If three years can be construed as a tradition then this is my traditional holiday blog post! This year we spent three weeks in Catalan France, in the Pyrénées-Orientales. We have usually travelled south by putting our car on the train and having a relaxing and interesting overnight journey letting the train take the strain. Unfortunately there seems to be a conspiracy against motor-railers and yet another of our train options was closed this year. As I like to bring back a few bottles of wine with me, the hire-car option is not very attractive. We thus had to do the ferry and drive option. We caught the ferry from Portsmouth on a Friday night and arrived early the next morning in Caen.
We were then faced with the long drive to Maureillas-las-Illas, a small town close to the Spanish border. We split the journey in half and spent the night in a very picturesque B&B run by an aged Italian lady in a tiny village in the Charente-Maritime,
not far from the town of Saint-Genis-de-Saintonge, near Pons, which had rather an unusual roundabout which I immediately added to my collection ;-)
Pons itself was a rather nice little town which just happened to be having a medieval fete when we arrived.
We eventually arrived at Maureillas-las-Illas and were then faced with a 20 minute drive up a single track mountain road to Las Illas and finally up a dirt track to our holiday villa in Super Las Illas (a seven minute walk from the Spanish border) where we to be based for the next three weeks.
There was of course a pool, with a lovely view, although given that we were at 900 m, it was not the warmest pool we have ever
experienced even on a sunny day J
In terms of wildlife, it was not as prolific as some places we have stayed, although the pool collected the usual suicidal millipedes, Hymenoptera, Diptera, Coleoptera and even some grasshoppers and the odd shield bug or two. I also rescued a small lizard which then seemed to become very attached to me, at one stage even taking refuge in my hair.
There were the usual impossible to photograph humming-bird hawk moths and numerous swallowtails
which I did manage to snap. I also discovered that one of my favourite entomological shirts was a great hoverfly attractant, although despite the design, did not fool any of the butterflies.
We were not far from Ceret, which we had visited five years ago and were happy to renew our acquaintance with its narrow streets, Picasso fountain and many cafés.
We also came across this street celebrating Charles De Gaulle’s exhortation to the French people in 1940, although I was saddened to see that vandals had been at work, albeit appositely.
We also visited Amelie-les-Bains and Prats de Mollo La Preste, the former apparently famous for urinary tract cures! In Prats we saw
multi-storey graves and also a great painting of one of the gates of the old walled town on a house opposite the actual gate
Unusually we only had one trip to the coast, Port Vendres where we enjoyed a sunny morning and a very long lunch.
On our return to the villa we might have been forgiven for thinking that we had somehow been transported back to an English autumn.
We also we went to Vernet-les-Bains and surrounding areas, looking at potential places to retire. We knocked quite a few houses off the possible to buy list; it is amazing how different the pictures that estate agents put on their sites are from the real thing. It was nice to be in Vernet again, although once again Gill found the hilly streets a bit tough going.
Since our last visit the old communal lavoir has been very nicely restored both externally and internally.
Vernet also has a nice arboretum scattered through the town and parks, so you often come across signs like this. I was pleased to see that one of my favourite trees (Prunus padus, bird cherry) gets a mention.
We also visited Elne a very pretty sleepy little town with a small cathedral. Nearby we found a nice artist’s centre where we had lunch and a local artisanal Catalan beer,
and for the entomologists, some horse-chestnut leaf miner damage
Gorges de la Fou is well worth a visit and as well as being geologically impressive, is also signed botanically.
It turned out that the obligatory safety hats were made in the UK.
We also visited Thuir – mainly famous for Byrrh (but they also prepare and bottle other fortified aromatic wines including Cinzano, Ambassadeur, Vabe and Dubonnet). Unfortunately the tour didn’t have any manufacturing going on but there were free samples at the end, which as a responsible driver was a little frustrating.
We visited Perpignan a couple of times. Both times we were blessed with lovely hot sunny weather. Plenty of canal side cafes, the castle of the Kings of Majorca is worth a visit, with great views from the top, although a bit of a climb to get there.
We also came across these giant flower pots which is certainly an interesting way to grow urban trees.
Closer to home was the Cork museum in Maureillas-las-Illas . It is very interesting although quite small, and even if you watch the video and visit the shop, where I bought a cork post card, the visit is easily done within an hour. I really liked the mini-sculptures in cork depicting the making of cork. There were also examples of cork ark and furniture.
And of course, not forgetting the biggest cork in the world.
On Day One of our marathon motorway trip on our way back to catch the ferry we stopped at the most fantastic motorway service station (Aire) ever – jazz band, environmental messages, great gift shop, a restaurant, a cafeteria, and a sandwicherie, plus lots of water (it was on the Canal du Midi). Perhaps our motorway service areas could take a lesson from Vinci.
We broke our return journey in the Charente-Maritime again, this time staying in a glorious B&B in Forges. Nearby was the town of Surgeres which provided me with yet another roundabout for my collection.
The next morning, as La Rochelle was not far way, we took the opportunity to have coffee there and to do a bit of sight-seeing. A very picturesque place indeed and it would have been nice if we could have stopped longer. It is now on our list of places to come and revisit.
We left La Rochelle late morning and continued our trip towards Caen, where we arrived in the early evening with plenty of time to do a bit of sight-seeing. We came across this very shiny statue of Joan of Arc. We then sat in the sun at the head of the canal and had a very good dinner.
Then sadly, it was off to the ferry port to wait to be allowed to board as the sun set on our holiday ;-(
This year we invested in Télépéage, which allowed us to sail through the toll booths on the motorways instead of queuing and scrabbling for the right money – well worth the investment.