Monday, 18 June 2018

Forays into Spain

When in Cerbère, it's only a brief nip over the border - about ten minutes by car, five by train and an interesting ramble of about half an hour up a hillside behind Cerbère - to cross into Spain.
Long gone are the days of border control although the vestiges are well apparent in the shape of the now-graffiti covered customs buildings. Here's an image of what it used to look like.


We like Port-Bou. It's rather like a mirror of Cerbère with its huge railway sidings, although a little bigger in the way of shops and restaurants. On the port-side is a clutch of good and inexpensive eateries, our favourite being The Voramar - this for slightly more extravagant occasions as its a little more up-market than its neighbours - that said, it's still a lot cheaper than anything similar on the other side of the border. At time of writing, our beautifully prepared and rather Nouvelle Cuisine menu, including 'amuse bouche' and selection of olive oils to taste was still just under 20 euros a head.

Port-Bou, for those who like, as we do, slightly 'Insolite' as the French say (a little odd, atypic, weird even) places, this is a must with its relaxed and slightly run-down air, sea views, and little interesting-to-explore back streets.

Port Bou Ramblas at night
Moving along the coast a little, the towns become a little busier and more sought-after, the prices in the estate agents windows reflecting this.
Inland is well worth an exploration (in car, as I don't think buses are much of an option, or a good hike - excellent sign-posted footpaths everywhere.)
This time we did a tour around various villages and small towns, many of them featuring beautiful old stone buildings, little shady squares and . . . no humans, or virtually, although we were there on a Sunday afternoon so probably everyone was eating or sleeping off eating.
Peralada was particularly lovely and I think if it had been in France might have given a 'Plus beaux village de France' badge.



I can't remember which village this was but I loved this communal hall and the strange but rather wonderful tea we were served

Friday, 27 April 2018

First swim of the year

This morning at 8.30 with a few bemused 'Cerberians' looking on . . . the water was about 18 degrees, I think, but certainly above the extremities-freeze point.
After breakfast, I walked up to the lighthouse point and looked across to, Port de La Selva and Le cap de Creus, the atmosphere bright and clear, and, NO wind - quite unusual for this particular point of land. The early spring brought much rain and the resulting wild flower carpet of pink, yellow, lilac and white was truly beautiful.
This afternoon I may take the one euro bus and visit Collioure - a good time to go before the crowds start appearing in May onwards. Or I might just sit, drink tea and read in the deckchair that has been languishing on our terrace through the winter . . .

Update: I did go to Collioure on the one euro bus - a vertiginous route of about 45 mins, and came back on the train: a straight, relaxing journey of 15 minutes, with equally lovely views - cost three euros 75. Personally, I'd not buy a beer/ice cream and go for the quick ride.
Collioure was, as ever, absurdly pretty, hence the buses of tourists already arriving - I'd thought it might still be out of season, but I enjoyed rambling around the old streets and this time went up to the old restored windmill which is well worth the small trek, for the mill itself and the wonderful views.
Back in the main town, I had a cup of tea, earwigged the various conversations around me, sketched the harbour and returned to Cerbère where there were about three people on the beach and no nicknacks or ice-cream.

View from the walk up to the Cerbère lighthouse

Looking towards Le Cap de Creus in Spain

View of Collioure from near the windmill

my favourite Collioure house

Ceramic lizard souvenirs 

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Cerbère en fête

Early August in Cerbère means a three day 'party' in honour of St Sauveur featuring much eating, drinking and dancing.
This year we were in the town for the first of the evenings' celebrations which started with a brass and percussion band playing under the shady plane trees of the town's main gathering point - Le Place de la Republique.


An hour later, everyone moved to Le Ramblas, a raised area above the beach to eat roasted veal and to be entertained by Samba dancers and musicians. Following on was a bizarre striptease act featuring one small, cleanly shaven, (all over - well, as far as we could see) muscly man.


              A Chippendale revealing all to an event organiser

When the crowd had recovered, a fire-juggling belly dancer appeared and danced to a Bollywood soundtrack for half an hour, then a DJ, and following, the main event: a four piece band wearing satin leopard skin dressing gowns, terrible wigs and 'flip-down' shades. After some 'clowning  about' they removed the gowns, revealing tiny black thongs and then proceeded to pull on lycra leopard skin pants over the top of the thongs and crash into a scary rendition of 'Staying Alive'.
We left after the next song (which appeared to be about buying chocolate croissants) went back to the flat and sat on our tiny terrace with mint tea listening to the base booming, wondering what time it might all end and discussing the band's name which had had two different spellings according to which poster you looked at. 'Sans interdite', (without not allowed) or, 'Sens Interdite' (One way Street).
The next morning there was a 'Sadanas' band (traditional Catalan music) playing back in the square. We took our seats and waited for the dancing to begin. I've seen these bands many times but the dance itself still remains quite mysterious - how it starts and how anyone actually knows how to interpret the music. This time, a woman appeared at the edge of the square (actually a 'round') and remained there, hopping and prancing a little as if testing the music and steps. Eventually she ventured into the middle and other people gradually joined in, arms raised, each other's hands clasped, daintily stepping in time to the double bass, or sometimes the tiny drum strapped to the band leader's arm. The age range of dancers is often from small children through to ancient grannies - nice to see in this ageist age . . .



