May 2013 vacation in Amelie-les-Bains, where one suns and sleeps by the Tech river under the spell if its flow, in toe with a slight sent of eucalyptus, grass, and mineral smells that are uprooted by its hot underground temps utilized by the commercial bathes in the center of town; where there is just nothing to do but that, and visit other little towns nearby, and have lunch.
Once again we visited the Logis in Ver, La Truite Dorée (pan browned trout) as the first stop and had a remarkable dinner. Here it’s either duck or trout, and wines from local “ac”s, like Caillac, Bergerac, … at 2.80 euros a glass along with some special concoctions like an exceptional aperitif of vin noir (fortified red wine aged in walnuts), etc. That’s an easy 6 hours from Paris so that the next morning we were up early and visited the Saint-Circ Lapopie, which is not very interesting, and then a bit of Cahors, committing to stop there on the return to explore. Along the motorway at about Montauban we stopped at a rest area for a bathroom break and upon return to the car found that the battery was dead. A call to the insurance company brought a local service truck and mechanic who jump started us, and lead me through the back roads to their garage, and put in a new battery. I was very impressed with the service, and we were back on the road through Toulouse with less than 1 hour delay -- not that we were to be on time anywhere. Here, we have an insurance policy that gives us a replacement car if ours breaks – for up to 30 days. It also replaces class breakage free, and we had our windshield replaced just a couple of weeks ago due to a small road nick. It’s always a good feeling to get your money’s worth out of the insurance premiums.
Just out of Toulouse we hit a bad storm; torrential rain and high wind all the way to Perpignan. I had heard about the weather like this but had never experienced it. It was scary, especially because it was Monday, a week day, and there were many trucks on the road (trucks are not allowed to drive on the motorways on the weekends). Passing them in the storm, at 70 mph, was like traveling through a car wash – at 70 mph. That aside, we survived and drove into Perpignan only to decide to stay not in town.
But just where was arguable. Le Boulou came as the compromise, but I agreed only because I knew that there wasn’t anything interesting there – I had a secret plan, to go to Emilie-Les-Bain, which lies about 9 miles east of it, on the border of Spain. I had eyed an interesting hotel there, the Castel Emeraude – Palalda, on booking.com, as the best of the places to stay in the area. Upon our arrival, after 3 calls for directions – hard to find it, we had a choice of a large two room apartment, a smaller regular suite with kitchen, or a third floor studio with large terrace - which we took for seven days. Actually, the terrace is like the hallway, and your individual arrangement opened into the kitchen from it. This was 350 euros for the week. Happily we had enough food with us to just unpack and eat, and open the bottle of Malbec the Logis in Ver gave us.
Our first stop next day was Céret, about 10 minutes down the road on the way to the Argeles sur mer plage (beach). It was hard to find the old town, although we ended up parking in a small plaza just above it, and walked to the center. This was May 1, and the local unions were staging a parade, and then a talk; but that didn’t stop us from falling love with this place. Now, as I write this, we’re bent on buying something here. Have to spend more time later.
The Argeles plage never seems to change, but at 11 am it was pretty empty. This is a Coney Island style area that has been built up for the many family vacationers that visit in the summer. During the winter, it is essentially closed. However crass, the beach front extends for a kilometer or so, and there is a gas lite walkway that you can take to the port, or north to an area rich in two and three story beach front apartments. There is also a large pine forest near the casino, and many pine trees line the walk north. This is where we’ve stayed many vacation times (shoulder seasons), and have fond memories – some of them were of the little restaurants that seem to appear from nowhere each year in the 4X4 block grid work of shops and restaurants. This time we tried Le Brochette, which was full when we approached, but a sunny table opened for us in the outdoor area. Much like Greece, most of the restaurants in the region have mostly outdoor seating. The menu was brochettes – Catalane salad, 3 brochettes, and dessert. I opted for rognons (kidneys), squid, and sausage but they were out of rognons, and sangria – so I had beef in lieu and free glass of rose. Service was terrible, sun and waiter warm, and price fair (12 euro menu).
Next day we took the 1 Euro bus to Perpignan. Lunch was at the Happy Days in the Square of the Republic, in the old town. For some reason, the old town is about 1 kilometer from the train station which is the same place as the gare routiere, or bus station -- the center of the universe (however, it is labeled “Centre d’mons” in catalane - many of the signs in Perpignan and area are in catalane.) I chose Happy Days because of their sandwich billboard advertising a chicken and fig tart. And it was exactly that, large and with a nice salad; no free wine this time but just 2.25 for a class of good local rose. Meal was 9.50. We planned to go back to Céret the next day for a walk thru of an interesting house for sale and lunch in the old town.
