By Greg Chapman
Targasonne is a beautifully situated village located (just!) on the French side of the Pyrenees, a few kilometres south of the equally picturesque, if slightly larger, municipality of Font Romeu. The most striking geographical feature of the area is the chaotic labyrinth of boulders strewn about the surrounding hill sides. This morass of rock reaches a central concentration in and around Targasonne’s southern flank and makes for an astoundingly comprehensive bouldering destination.
Targasonne, often referred to as “The Chaos”, gained notoriety to the French climbing community around thirty years ago, when the area received visitations from a number of strong, internationally recognised, climbers, such as Jackie Godoffe, Patrick Edlinger and Patrick Berhault. These visiting legends acted as a catalyst and throughout the proceeding years the area has been developed, by locals and visiting climbers alike, into what is widely regarded as France's second best bouldering destination – after, of course, Fontainebleau. In 2004 the area played host to the Petzl Rock Trip (“Targassonic”) when 500 climbers (including Lisa Rands, Chris Sharma, Dave Graham, Pedro Pons, Dany Andrada, Mauro Calibani. Chez les français, Tonio Lamiche, Jérôme Meyer, Daniel Dulac) from around the world descended on the venue, resulting in the opening up a number of hard new lines as well as further raising the profile of the area.
Due to its altitude of around 1500m the area is prime for a sojourn during spring (April-May) and autumn (September-October) months. Whilst you can climb during the summer you will find the weather getting pretty warm, particularly in the middle of the day. Conversely, it’s worth remembering that nearby Font Romeu is essentially renowned as a ski resort, so winter visitations could be interspersed with some snow, although the guide assures us that snow at the boulders rarely stays for long.
The mountainous Pyrenean backdrop creates a glorious ambiance which combined with the alpine meadows, scrubby hazel woodland and of course the boulders themselves makes for a beautiful location. The climbing is omnifarious in style, with plenty of slabs, walls and overhangs to keep you entertained. Before I visited the area I had heard tales of a rough merciless granite which, in some cases, was unpleasant to climb on. On the whole I felt this an unfair appraisal of the rock and thought it no rougher than much of the rock which makes up many of Switzerland's hugely popular mountain bouldering locations. That said the rock is abrasive so it’s worth pacing yourself, avoiding lines in the sun and minimising attempts on individual problems to spread the wear to your hands.
Obviously there are hundreds of problems (actually over a 1000!) at Targasonne and as with anywhere, the matter of which are the best is always open to debate. That said, here's a selection of my favourites from each sector. For your reference, "assis" refers to a sitting start.
Secteur Proue (Campsite)
Obscure retraction (5c), Traverer lamourir (6b+), Love is in the Air (7a+). There are also a number of great newer lines across the grades located in the campsite immediately east of those featured in the guide.
Secteur Chapeau (Campsite)
Problem 88 (4b), Tape a l'oeil (5a), Yen Pox (6b), Bourrinator (5c/6c assis), Problem 1 (6c+), L'ecume des lourds (7a+), Facehugger (7b+/8a+ assis) [not in guide - the superb wall right of L'oeuf d'alien], L'oeil du voisin (7c/8a assis).
Secteur de l'Aigle
La suterelle (5c), Scato no vice (6b+), Vicious game (7b+), Le feu occulte (7b+/8a assis).
Telephone (4b), Chronique de la haine ordinaire (7b).
Secteur de l'Arche
Problem 42 (6c), L'aliene (7a+).
Secteur des 3 Grasses
Plaisir (4b), Diplodocus (6a), Legitime defonce (7a+).
RDV pou un ange (5a), Orangine (5c), D'hier et d'aujourd'hui (6b+), Problem 58, (6b+), Harmonium (6c+/7b+ assis).
Dalmil (4a), Autosugestion (5c).
L'edlingette (4c), Magie d'oz (7a), Le cas de force majeur (7b).
Hey yop (5c), Le balance (6c), Problem 38 (7a), Pute effraction (7a+), Philosophie du chaos (7b+), Clem rit (7c), Magic Instinct (7c/8a assis).
Mange plat (6a), Creatura (7c+/8b assis).
Breefing (5b), 3 Kiwis (7a), Sing while you may (7b/8a assis).
Secteur Dieux paiens
Caviard pour les autres (4c), Petit prince (3a), Double jack (6a+), Pleasure Dome (6b+/7a+ assis), Big Mac (7b), Bob's your oncle (7c).
Lamed vav (4c), El mezcladore (6a), L'aquarium envole (7a+) [cover shot!] Kebab traum (6c/7b assis), El Hadjiz (7b+), Le tombeau de damme panc ashash (7c+/8b assis).
Secteur Balcons bavards
Petardep (6a), Cerdagne air line (7c+).
Secteur Crash test
Sun again (6c), La vague (6a), Grand petit d'homme (7a+).
Beaute cachee (6b+), Plug in (6c), Trait de demonologie (7b), Katalan psycho (7c) Traite de slope (7c+), No more cookies (7c+), Uniformicide (8a), I shot sarconazy (8a/8b assis).
Image below: L'oeil du voisin assis, Secteur Chapeau (Campsite).
Fred Bertin's 2007 guidebook has been out of print for a couple of years now, however it still covers most of the best climbing - 17 areas containing over 1000 boulder problems from Font 2 to 8b - and can be hired (along with crash pads) from the La Griole campsite. Selected Targasonne problems are also featured in the "EBloc - Bouldering in Spain" guidebook.
The La Griole campsite is pretty sociable (there is a bar open July-August) and is a good setting for a spot of slacklining or just chilling out. It also has table tennis, french boules and board games. To revitalise sore joints and muscles there is a thermal baths at Llo which includes warm indoor and outdoor pools, Jacuzzi and sauna. There is also a municipal swimming pool in Targasonne. If there is still snow on the hills, Font Romeu is one of 12 local downhill ski resorts within easy reach. Here you will find Nordic skiing through trees and across a high plateau. The mountains contain plenty of fell running and mountain biking trails and the area is also extremely popular with paragliders. For those seeking some incredible scenery and a pleasant walk Lac (Lake) des Bouillouses in the mountains above Font Romeu can be reached via a cable car ride and an easy walk - the views are breathtaking.
As the weather is generally pretty decent around the time most people visit I would recommend camping as good budget option. La Griole is a very hospitable, family friendly campsite run by an (English speaking) couple. This has good facilities, is situated within “The Chaos” itself, and is reasonably priced. It also offers static caravan type cabins for those seeking a little more comfort.
For those of you seeking even more refined accommodation there are plenty of gite’s in the area which can be rented from around £190 per a week, details can be found by contacting the Tourist Information at Font Romeu via font-romeu.fr. When visiting the area out of of the ski season good value accommodation can be found at the numerous ski orientated apartment blocks around Font Romeu.
Targasonne is easily accessed from a number of French airports and isn’t too far from Barcelona, from these you will need to hire a car to complete the journey. Perpignan airport is the closest: From here head for Font-Romeu, which takes 1½ to 2 hours. Toulouse is the next closest (2¼ hours) and finally Carcassonne at 2½ hours away is still within easy access. Airport Connotations: Ryan Air: Liverpool to Carcassonne, Dublin to Carcassonne, Stanstead to Carcassonne, Stanstead to Perpignan Easyjet: Bristol to Toulouse BMI: Manchester to Perpignan
Supplies and Eating Out
There are two good supermarkets (Lidl and Super U) a patisserie and a sports/outdoor store a few kilometres up the road in Egat. There are also numerous bars, restaurants and smaller shops in Font Romeu.