BASQUE PYRENEES FREEDOM TRAILS’ ASSOCIATION (BPFTA)
Registration for the Walter Benjamin Freedom Trail, 25-26 September, 2021
Watch the 3.5-minute video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQ42_or-A1M and see updates on Twitter @bpfta
(To participate in the walking trail, prior registration with BPFTA is required)
The Pyrenees Freedom Trails’ Association is a voluntary organisation based in the Basque Country and with an international membership. It is dedicated to the recovery of the historic memory of WW2 Escape Lines’ operations along the Pyrenees and over its border between France and Spain and through which Allied escapers and evaders, amongst others were helped to flee from Nazi-occupied Europe during that conflict. The commemorative events are aimed at paying tribute to all those involved, but especially to local helpers and guides.
During WW2, clandestine smugglers’ paths across and along the length of the Pyrenees, were used as a major link in the escape lines’ networks. There were various safe-houses on either side of the border and the mountain guides, safe house keepers and other helpers were locally based. Donostia/San Sebastian, Donibane Lohitzune/St Jean de Luz, Oiartzun, Baiona, Errenteria, Mendibe, Irun, Donibane Garazi/St.-Jean-de-Pie-Port, Isaba, Orbaizeta, Otsagabia, Elizondo and Aldude were just some of the places involved in these clandestine escape routes.
It is important that all those involved on both sides of the frontier are forever remembered for their brave and selfless actions during WW2, knowing that, if caught, they would be tortured, sent to concentration camps and/or executed. Many were.
Thus, BPFTA aim to disseminate knowledge of these WWII escape lines over the Pyrenees and to pay tribute to all those involved from both sides of the frontier and who aided the escapers and evaders: the smugglers and others who acted as mountain guides, those responsible for logistics, the couriers and safe-house keepers, and to the fugitives themselves. We bring this historical memory to life through commemorative walks across the frontier and with tribute events for those involved, and also by bringing this heritage to the attention of students at second and third level education in Europe and elsewhere – their heritage.
Programme 24-26 September, 2021
Experienced guides will take us on this easy to moderate commemorative one-day trail. Early morning Saturday 25 September we will commence our commemorative hike, from Banyuls-sur-Mer in North Catalonia in the French Republic, hiking up to the Pyrenees, across the border at the Coll de Rumpisó and down to the town of Portbou in South Catalonia, within Spain. The walk is about 15km walking; a total of about 6 hours on foot, including rests and refreshment stops. We will thus emulate an escape route taken 80 years ago by, amongst others, Walter Benjamin. Places of historic and other interest will be pointed out on the way and tribute events with local people and representatives are planned in both Banyuls and Portbou. Only a day backpack is needed on the walk; the rest of the baggage can be left in the hotel or otherwise in our privately hired vehicle.
Friday 24 September – ARRIVAL
Participants from abroad should arrive at their hotel in Banyuls-sur-Mer, each participant making their own booking with the hotel of their choice. The group leaders are staying at the Solhotel (we have found it cheaper to book direct on their website, not at reception or through an online agency), but there are many others, or in nearby resorts. Participants not returning to Banyuls may leave their luggage at their hotel for collection and delivery to our destination of Portbou.
Participants are urged to reserve their accommodation as soon as possible, especially in Portbou for Saturday the 25th, given that there is limited accommodation there. Our group leaders are staying at the hotel Comodoro; other places are the hotel Masia and Hostal Portbou which is basic. There are also holiday resorts nearby: Colera, Platja Grifeu, Llança… communicated with Portbou by local bus and train.
The nearest airports are Perpignan, Girona and Barcelona. Perpignan is a city which has TGV or other high-speed train links from Paris (fastest 5 hours), Strasbourg (7.5 hours), Lourdes (4+ hours) and Toulouse (2.5 hours). It takes 30 minutes from the airport to Perpignan rail station and the same from there to Banyuls on the regional TER train. Other airports are Barcelona and Girona, cities, which have fast trains every two hours to Cerbere on the French side of the frontier; then a local train to Banyuls-sur-Mer takes 10 minutes every 20 minutes.
Saturday 25 September, 08:00 – THE TRAIL and THE TRIBUTE
After early breakfast, we commence the Benjamin Walter waymarked walking trail from Banyuls-sur-Mer. The 7.1km ascent from here takes about 3 hours, with various rest stops on the way, especially at Coll del Bast, Font del Bana and on the Pyrenean border at the Coll de Rumpisó, our highest point at 682m. As an option, we can walk up the 40m to the Coll de Querroig and, after a rest there, back down to the Col to start our descent to Portbou over 7.7km, another 2 hours. The trail, on either side of the frontier, has great views of the Mediterranean Sea below us. For those who need to shorten the route by 1 hour on the initial ascent, we can arrange for transport from Banyuls to Coll del Bast.
On arrival at Port Bou, participants not returning to Banyuls on the Saturday can have their luggage delivered to them in Portbou. At some time during the evening and/or on the Sunday morning a tribute will be held in Portbou to thank all those in the region who helped escapers and evaders during WW2. Dinner on Saturday will be at about 21:00