What is a freedom trail?

Freedom Trail Treks offers a wide variety of adventure travel tours, but we specialise in historic freedom trails.

A freedom trail is a trek that follows a route historically used by an individual or group to escape persecution. Many of these escape routes cross international borders, such as the French-Spanish border formed by the Pyrenees mountains. During World War II, over 33,000 Frenchmen alone escaped Nazi occupied France by crossing the Pyrenees into neutral Spain or Andorra.

Today, with stories of refugees fleeing war and persecution dominating headlines, tackling these classic freedom trails is a great way to combine a passion for history and adventure travel with an appreciation for the contemporary struggles of those crossing borders in search of safety. A Freedom Trail is also a way to commemorate those lost in conflict and the commemoration and connection with local communities transcends boundaries. En route you can feel connection with those lost on the Halifax bomber, people working in the escape networks and local communities. Multiple cultures can be involved with this and we have had visitors from the UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Canada, South Africa and USA .

During the early years of the Nazi occupation of France, the Ariège region was still in the ‘free zone’. Although under the control of the Vichy police, many evaders managed to reach Spain on their own via a moderate (though still challenging!) route through the Port de Salau.

Freedom Trail long weekend via the port de Salau (2087m) which was used pre-November 1942 involves two days of trekking, stopping for a night at the Refuge del Fornet at 1,600m. It makes a great introduction to cross-border escape routes and is located on the border between the Couserans and Catalonia.  In the middle ages, it was served by the hospital of Ste Marie de Salou which depended on the knights of St Jean de Jérusalem. At that time, pilgrims used it to return to St Jacques de Compostelle and it is also the site of an old tungsten mine and its grand arches remain there today.

The Andorra Freedom Trail following the route of Durrandeu ascending the Aston valley and crossing over to Soldeu involves 4 days trekking, 6 days total with slightly easier high mountain terrain than the classic Freedom trail route. On entering Andorra walking above Encamp you will see the old building of radio Andorra pictured below from where news of escapes were transmitted via coded messages and songs.

In November 1942, the Nazis occupied the former ‘free zone’ and surveillance increased dramatically along the Pyrenees. This forced escapees to take on more difficult crossings through the high mountains with the help of local guides.

The most famous of these escape routes is the Chemin de la Liberté (Freedom Trail) which follows the path taken by at least 782 Allied airmen and Jewish refugees.

This six day trip involves four days of trekking, beginning at the freedom trail museum in St Girons before ascending to the Estagnous Refuge at 2,286m and descending into Spain to arrive in Vielha. We commemorate those who died in the Halifax bomber wreckage above the Subera refuge and experience the exhilaration of crossing the border into Spain over the col de Clauere. As the most famous of all freedom treks, it makes a great ‘bucket list’ adventure. Book this trail now!

Coastal Freedom Trail – Walter Benjamin Escape Route

This spectacular route along the Vermillion Coast commemorates the final, tragic journey of Walter Benjamin, a celebrated Jewish philosopher. In 1940 Benjamin was in poor physical condition and had heart disease, but he managed to obtain an US visa, and had only to escape from France to secure safe passage to America.

With great difficulty, thanks to the help of his guide Lisa Fittko, Benjamin succeeded in crossing the mountains, but was detained by Spanish police in Portbou. Fearing that he would be sent back to France, Benjamin took his own life in custody. His companions were later allowed to continue on their route, suggesting that Benjamin’s tragical death was avoidable. As part of the Varian Fry escape line as depicted in the film Transatlantic where two Americans and their allies form a scrappy rescue operation in 1940 Marseilles to help artists, writers and other refugees fleeing Europe during WWII.

This five-day trip follows the Mediterranean coast from Collioure in France to Port Lligat in Spain. Combining spectacular beaches and mountain trekking, it packs a great deal of variety into a historical journey. Book this trail now!

The Cathar Way And Carcassonne

Escape and Evasion for Families (4 days, 2 days trekking)

Why not make it even more fun for the family and choose a fun packed mini escape to reach a border with Spain or Andorra. Try drawing your own escape map or take on one of our blindfold challenges. Discover the characters who operated in as SOE agents and see how people were transferred from Marseille to Perpignan or Toulouse. Discover a dead drip and listen to a recording from French actors depicting discovery of escapees by a German patrol. Navigate to a target to pick up some information and solve a problem. Suitable for 8+ year olds and their family members.

Ask us for more information… Running at Easter and during the summer holidays