Magical Mystery Tour - Days 1, 2 and 3

Barcelona, what a magical city! Justifiably earning its reputation as one of the most vibrant and buzzing cities of the world with broad boulevards lined with trees, cafes and throngs of people. Barcelona is also the city of the extraordinary architect Gaudi. Over the days prior to the tour commencing our group started to assemble in the hotel, usually in the hotel bar. By the time the tour began and we all officially met for the first time the majority of travellers had already met and gotten to know each other.

Day 1 Barcelona - Friday 11 September

Today was Catalonia Day. The day of celebration and demonstration as the locals dress up in bright red and orange striped shirts or drape themselves with the flag of their state. Our hotel for the night was the stylish H10 Metropolitan Hotel Barcelona, located right in the very centre of town beside the main Catalu–a square. Here we met our fearless Tour Manager, Karen, and toasted each other with a welcome drink of Cava (Spanish bubbles). Following this we ventured to Restaurant de les 7 Portes to enjoy our Mystery Tour welcome dinner. The ride was eventful with masses of cars hitting the streets, along with road diversions and police redirections. But it was well worth it with copious amounts of paella, meats, salamis, bruschetta, breads, cod balls, calamari, olives and cheeses, and wine enjoyed by all.

During the evening the guesswork began with a number of travellers jotting down their theories and guesses of the trip route.

From my perspective, it was fascinating how perplexed people were as to where they were going and how wild their guesses were. They were also intrigued as to when our two flights would be. Various guesses were thrown across the room with Provence, Andorra, Zaragoza, Pamplona and the Pyrenees being amongst the many. Fiona even threw in Zimbabwe! However pretty sure she was just stirring.

When I reminded them all of the flights involved at some time during the tour, and that right then, as we were dining and enjoying the evening, the staff at the hotel were in their rooms, packing their bags and yes, you guessed it, we were going straight to the airport after dinner to catch our first flight. You should have seen everyone’s faces! Delight, mirth, utter surprise and horror. Laughter was loud, and some of it sounded nervous. Of course I was joking! The relief was audible.

No one actually guessed our where our next destination would be however Andorra was the closest. Several said it, but Bruce and Julie Hutson wrote it down as well. Someone has to be a winner, and so they won the very first ever Mystery tour prize of, drum roll please, a pretty tin of Barcelona boiled sweets and a couple of chocolates.

Day 2 Couiza - Saturday 12 September

A long day was promised and a long day was delivered. There are two days on this whole trip where we have a bit of driving and travelling to do, and this was one of them.  Whilst the total driving distance was around 339 kms we had two stops, and one of them was high up in the Pyrenees Mountain chain, which of course slowed us down a bit.

Our destination was a small town in France called Couiza where we stayed the next three nights and so we were in three countries today with breakfast in Spain, late lunch in Andorra and dinner in a delightful chateau in France. Boarding our touring coach, our first stop of the day was about an hour down the road at the Monastery of Montserrat. The weather had been cloudy with a little rain but as we drove higher up the serrated mountain the clouds seemed to stir and began to clear, giving us eerie glimpses of the huge drop into the valley below and the peaks above. Here we met out local guide who outlined the history of the monastery and taking us through the glorious church, past the famous Black Madonna.Late morning we boarded our coach and wound our way right up into the mighty Pyrenees to have a mid-afternoon break in the Principality of Andorra. From there we descended into the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France and into the Land of the Cathars.

Chateau des Ducs de Joyeuse

As the Beatles sang, it was a long and winding road, but it led us to our 500 year old Chateau hotel, Chateau des Ducs de Joyeuse, where we stayed the next three nights. The hotel featured a spiral staircase, rooms with antique paintings and furniture and some with a 4 poster bed, the whole building oozed with buckets of history. Here we were welcomed by the chateau owner Vincent Nourrisson, who later gave us a little insight into the history and background of his incredible chateau. Our welcome drink and dinner was in the Grand Hall overlooking the delightful illuminated internal courtyard.

Day 3 Couiza - Sunday 13 September

This morning we visited Castelnaudary which sits on the picture postcard Canal Du Midi. The canal was built a few hundred years ago as a vital trading link connecting Bordeaux and the Mediterranean, opening up the whole region to exporting its produce and wines.

Canal du Midi

Boarding our canal boat we cruised slowly up the placid canal way, past fishermen, ducks, walkers, whilst being overtaken by cyclists following the tow path. Bit by bit, the sun beat its way through the clouds, filtered by the green leafy canopy from lines and lines of gorgeous plain trees. Gliding up river we entered one of the famous locks and watched whilst we were hydraulically raised up to the next section of the canal. And to think this system was created so many generations ago, and it still functions smoothly. On the return leg we did a loop around the broad basin before mooring up next to a waterside restaurant where we all enjoyed a generous lunch, salad followed by a steaming bowl of cassoulet which is a local dish named after the clay pots which the rich bean and mixed meat stew is traditionally baked in.

Mirepoix

Keeping away from any motorways, it seems every French road, avenue, town square and canal is always lined with rows and rows of tall plain trees. Driving through undulating fields of vineyards we reached an incredible town called Mirepoix, where we enjoyed an afternoon stop. The compact centre of town makes an extraordinary visit. The remarkable central town square is completely surrounded by half-timbered 15th century houses. Each house overhangs on giant wooden supports, and shaded arcades underneath with different ornamentations, colours and painted shutters. In the evening we visited the local restaurant called Le Carnotzet.

Stay tuned for more Magical Mystery Tour updates as the tour continues.

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Euan Landsborough

Euan Landsborough is the Managing Director and Tour Designer at Albatross Tours