume, 1 night in a hotel in Vernet-les-baines, 1 night in the mountain refuge, guided trail runs to suit all abilities (although I think you do need some running experience- ie able to run/walk even at a gentle pace for two hours), all breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners during the duration of the trip (including in restaurants), cave and monastery visit, wine (and lots of it) with meals plus wine tasting, professional photographer, great company, yoga and stretching classses and memories to last a lifetime.
All you need to add is your flights and some money for a post run ice cream on the beach.
How to book: For more information, dates and availability of trips see the Albera expeditions website and if you have any queries don’t be afraid to drop them an email as Pablo and Pierre are more than happy to help. Make sure to check out their next South of France adventure in September which has a very very limited amount of spaces left. This trip is slightly easier in terms of ascent and distance and you’ll be immersed in the grape harvest season, perfect for wine lovers. You can also get $300 off with code ALBERABUNNY
*I was gifted this experience as a press trip, however all views and opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way. I honestly can say that I had the most wonderful experience and I will be forever grateful to Albera expeditions for such an incredible trip.