6. Le Seu d'Urgell to Prats-de-Mollo
Le Seu is a pleasant town with an old medieval core that sits on the banks of the Riu Segre. We spent the morning exploring. The Cathedral was closed so we wandered the old town until we came to the Parc del Segre, where in 1992 the Olympic canoeing competition was held. As with much of the infrastructure associated with the Barcelona games, this facility has a certain style. Completely man made it draws water from the upstream Segre, and channels it through a complicated course built into the river bank before returning the water down stream. It is perfect for spectators who can stand around the course with unimpeded views and for competitors it includes a conveyor which takes them from the lagoon at the bottom of the course back to the top - without leaving their craft! The day we visited a couple of canoeists braved the waters but most of the activity was created by rafting trips for school children - it is a safer environment than putting them on a river and it needs to be: a dozier lot of kids you are unlikely to meet, either falling in, or completely ignoring the guide/helmsman's instructions so that they end up going backwards down the course. Anyway it entertained us for an hour or so!
We left La Seu heading into the Cedanya, which we now learned is part of the same high plateau that we drove across earlier in the week near Mont Louis on the French side of the mountains. We stopped at Bellver de Cerdanya, a town perched on a crag on the side of the Segre and wandered around the town and castle. It was very hot and after half an hour or so we wandered into the restaurant of the fonda and had yet another spectacular meal. I had gazpacho and lemon chicken, Antony had a giant steak delivered to the table on a piece of rock, spitting fat all over the tables and walls. I also had the best part of a bottle of wine (my turn in the passenger seat) which may not have helped my navigation later in the day (there was a distinct problem over instructions to turn left or right as I recall).
We decided to head for the frontier town of Prats de Mollo and so had a lengthy drive ahead of us but we were content to watch the mountains pass by as we drove through Puigcerda and Ripoll, the landscape becoming less dramatic and more industrialised as we continued east. In Ripoll we collected the C151, a curious road which abandoned the usual wide Spanish carriageways and which threaded its way over the border like an English country road - perhaps the Spanish don't want people to leave. The border itself consisted of a hill summit with a boarded up customs house covered in (Catalan) Nationalist graffiti. The first sign of life on the winding drive down was the lonely 13 century beacon at Mir, a distant tower overlooking the pass but it serves as a fitting introduction to the fortified town of Prats de Mollo. Checking into a hotel with a great view of the town square (more plane trees). It was a quiet time of year and not much was open so after exploring the town a little we settled into our second three course meal of the day (we didn't intend to but it was so cheap it was silly not to!). We finished the evening sipping wine on our balcony (oh yes - we know how to live!) and discussing the 17 year life cycle of the cicada.