The Cami del Bons Homes. A hike along the footprints of the past.
A narrow dirt path winds up along the side of the valley, bending and switchbacking through darkened forest as we leave the green pastures of Gosol behind us. We have been following this trail for hours since the early morning and are still far from our destination. The wood is alive with the chirp of birdsong, windsong, and rustling foliage. We spot what we think are packs of deer from time to time and watch them jump and prance between trees, in and out of shafts of flitted sunlight that the forest’s canopy has allowed to pass. We stop still in our tracks, holding our breaths as the deer race by, unwilling to break the magic of the moment with the slightest sound.
Unlike the men, women, and children who used this path to escape torture and death almost a thousand years ago, we have the luxury of taking our time. We, fortunately, are not on the run from a murderous and oppressive regime.
We climb higher through the fern, wild flowers, and moss; the trees begin to thin and wide swaths of sunrays hit the forest floor as the path levels out. Soon the woods are behind us and we emerge into a stunning mountain pass. Fields of green grass dance in the wind before us, as another valley stretches out in the horizon. Dropping our packs to the ground we inhale deeply and take in the panoramic views with wide eyes.
We try to imagine what the Cathari men and women who followed these paths eight hundred years before us thought when they emerged from the forest in this very spot. Were they as amazed? Did they have the time to marvel at the beauty of existence, right then and there, as we did? Were there tears in their eyes due to the sharp wind, like there were in ours? Or were their tears those of pain, sorrow, and loss? Were they hungry, tired, and afraid; fleeing from the ever encroaching Inquisition that would one day destroy them all?
The Cathars and the Cami dels Bons Homes
(If brief history lessons aren’t your thing Click here to proceed to a day-by-day hike synopsis.)
In the 13th century, the Catholic Church was waging war against those they considered heathen, those who did not submit to the established doctrine of “proper” worship. The Cathars were one such people denounced as heretics. Their beliefs did not align directly with the wishes of the Holy See, and thus they were excommunicated, hunted, and killed in brutal/grotesque fashion.
Indeed the Cathari were unique, as their brand of worship included a rejection of capital punishment and of war in general, they believed murder and killing to be abhorrent. Likewise, they did not eat meat or anything they thought was the product of reproduction, or anything derived from animal products, which essentially made them among the earliest “vegans” in the history of mankind (the Cathars did eat fish, but thought fish were “fruit” of the ocean). Because the Cathars believed in a complex system of reincarnation where souls kept returning to new human bodies until they attained perfection they considered gender meaningless, giving women equal rights within the Cathari hierarchy.
Such drastically divergent dogma had to be eliminated so the Holy See ordered the King of France, Philip Augustus, to deal with the heretic Cathari living in the southern reaches of his country. Philip was not in a hurry to lead a crusade himself, nor could he send his son Louis in his stead as the Prince was busy fighting enemies to the north, so he reluctantly discharged the task to some of his earls and barons, the most notable of whom was Simon de Montfort. Simon was a proper arsehole, and carried out his duty with extreme zeal, driven by righteous religious fanaticism and by a decree from the Pope that any lands seized from the Cathars or any of their supporters would be confiscated and given to the leaders of the newly formed Crusade. This decree was met with anger by many southern French lords, and led to a twenty year civil war of sorts, known as the Albigensian Crusade.
Ultimately, the tide of the war turned against the south, and the Cathars. Those Cathars which were not slain (after being tortured using a wide assortment of sordid and brutal methods) were driven out of France. Many survivors, hunted by the Inquisition, fled south from France through the Pyrenees mountains into Catalonia using paths that are now known as Cami dels Bons Homes.
Nowadays the Cami dels Bons Homes, or The Path of the Good Men, is home to markedly more serene scene. Winding its way for 200 kilometers from France into Catalonia by way of the Pyrenees mountain range, the trail is a cornucopia of beautiful views, idyllic meadows, and stunning valleys. The hike is not exactly easy, and at its most difficult can be quite challenging to someone who is not used to such endeavors. That said, we are not expert hikers, and we carried a bit too much gear day to day, and still managed to reach our destinations with plenty of daylight left to spare.
We hiked the trail from its most northern point in Catalonia down south to its conclusion in the town of Berga, excluding the French side of it due to time constraints. For information on the hike from its genesis at Montsegur in France check out the official Cami dels Bons Homes website. The Cami is marked as “GR 107” on maps you will get of the region, and the trail markers you will following are horizontal white and red blazes (scroll down to the bottom for a photo of the marker).
Below is a day-by-day breakdown of the Catalonian side of the hike. Click on any of the days for a comprehensive overview of the hike itself, as well as a description of the accommodations we used along the way.