A quadruple surprise:
Once in Ceret again, we experienced apathy and after parking and walking into the lovely square we found previously, the smell of old paint and empty tables turned us back to the parking lot and another decision, which was an easy upping of the trip to Gerona. We were quickly on the national route there but became hungry at about Figueres, birthplace of Dali, and we wanted McDonalds – which was there in the town. It was indeed the best Royal Bacon and Café then I’ve ever had in Europe, counting the superior McDo in downtown Munich where I ate just last month. Better beef, I think. To boot, the server spoke English. So onward to Gerona; but once there, an immediate turn around was in order, just a town, nothing interesting about it. We drove thru and headed back along the national because Fatiha eyed a short cut thru the Spanish side of the lower Pyrenees that would lead home. After 5 or 10 minutes we approached Figueres from the south. This is in a valley surrounded by mountains to the north and east and the sea to the west. Large cloud layers hang high above both and when the sky has just the right number of clouds they partition the clear space into areas of different shades of turquoise and blue. Given that you have the right perspective, and time of day, the geometry of the scene has a foreshortening effect (or fish-eyed effect, depending on your perspective). This is Dali painting I told Fatiha. Maybe as he grew up here he learned to see things in a different reality and his paintings were representative of how he saw the world, implanted from the area he grew up in. To you as a reader of this, it is not made up or read from another source. I have researched the literature on Dali and it makes no reference to this phenomenon. I encourage you to experience it for yourself – you may have to spend a few days in the area before you see it - Roses is nice nearby beach resort.
The road from Figueres back to Amelie was of lower Pyrenees character. Lots of ups and downs and wide turns through meadows and hills. Our Peugeot Partner is built for this, with wide range third and fourth gears. It was a pleasant ride reminiscent of our first trip through the upper Pyrenees several years also in a similar but rented vehicle. But that was on the other side, the Pyrenees Atlantics, and the valleys are wider and the hills are twice and three time as high, and towns few and far between. Here passed many small towns and stopped at Tapis at the Tapis Cellar, to buy some Spanish wines that I probably couldn’t find elsewhere. We passed finally through Saint-Laurant-de-Cerdans, “at the top” and back onto the main road to Amilie.
Next day we didn’t want to drive anymore so we took a hiking trail that went in back of the Castel (just under our bedroom window) to the next town – Sur-le-Tech, back in the direction of …-Cerdans. About 2 miles, and very pleasant, we arrived just 15 minutes before the bus left to go back down to Amelie and had to gamble that we could find a good spot for lunch to fill the one and a half hours before the next bus would leave. We lost; nothing was opened. I did ask a lady that approached me near her restaurant if she was closed, and after a moment’s hesitation she replied, “the restaurant; yes”. The wait for the bus was pleasant and we headed into a main square right off the bus station in town (Amelie); we were hungry, it was almost 3, and we sat down in the sun for calamari, frites, and rosé, at 7 euros per plat and 5 Euro for 50 cl of wine. Unfortunately, this restaurant was closed on Sunday and Monday. So we had to wait until Tuesday to partake of the bargain again.
Feeling ok to ride again on Sunday we headed for Cadaques. Took the long way around the coast. Took a long time to get there and it was an exhausting curvy coastal drive -- nice views though but nothing like the Pyrenees – neither the ride nor the views. Actually, once in Spain, there is a big difference in architecture and cleanliness. However, Cadaques is a quite a tourist spot and it has nice Spanish style buildings and good but expensive restaurants. Lunch was overlooking the harbor but 20 Euros for a squid plate, paella, and dessert - however, it was excellent. The drive back left us no time to visit the Dali museum in Figueres, so we’ll definitely be back for that. We did drive thru Roses and it did seem like a quiet, somewhat clean place to stay – with a nice beach and promenade. The best way to get there is via the auto-route to Figueres, and then along a simple national; about 45 minutes from the French border (which is not policed).
Another day and another lunch. We thought we should visit the most far away spot on the road out of Amelie, and that was :::.
While nice scenery; and a nice little town, there was no lunch there. It was the hottest day since we’d been there, about 28°, and so we didn’t mind eating a little late and thought we’d travel back along the road to real civilization like Le BouLou and, secretly hoping, a McDo. But as we traced back through Sur-le-Tech, we turned a corner and saw a neat looking restaurant with the outdoor tables filled. A quick turn down an alley led us to a parking lot and a short hike back. Yes, this was the payback for the closed state on Saturday. We were seated and wanted hamburgers – which where on the menu but the waiter ushered us inside to talk with the cook who told us she had no burger buns. We told her it was ok to make them on whatever she wanted. Well, after a half hour wait – look at the pictures - the bite you see in mine was 3 bites; that was dinner too. They were 6.5 Euros apiece, and 25 cl of rosé, 3 euro.