Sunday, December 18, 2011

The coastal road to Collioure

As we drank our cafe con leche this morning, we watched the boats in the marina being tossed about while across the harbour wind surfers  were enjoying some amazing runs, so long as they stayed upright. These winds, known as the tramuntana,  will be with us for the rest of the week. They can be tiresome, rattling the windows and wreaking havoc with laundry and patio furniture. But they also bring with them a beautiful crisp light that would delight any photographer. And that got us thinking that we hadn't been up the coast road to France in a while. So, with no particular destination in mind, we headed off.

This road twists and turns, switching back and forth to get over  each spur of the Alberes mountains. Each indentation in the coastline hides another picturesque seaside town. An abandoned booth and administrative block still mark the border between Spain and France but no one will ask to see our passports here. Now we are in the Banyuls wine region and it seems that every available hectare is given over to vines. Countless stone terraces ensure that even the steepest slopes can be planted.

We stop in Banylus-sur-Mer, to admire strikingly colorful houses, our eyes drawn in particular to one building with rust colored walls and brilliant blue shutters. We had also hoped to find a coffee but were turned away from one establishment as it was a 'restaurant' and they had just shifted into dinner mode. You would think the kind of restaurant that has metal tables and chairs, and displays laminated photos of its dishes at the door, wouldn't be too special to serve two coffees.  We could be generalizing outrageously but it did strike us as one of those subtle little differences between Spain and France. Never-the-less, we look forward to a return visit, especially when the town's many wine 'caves' might be open.

Our next and final stop was Collioure, and we could see immediately why Dali liked to paint here. Even on a chilly late afternoon in December, many visitors wandered the town's narrow streets and waterfront. Imposing fortifications, a beautiful church jutting out into the harbour, colorful houses climbing the hillside and ubiquitous plane trees all combined to create an enchanting atmosphere. As we walked along the waterfront we passed one bar offering hot wine - very tempting! We chose instead to sit outside at another bar, warming ourselves with hot chocolate and the waning sun. The streets behind us included numerous little art galleries, clothing boutiques, local wine and oil stores, and a lovely chocolate shop that had the most expensive but divine smelling chocolates.

With the light dwindling, we called it a day, and turned south towards home.  One more little surprise was in store for us. Passing through Port-Vendres we spotted the Charles Rennie Mackintosh museum. Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a Scottish architect, designer and artist known for his many Art Nouveau designs. We love his work. A print of one his stained glass window designs hung above our mantel piece for many years. We had forgotten that he also created many beautiful watercolors during visits to the Port-Vendres area in the 1920s. We will return to visit the museum and to drive around and see exactly where he painted his pictures.

It's been another day of  just scratching the surface. The promise of wine tasting, artistic and castle tours plus citron crepes demands a return visit.  We can't wait to go back.

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