Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Into the Albera hills

It was an overcast day certainly not beach weather. We decided to go for a drive to Rabos and Espolla, two villages in wine country. By the time we reached the outskirts of Rabos there were some dark clouds in the sky. That didn't deter us from foraging at the side of the road  for wild  fennel seeds to stuff in sausages and some beautiful blueberries found down an impossible, dry riverbed.

Continuing to Espolla, we wound our way through the one-lane narrow streets of the old village stopping at a bar that was quite large and seemed to double as a men's club, even though there were ladies present. Some men were playing cards while others ate plates piled high with snails.

From Espolla there is a road leading across the Albera Mountains to the French border and Banyuls sur Mer. We crossed several dry riverbeds that would be impassable in wet weather. The road crossed through vineyards, where some grapes were still being harvested. Vines, as well as some trees, were beginning to change into their autumn golds. The roadside continued to be lined with wild fennel as we passed more olive groves and areas of stone pines and rocky outcrops. This area is home to the Albera tortoise but we have yet to spot one.

We knew that we were approaching France when we passed the stone ruins of an old mas or farmhouse, which we had spotted from a distance on an earlier trek in the area. Suddenly, the tarmac on the road changed. No flags, no signs, France. The view was magnificent over the mountains with bare faced rocks and pines interspersed with terraced vineyards. In the far distance we could see the town of Banyuls and the Sea. We had a short walk at the viewpoint to look at the memorials commemorating the refugees who passed this way escaping from Spain during the Civil War. There was a stark black and white picture showing refugees with all their belongings at the border crossing. Another time we will complete the journey to Banyuls.

On our way home we stopped at the cooperative in the village of Vilaguiga to find out about the vendemmia they were holding where you join in the harvesting of the grapes and then take part in old fashioned crushing of the grapes with your feet, something I would love to do. Unfortunately, they are all booked up for this Sunday, the last day. Next year. I have a vision of the grape stomping  episode of I Love Lucy, where she stomps grapes in the huge vat. What fun.

As we drove closer and closer to home the temperature plummeted and it started raining, an unusual occurrence. Later, at dinner time the most beautiful rainbow arced over the mountain opposite. A lovely ending to a chilly day.

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