Day 1 – Prullans, Spain
- Starting Point: Prullans
- Ending Point: Prullans
- Distance: 9 kilometers/ 5.5 miles
- Altitude Gain/Loss (in meters): 200 ascent, 490 descent
- Est. Time on Trail: 2 – 4 hours
Prullans is a quaint and quiet little village overlooking Cerdanya valley. We arrived the day before our hike began and basked in the tranquility while taking in the green valley views. The next day was our first on the trail, and it was basically a warm-up for what was to follow after. Our hosts at the fabulous Cerdanya Resort hotel drove us some six kilometers out of town and left us near an access point to the trail in the La Llosa valley. We followed it north for a hour or so until we encountered a serene waterfall, after which we hiked back towards the hotel, making a hour long detour to visit a small village overlooking the valley. There is very little in terms of elevation and this stage of the trail can be walked by just about anyone who enjoys short hikes.
Day 2 – Prullans to Baga through Parc Natural Cadi-Moixero
- Starting Point: Prullans
- Ending Point: Baga
- Distance: 27 kilometers/ 16.5 miles
- Altitude Gain/Loss (in meters): 1,450 ascent, 1,700 descent
- Est. Time on Trail: 7 – 9 hours
The first stage of the path, running from Prullans to the town of Bellver de Cerdanya, is the least interesting of the entire Cami as it follows a busy road. The Cerdanya Resort can give you a lift to Bellver, and we recommend you make use of that service, as there is a LOT of walking to be done. Once in Bellver, the true hiking begins.
This day is probably the longest on the 5 day itinerary, and can be the most physically challenging. You will crest two mountain passes, and find yourself gaining and losing altitude quite frequently. The views along the trail here are stunning. Leave early and make sure to bring a double lunch. There are two “refugi” shelters along the way where you can buy prepared food, water, and even beer, but they are only open during high season. Upon reaching Baga we recommend staying at Moli del Caso.
Day 3 – Baga to Gosol
- Starting Point: Baga
- Ending Point: Gosol
- Distance: 24 kilometers/ 15 miles
- Altitude Gain/Loss (in meters): 1,160 ascent, 1,300 descent
- Est. Time on Trail: 6 – 8 hours
The first stage of the trail here is a gentle walk alongside a river flowing past Baga. The next 13 kilometers or so are spent gradually gaining altitude, until you crest onto flat stretches of alpine highlands. Fantastic views of the Pedraforca mountain are to be had as you walk along sparse, rocky fields. The last segment is a downhill descent into Gosol.
This awesome little town was once Pablo Picasso’s home for a few months. He was a busy man while living in Gosol, maybe inspired by the natural beauty surrounding the town, and his artistic output during that time was quite prolific. Luckily there is a museum devoted to his stay while in Gosol right in the main square of the town, so make sure to stop by and pay it a visit. We stayed here for an extra day spending two nights at the Hostal Cal Fransisco, both to rest our weary legs, visit the museum, and to explore some of the outskirts of the town.
Day 4 – Gosol to Peguera
- Starting Point: Gosol
- Ending Point: Peguera/Cal Barbut
- Distance: 18 kilometers/ 11 miles
- Altitude Gain/Loss (in meters): 900 ascent, 700 descent
- Est. Time on Trail: 7 – 9 hours
The trail runs right by the Hostal Cal Fransisco, so minutes after we checked out we were back on the path again. This is the second longest day of the Spanish side of the Cami dels Bons Homes, and is just as physically intense as Day 2 was. The first leg of the trail runs through farm land and the valley bed, past a couple of small villages, as the impressive Pedraforca mountain stands every vigilant to your left.
After a couple of hours you will find yourself in a quiet forest and the path begins to climb steeply, switch-backing up and up until you reach a mountain pass, where you will have great glimpses of the Pedraforca again. Once at the pass prepare yourself for beautiful views as the forest gives way to a meadow. This is a great place for a picnic before you begin a steep and rocky descent. A few hours later you will find yourself at the abandoned town of Peguera. From there you can arrange to be picked up and driven four kilometers to the only real accommodation in the area, Cal Barbut.
Day 5 – Peguera to Berga
- Starting Point: Peguera
- Ending Point: Berga
- Distance: 12 kilometers/ 7.5 miles
- Altitude Gain/Loss (in meters): 800 ascent, 830 descent
- Est. Time on Trail: 3 – 4 hours
The final day is much easier on the legs than the three previous days, and the altitude gain and loss is far more gentle, so you can take your time and enjoy your final hours on the trail. You will walk through meadows, fields, forest, and will get a great view of Berga from the final point of the trek, the Sanctuary of Santa Maria de Queralt. Once here congratulate yourself! You have walked an amazing route through Catalonia, a trail that will almost certainly be far more popular one day than it is now.
We stayed at the Alberg de Berga on our last night, and spent the next day walking around this town, which is by far the largest human settlement of the 5 days on the trail.