Monday, January 16, 2012

Haute Vallespir

Sunday morning we decided to head off early and make a little detour on the way. But first, coffee and a pastry at  a local patisserie. We should have looked a little harder; the coffee was cold and horrible -  who knew you could get bad coffee in France?

Back on the main auto route we headed south for Spain but turned west just north of the border and headed for Ceret, in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The town is known for its cherries. In fact it holds a cherry festival and even a cherry spitting contest. It is also famous for a running of the bulls in July. The town is picturesque even in winter. Pedestrian bridges were lined with pansy boxes, and many of the houses had multicoloured shutters and colourful flowerpots on their ironwork balconies. It is easy to see why Picasso and other artists came here.We walked through the narrow streets and small but very elegant squares in the historic part of town before stopping for a cafe au lait. Across from the bar we noticed a butcher shop where we bought a couple of rienes or vol au vents and then had the butcher cut a couple of veal escalopes. Back in the car, we vowed to return at cherry time.

We followed the main road towards the snow clad Pyrenees through a number of small towns and then as we climbed it was just trees, a few houses and the road winding higher and higher. What beautiful scenery. But what to do about lunch? Most of the time in France you have to be seated in a restaurant before 2 o'clock to be served. At 1:30 we started retracing our drive, looking for but not finding any open restaurants. In the process, we discovered Les Thermes.  It looks very interesting and we will come back someday to explore its sulfurous hot springs.

Lunch, though, would have to be a Spanish affair, some place where we could expect to get served until 3:30 p.m. We are definitely into the Spanish way of eating, usually having lunch around 2 or later and dinner at 8.

So back onto the auto-piste and across the border, turning off at La Jonquera in order to take a beautiful back country route home. We had in mind a wonderful restaurant in Cantalopps but found Can Pau first. The restaurant is huge and packed. An elderly couple leaving urged us to sit at their table. Lots of people were still arriving including a group of 15 or so hunters, who had probably been out after wild boar. I wonder if they got one? Usually, the hunters bring the boar to a local restaurant where the chef cooks it for them.

Lunch was a green salad for me followed by sole meuniere and for Seamus a goat's cheese salad and sautéed squid. We shared some very tasty nougat ice cream for dessert. After our coffee the server brought two shot glasses of a clear liquid. My stomach lurched thinking it was grappa but I was pleasantly surprised when I tasted the mild apple sherbet flavour. I found out it was manzana verde, a Spanish digestive made from green apples. Lovely and a fitting end to a great weekend.

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