Relive the main Exile steps in the middle of beautiful natural protected areas

The route ‘From the Pyrenees to the Sea’ takes us through the same territory where the Republican exodus took place. We will be following the steps of the escape routes of the exiles and see the most relevant landmarks of that historical event.

Below is a guide of the places that hold the memories of the exiles from February 1939 in the Pyrenees of Girona and Northern Catalonia, stage by stage, in the order in which we will come across them along our route.

Photo: Roger Violet. Appeared in L’Il·lustration of February 18th 1939 (Famíly Gracia Bamala between coll d’Ares and Prats de Molló)

Stage 1

This stage crosses the Natural Park of the Sources of rivers Ter and Freser and the Natural Interest Area of Alta Garrotxatwo of the main protected areas of the Eastern Pyrenees. Jaw-dropping sights on both sides, from the high mountain terrains by the Valley of Camprodon, to the solitary peaks of the hilly landscape of La Garrotxa.

Elements of historical interest related to the Republican Exile:

Camprodon (Ripollès): the 1939 Republican ‘Retirada’ (withdrawal) passed through here, headed for Prats de Molló and Arles de Tec.

  • Garcia Tower, which lodged president Negrín for a brief time.
  • Traces of paint from the Civil War in the Plaça de la Vila (town square) (Antifascist committee)
  • Museum of La Retirada: private collection of Cuadrado and Bassaganya of war items related to the Civil War and the Exile, discovered with metal detectors in the Valley of Camprodon.
  • Francoist military fortifications (Organización Defensiva Pirineos –Pyrenees Defense Organization-, 1945-1950.)

Former customs guard house, in Molló

Other interesting elements of this stage, not related with the Republican Exile:

  • Pont Nou de Camprodon: a single arch bridge over river Ter, dating from the 12th century, declared National Cultural Heritage.
  • Sanctuary of Nostra Senyora del Coral (Our Lady of Coral): small church dating from the 17th century below the Pass of Ares, in the area of Prats de Molló, traditional setting for ‘aplecs’ (popular gatherings of religious and/or cultural significance), converted into a hostel a few years ago.

Stage 2

This stage never leaves the north side, through the lush areas of Alt Vallespir, under the shadow of Comanegra peak and Pic de les Bruixes (Witches’ Peak), in Alta Garrotxa.

Elements of historical interest related to the Republican Exile:

  • Hostal de la Muga (Albanyà, Alt Empordà): La Retirada (1939) crossed through here headed for Custoja and Sant Llorenç de Cerdans. It was trail used often by the anti-francoist guerrilla called ‘el maquis’ between 1939 and 1970.
  • Malrem Pass, between Beget (Ripollès) and La Menera (Vallespir). La Retirada (1939) passed through here.


Cabrenç Towers

Sant Llorenç de Cerdans (Vallespir)

  • Provisional concentration camp in 1939 (Pla de l’Illa and Camp del Centró)
  • Museum of Traditional Crafts (partially dedicated to La Retirada), an exhibition renovated in 2012. In the very setting of the museum, many sick refugees took temporary refuge, both civilian and military.
  • Chapel of Santa Maria de la Sort, which offered refuge to the exiles thanks to the chaplain Bousquet (Jean Baptiste Bousquet, 1889 Perpignan – 1976, Saint Laurent de Salanque.)

Cabrenç Towers

Arles de Tec

  • La Retirada memorial (1997) at the entrance of the village.


Other important elements not related to the Republican Exile:

  • The Towers of Cabrenç: three magnificent watchtowers dating from the 12th century, found between la Menera, Serrallonga, and Sant Llorenç de Cerdans. They once dominated the entire area of Alt Vallespir.
  • Traditional Catalan shoes factory in Saint Laurent de Cerdans

Stage 3

Once we get to the pass, the route takes us deep into the rough wilderness of les Salines, a rocky terrain with more granite than vegetation, which comes to die at Roc de Frausa, from which we can see l’Alt Empordà to the south, and spectacular beech woods to the north.

Monolith at Dead Woman pass

Elements of historical interest related to the Republican Exile:

Les Illes (Morellàs-Les Illes, Vallespir)

  • Border pass from Coll de Lli (La Vajol). Crossing point of the main republican authorities on February 5th 1939.
  • Memorial to the Republican exiled fighters (1989), Memorial to the International Brigades (1996)
  • Memorial where presidents Azaña, Companys and Aguirre were lodged, at Hostal dels Trabucaires (1990)
  • Plaque to the French runaways (1994)

The path to Las-Illas

La Vajol (Alt Empordà)

