Wednesday, August 29, 2012

New discoveries along the cote vermeille


Since it is much quieter we decided to take a trip up the coast road to France today. We passed through Portbou with it's stark burned hillsides from the fires in July. Two people jumped off the cliffs to their deaths to escape the flames. Now the ancient terraces, which supported long gone vines, are all that remain. In other places there are loose rocks that look like they could slide during the winter rains.


Used to late lunches in Spain, once again we wondered if we would make it to a restaurant before two as the French can be quite punctilious about their serving times. Fortunately, I remembered a beach restaurant between Banyuls sur Mer and Port Vendres. Seamus cleverly squeezed into the last parking spot at the end of a sandy track. Entering the bar of the restaurant, the bartender, with requisite cigarette dangling from his mouth, said nothing about the time. It was our lucky day; we were seated for lunch. What a find! The restaurant, Solo Mio was right on the beach. We ordered the palest pink rose, my favourite and some pain tomate to start. This is thin toast with garlic and pulped tomato with parsley. While we were waiting a lovely old, long haired German Shepherd introduced himself to us, le chien de maison. He visited several tables to see what he could mooch and shot off after the server when she cleared away some plates he fancied. My main course was beautifully grilled tuna on a mixture of julienned carrots, zucchini and onion with a crunchy parmesan crisp. Seamus had swordfish with the same vegetables. Both were delicious. I left a tiny piece of tuna with skin, which the server promised to give to the dog. Dessert was one scoop of homemade caramel gelato with flor de sel. It was perfection with little pieces of stick-to-your teeth bits of caramel. Seamus had the apricot gelato. Also yummy. The requisite ristretto or small espresso capped an excellent meal.

We took a walk along the beach. Hmm, everyone  fully clothed here, not what we are used to! At the end of the beach we climbed the cliff path and followed it for a short distance. One side was bordered by vineyards or prickly pear cacti and blackberry bushes, and the other by lovely coves with crystal clear water. Perfect snorkelling spots. Skirt and sandals aren't really made for hiking but we will come back to follow this path that winds around the coast to Port Vendres. On the return trip we noticed the huge concrete wall at the back of the beach, which the Germans had built in 1944 to prevent the Allies landing tanks on the beach. There are a few of these high walls dotting the coast.

We remembered that the Charles Rennie Macintosh museum was open on Tuesday afternoons, a good reason for continuing up the coast. Just as we reached Port Vendres we took a branch in the road that looked across the bay to the port, the deepest western Mediterranean port in France. We had a little walk looking across at the jetty where some sunbathers were enjoying the day. Passing some old cannons we looked up at battlements built by Vauban at the command of Louis XIV in the sixteen hundreds. We even spotted two vantage points where Rennie Macintosh had painted. Pictures of his paintings have been mounted at various points around the harbour so you can compare the present day landscape with his paintings.


Finally, passing old barracks, we reached the Rennie Macintosh museum in the Jardins du Dome, the original home of the military commander. Although the exhibition is small it was very well presented. Rennie MacIntosh was a Scottish architect who came to Port Vendres in the nineteen twenties with his wife. While he lived here he painted several watercolours of the town. It was very interesting to see old photos of the town or other artist's pictures beside MacIntosh's watercolours. There are some of his tall, distinctive black chairs. Unfortunately, Rennie Macintosh only lived here for two years before returning to England, where he died of cancer. His wife Margaret returned to Port Vendres to scatter his ashes. Today Rennie Macintosh can be seen on £100 notes produced by the Scottish Clydsdale Bank. What an interesting and enjoyable day on the Cote Vermeille. I'm really looking forward to more explorations on this coast.

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