THE South of France conjures up images of high fashion and sipping wine by the sun-kissed sea.
But as I crashed into the cold water for the second time that morning, all that could not have been further from my mind.
I was part-way down the mighty River Tech, fully immersed in nature as I made my way through the water on a paddleboard.
Despite the tumbles I’d taken, I felt at peace, surrounded by trees, gently flowing water and probably some otters hiding in the banks.
I’d been staying in the seaside town of Les Argeles-Sur-Mer, about 15 kilometres north of the river.
This is a region known for its outdoor activities — and it’s not hard to see why. There’s incredible beaches and rugged mountains including the Massane nature reserve.
And the best way to fully get stuck into the wild surroundings is by pitching up at one of the nearly 50 campsites or glampsites in the area — although there are hotels and Airbnbs for those who prefer a tad more luxury.
I’ve never been a fan of camping, but if all campsites were like this, I could get used to it. Mine didn’t involve a tent, but instead a luxury wooden cabin complete with heating and running water. Heaven.
Le Dauphin is a five-star site that not only boasts glam tent lodges and chic mobile homes with proper beds and en-suites, but also a yoga studio, three swimming pools and an incredible garden with seemingly a million different plants.
My cabin was so cosy, it was difficult to tear myself away from my peaceful slumber to soak up the great outdoors.
But bleary-eyed, I forced myself into gym gear, ready to tackle the Massane trail which leads you through 14km of rocky pastures and up toward the 13th-century Massane Tower which sits at the peak of the mountain.
Sadly, the pelting rain meant no breathtaking views and therefore no challenging trek. But we could still get our hiking kicks on a lower trail that winds past an adorable church and Chateau Valmy, a family-run vineyard.
We were following paths that I was certain were meant for mountain goats rather than humans, as I ducked and dived to avoid twigs and leaves, passing a centuries-old shepherd’s hut.
But that only made the experience more exhilarating.
Scrambling up the muddy path, the heavens opened and we were soaked and slipping all over. But just as suddenly, the rain cleared and we were left with the magnificent sight of a huge stone chapel, built so farmers did not have to go down the mountain in the Middle Ages to pray.
The most stunning view, though, was not the chapel itself but to the right, where a bright rainbow had formed over the hillside, welcoming us to the highest point of our walk.
Refreshed and red-faced, we clambered back down the mountain to the campsite, where a yoga instructor was preparing to stretch out our tired muscles. It hurt a lot, but the pain was worth it the next morning.
It’s not just treks and yoga that are on offer here, though. Being so close to the sea, there’s a whole host of watersports you can get stuck into. Book a kayaking expedition where you’ll paddle through waves, spotting wildlife under the guidance of a local expert.
Two to a kayak, we bobbed along the coastline taking in the wide mountains and abundance of marine life, including a specially protected seaweed. In summer, you may even spot dolphins.
The trip, which is surprisingly relaxing for a sea-based activity, lasts about two hours and is done first thing in the morning to avoid any strong gusts of wind in the afternoon.
If you’re after something that requires a little less energy, book a boat that will take you on a tour of the three nearby ports, Argeles, Collioure and Vendres — where almost all of the bananas in Europe arrive in cargo deliveries.
It’s perhaps best to save this for a less windy day, particularly if you have a sensitive stomach, like me.
The seas can be rough and choppy, so much so that it made the early-morning kayak seem like a doddle.
If we’d have been kayaking on those rough waters, I’d have never made it back.
GO: ARGELES SUR MER
GETTING THERE: Ryanair flies from various UK airports, including Luton, Birmingham and Manchester, to Barcelona from £15 each way. See ryanair.com.
STAYING THERE: Seven nights’ self-catering at Camping Le Dauphin is from £301.38 in total (€360), based on two adults and up to four children sharing. See campingledauphin.com.
For more information, see argeles-sur-mer.co.uk.
published 2022-08-06 04:00:00