Wednesday, 17 May 2017

May in Cerbère

Things are happening - like our building being re-painted after the town council had suggested many times that it could do with it . . . yes, it was looking a little 'tired' after the wind and sun have battered it for forty odd years. So, coming soon, a ochre-coloured façade with the mouldings in off white, apparently . . .


Nature is blooming everywhere including on the roof opposite where two baby herring gulls wander precariously on the tiles waiting for the next parental-food visit. Its wonderful to watch if not a little anxious-making as chicks have been known to fall to an early death. The woman upstairs told me that the same pair have returned to nest on the roof for thirty years. I scoffed (politely) but then went to check and, yes, they can live into their late forties!

                                             parent and ball of fluff chick behind her/him

Other nature blooming are the wild flowers. It's very hot for May this year but there's still a wonderful showing of yellow and white daisies, broom, mallow and herbs.
In the mid-afternoon I tested the water in the town bay and it was perfect for swimming (about 18 degrees?) - no one else in though . . .


After a good ramble over the cliffs, I went to see what Jean-Michel of 'La Coba' had on offer for supper and requested just a small portion - he always ignores this! But it was fabulous. Early night after more strolling and admiring the rather incredible sea and sky-colours that evening.


                                                    small platter!

                        Following day looking back to Cerbère on the Banyuls road.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Early April in and around Cerbère

The Tramontana wind was whipping around the streets of the town when we arrived causing the singing railings to really do their full repertoire. Braving the elements after settling into the flat, we walked up into the pine forests at the back of Cerbère and observed the after-rain mass of wild flowers, some I've never seen on previous Spring visits.

The sea was a myriad of blues from deep aqua to violet, the waves topped with flecks of white, and the sky a mass of white clouds against vivid blue, moving swiftly from the direction of snow-covered Canigou mountain.

View from above Cerbère when the wind had dropped - a bit . . .

Platane trees near Cerbère church in the last light.

We returned to the town centre, bought supplies, cooked ratatouille back at the flat and settled down for an evening of reading which rapidly turned into sleeping after the drive, wind and sea air.

The following day was a time of discovery of 'what's over the border' a bit more. I'd been to Port de la Selva before but Mark hadn't so that was the objective, except we never got there, distracted by an extraordinary building on top of a hill. I turned left, followed a small road and ended up in a little village called La Vall de Creu.
Mark, seeing a challenge, donned his walking boots and set off to walk to the perched building (in fact the ancient Benedictine monastery of St Pere de Rodes). I followed for a while and then went back to explore the village which had a beautiful source dated 17 something (other carved numbers sadly part-covered by some bit of crap plumbing) and a lovely stone church - sadly, not open.
After walking and exploring, we returned to Cerbère via the Voramar restaurant in Port Bou. Mark had been there before and wanted me to experience the food and ambience. Fantastic! Anyone visiting this area should book a table: amazing: very reasonably-priced food, beautifully presented by welcoming, polite staff wearing black gloves . . .


                              The tiny church at La Vall de Creu

                     Wild lupins


                                                     Port Selva from the valley at Val de Creu

Mark's main course of Dorade fillet at the Voramar

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Almost got in the sea

But not quite. It was tempting, and I did wade in with trousers rolled up but that was it. Actually the temperature was probably around 14 degrees - balmy for the some of the 'Cebèrians' who take a dip on New Year's day. I'll try again same time next month.

After sitting on the beach for a while I took a walk into the hills above the town. The Mimosa trees were in full flower and butterfly lavender scented the air.


Photograph taken on the way down to the bakery to buy a Baguette 'Payse', (particularly chewy and delicious bread of Cerbère)


Sunday, 21 August 2016

A different route to the border

Within half an hour you can be up in the wild landscape behind Cerbère (depending on your walking speed). Today we decided to walk over the border into Spain and find the fresh water lake or barrage that supplies Portbou.
It was a beautiful walk, a little windy as the Tramontane was blowing, but not enough to be a danger, (and it kept us cool).
The Cerbère valley is quite different to that of Portbou, the former being wider and sunnier with vines, olive, wild lavender etc; the latter, more pine trees and less imprint of man.
Before we arrived at the top, I was musing on how people would have decided where the border between the two countries should be; when you look at the terrain on each side and the vegetation difference, it suddenly appears quite obvious how the decision was arrived at.
No animals noted apart from bees, but still a fair amount of wild flowers blooming despite the heat and dryness, and amazingly several blackberry bushes with ripe fruit - I assume their roots must be well down into some underground source.
I saw a weather warning on France Meteo before setting out on the risk of forest fires in the South of France. Standing amongst brittle, bone-dry vegetation I could imagine the speed at which a fire would take hold.
I walked back to Cerbère, and the more intrepid Mark, into PortBou. Next time I will walk to Banyuls along the crest of the hills - not on a windy day . . .


View back to Cerbère, about half way along to the border point

The barrage above Portbou at its low summer level.