Visitors, tackling a steep, half-hour climb from the parking area, come to make a pilgrimage—esthetic or spiritual—to this celebrated medieval abbey. It's one of the most photographed in Europe thanks to its sky-kissing location atop a triangular promontory at an altitude of nearly 3,600 feet. St-Martin du Canigou's breathtaking mountain setting was due, in part, to an effort to escape the threat of marauding Saracens from the Middle East. Constructed in 1009 by Count
Guifré of Cerdagne, then damaged by an earthquake in 1428 and abandoned in 1783, the abbey was diligently (perhaps too diligently) restored by the Bishop of Perpignan early in the 20th century. The oldest parts are the cloisters and the two churches, of which the lower church, dedicated to Notre-Dame-sous-Terre, is the most ancient. Rising above is a stocky, fortified bell tower. Although the hours vary, Masses are sung daily; call ahead to confirm. Easter Mass here is especially joyous and moving.
Casteil, 2 km (1 mile) south of Vernet-les-Bains, Vernet-les-Bains, 66820, France