Monday, 25 May 2015

Guest Blog: Sara Treacy's Best of Font Romeu

European Team Cross Country medallist and Irish Steeplechase Champion Sara Treacy normally spends her busy days balancing work as a doctor with training and competing at the highest level. Recently she spent three weeks at altitude in Font Romeu, and with a relative abundance of time on her hands, she had took the opportunity to explore the best that the beautiful Pyrenees resort town has to offer.  In this post Sara shares her thoughts on the best places to run, eat and play, as well as the best places to relax between training sessions.

Hi! This is my first blog post, so bear with me please people! I’ve just arrived home after almost 3 weeks in Font Romeu breathing scant air, training hard and ‘living the dream’! My second time in the area, I find it a perfect combination for body and soul. Below I’ve included some of my favourite places to eat, drink and relax, and of course trails I love to run.

View of the valley below Font Romeu from Residence le Domaine de Castella where I stayed for the first part of the trip. 

A small skiing village nestled into the culturally rich Catalonian mountain region of Cerdagne, Font Romeu is a popular destination both in winter and summer. If your training camp is doubling as your holidays from work or college and you’re bringing your other half or family, even in the ‘off-season’, it offers more than just the physiological benefits of altitude. The combination of track, gyms and idyllic running routes make it an ideal training venue.

Beautiful views make the hard work a little bit easier. Callum rented a bike form Intersport in Les Angles to accompany me around the lake (and take the odd photo).

On easier days I enjoyed immersing myself in the cultural delights the region has to offer, from the petite boulangeries to the imposing Fort Liberia in historic Villefranche or a trip to the natural hot sulphur baths at St. Thomas to help the legs recover. On the harder training days I would just sit and sip coffee to prepare for run number two, enjoying the white-topped mountain views on the terrace of ‘Chuppa café’.

Fort Liberia in historic Villefrance

After several weeks of work-related stress, it took only a couple of days to settle fully into the slow even kilter that is the athlete’s life in Font Romeu. A typical day involved rolling out of bed to have a small breakfast and that essential cup of tea, before meeting the group to drive to one of the many trails in the area for our morning run, or to Lac de Matemale or the track for a session.

Olympian, Paralympian, future champions... all 'enjoying' training at Lac de Matemale

Job done and the return journey often involved a quick stop for an almond croissant or, one of my highlights, lunch on the sunny terrace of ‘L’Ermitage’ to debrief and recharge after Bud’s most recent concoction of 4s, 6s and Ks. I love the buzz of a busy track and groups of athletes from a mixture of countries working around each with cheers of ‘allez, allez’ ringing out around the track from complete strangers as you struggle to keep on pace, body crying out for oxygen.

Enjoying coffee, discussing training, and making silly faces at L'Ermitage

After lunch, hours were spent as we saw fit, studying, shopping, napping or doing bits of work while sipping speciality tea in Salon de thè l'Après-Ski. It did not take long for the locals to become accustomed to us runners, and my rusty French enquiries about the area were often met with polite enquires about what event I did. I was informed that the Olympic Champion Steeplechaser had been training here recently; nice to know I’m in such good company!

The obligatory photo of food! This was me being all cultural on the first night at Restaurant Le Chaumiere. Everyone else had delicious looking steak

We were blessed with great weather most of the time, fresh mornings and blazing afternoon sun with a cooling wind. This area has an average of 300 sunny days a year (according to the local solar furnace in Odeilla), so when it’s not snowing, the chances are that you’ll have a few nice ones! Late afternoon would find me applying suncream, music blaring, ready for drills on the balcony of the apartment complex. Then the weary legs were coaxed back on the mountain trails for our easy evening run, followed by core and stretching.

Another day, another beautiful trail!

This was my favourite time of the day to explore new trails; main training done for the day I could run relaxed and easy, soaking up the scenery and the smell of pine. Possibly my favourite trail is still within running distance of the village, just a few minutes from Collette Besson gym. It starts off as a wide path with rolling hills and emerges by the picturesque wooden chalets on the edge of Bolquere village. You can follow the little yellow signs for ‘Étang du Ticou’ which will bring you to a small pond and wooded picnic area. I like this trail for several reasons: its close, the surface is good underfoot and on a late run on more than one tranquil evening, I happened upon young deer out to graze or a fox to hunt on this path.

The beautiful Étang du Ticou

Another trail worth exploring if you have a car is up in the mountains on the far side of the valley. With stunning views, this gem of a trail was discovered at the end of the trip, and needs further exploration! Beware, however, there is a nearby military testing zone. Look out for signs with ‘DANGER DU MORT’ to avoid taking the the wrong road!

Start of the trails at Capcir Nordic ski area
There was a lot to do in Font Romeu and the surrounding area.  We attempted a barbecue at Lac de Bouillouses, which went something along the lines of: 'weather? - check, location? - check, fire? - check, food? - check, cooking utensils? - ah sh1t!!!

There are lots of adventure activities, a high ropes course at Parc des Adventure just on the edge of the town, and an animal park (Parc des Animaux), near Les Angles. Unfortunately I missed that trip as I was trying to catch up on some work.

Our attempt at barbecuing failed due to lack of one very important item.
Parts of Lac de Bouillouses, the first reservoir on the River Tet, which winds through the valley to Villefranche and beyond, were still frozen.

At the end of my three weeks I was sad to be going home, but I felt mentally rested, fit and eager to attack the track season ahead. The return journey to Perpignan passed uneventfully on the 1 euro bus, the only catch being that the shuttle to the airport is a ten minute walk from the bus stop, so we cheated and took a taxi with our luggage. We arrived at the airport to discover the flight was delayed by 5 hours, so we checked in our luggage and my boyfriend and I got the shuttle back into town and spent the day exploring Perpignan, which, as it turns out, is a charming little city. I’d highly recommend it! Thinking about it now, I’m already looking forward to my next trip!

Palais de Rois de Majorque in Perpignan
Discount booklet for the many historical and
cultural attractions in the area

Map with my Font Romeu best bits
Zoom out to view the points of interest outside of Font Romeu, and click on the tags to view more information.

And no blog post would be complete without a selfie!

Myself and Callum at the old medieval town in Villefranche

Thanks Sara for sharing this useful information, and best of luck with the season ahead.  

For more information on altitude training in Font Romeu, check out these posts:
Q&A blog with Dean Cunningham, aspiring 10km runner who has trained in Font Romeu
Guest blog with young triathlete Sam Laidlow who studies and trains in Font Romeu
Guest blog from Irish International Steeplechaser Kerry O'Flaherty who owns an apartment in the town
My own updates from my research visit in 2010
Focus on altitude training options in France and Spain

All this information makes useful additions to the details on facilities, travel and other practicalities in Notes from Higher Grounds.

If you have been altitude training and have similar information to share about another venue, then please get in touch.