  • Memorial – signage for la Retirada and The ways of Exile at the entrance of La Vajol; monument dedicated to the exiles (2000) at the Mina Canta, in front of Mas Barris and Coll de Lli.
  • ‘Negrín’s Mine’ (1937). Refuge and deposits of Republican gold and art of the collection belonging to the Spanish National Heritage.
  • Coll de LLi. Crossing point of La Retirada and the main republican authorities on February 5th 1939. The last truck loaded with Spanish National Heritage art crossed through here (Tinent Blasi)
  • Can Barris (site of the Republican presidency during La Retirada)
  • Memorial dedicated to the Exile erected by La Generalitat de Catalunya (1979 and 1989)
  • Memorial l’Amical de Mauthausen (1986)
  • Memorial of Foundation Sabino Arana (2001)
  • Monument to the Republican Exiles (2000)
  • Francoist military fortifications. Remains of bunkers of Line P (Pyrenees Defense Organization, 1945-1950)

Maçanet de Cabrenys (Alt Empordà)

  • Border pass through Les Salines and Tapis towards Ceret and Costoja. In the route of La Retirada (1939)
  • Lodging of Diego Martínez Barrio (President of the Courts) on the way to exile in February 1939.
  • Memorial to the two ‘maquis’ fallen in Mas de la Costa, April 7th 1950, Miguel Montané Escalas and Joan Platé Verges, in the town cemetery.
  • Memorial – signage of La Retirada and Camins de l’Exili, in front of the tourism information office of Maçanet.

Stage 4

This stage straddles the Natural Interest Area of Massís de les Salines and the Natural Interest Point of Serra de l’Albera. It takes us through different types of woodland, between high ridges and north-facing mountain sides. Deep beeches and mature cork oak woods, a good spot to appreciate the transition between humid Atlantic forests, and the dry Mediterranean woods. Impressive woodland treasures.

Panissars pass (El Pertús)

Elements of historical interest related to the Republican Exile:

  • Coll de Manrella (Agullana): on the route of the refugees. Monument to President Lluís Companys (1981)
  • Coll de Portell (Agullana): on the route of the refugees.


El Portús (Vallespir)

  • Border pass 1939. Main crossing point of the Republican exiles.
  • Bellaguarda Castle (camp hospital in 1939)
  • Football camp (weapons depository 1939)
  • Grave of Antoni Rovira i Virgili, Cementiri of Portús, 1999

Beech northern forests closed to Mediterranean sea

La Jonquera (Alt Empordà)

  • Border pass towards Coll de Portús and Coll de Panissars, on the French border. Main crossing point of La Retirada (1939)
  • MUME (Exile’s Memorial Museum, 2008)
  • La Retirada memorial at Barri dels Límits—El Portús. Sculpture by Dutch artist Nicolas Joosten.
  • Francoist military fortifications. Remains of Linia P bunkers (Organización Defensiva Pirineos, 1943-1950). 1943 Bunkers (Organización C-6) and 1948 (Organización C-15)

Stage 5

Ascent to Puig Neulós (1,253 m.) the highest peak in l’Alt Empordà and Rosselló, at the heart of Natural Interest Area of Serra de l’Albera. From this point on, we will take a narrow path which follows the very ridge of the pass, taking us east, with the Mediterranean in sight, between the plains of l’Empordà and Rosselló, offering almost a bird sight view. We will stroll across the fields of de pass of l’Albera, winding deep into the spectacular fresh, cool beech woods flattened by strong winds, clinging to hostile terrains whipped by the northern wind, la Tramuntana. Before we come to the terrace of the Salafort peak, we surround the Maçana Forest Natural Reserve (Argelers), a mature wood which is well worth taking the time to explore if you extend your visit once you arrive in Cotlliure.

Serra de l’Albera Natural Park

Historical elements of interest related to the Republican Exile:

Cotlliure (Rosselló)

  • Memorial of the Castle-prison of Cotlliure (where republican exiles classified as ‘dangerous’ were held during 1939.)
  • Memorial grave to Antonio Machado (Cotlliure cemetery) (1958)
  • Memorial to Antonio Machado / Quintana Residence (where Machado was lodged during his stay in Cotlliure on February 1939.) The street is named after the poet.
  • The Maternity Home of Elna.

Exile remain all along the route


Other interesting elements not related to the Republican Exile:

  • Snow well of Puig Neulós: a fabulous, covered snow well over 12 meters deep and 6 in diameter, below the peak on the south side.

The Democratic Memorial and the County Council of l’Alt Empordà, in collaboration with MUME, placed signage in 2009 marking a number of memorials from the Civil War and the Exile in l’Alt Empordà, with the name Retirada i Camins de l’Exili de l’Alt Empordà (Withdrawal and paths of exile). El Pays d’Art et d’Histoire Transfrontalier les Vallées Catalanes du Tech et du Ter has been informing from 2013 about the memorial heritage in the Mediterranean Pyrenees related to the Spanish Republican exile.

This information has been partially obtained from pàgina web of the Exile Memorial Museum (MUME.)