Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ridge road delivers dramatic views of Port Vendres


Easter weekend saw strange weather; while it was mostly sunny there was also lots of clouds and torrential rain on Easter Monday. Europe seems to be in the grip of bad weather generally. The Port was very busy with locals, French, Germans, Belgians, Brits and Dutch people this weekend. Even the local campsite was busy this weekend, open much earlier than it was last year. There seemed to be more large groups of ramblers, from all over, loaded down with their camping gear.

Parking in the village was impossible. In fact it was much worse than in the summer. We forgot that the market would be really busy on Friday and we arrived mid morning to have difficulty even getting near the fresh fruit and vegetables. Ah yes, the nationality that shall remain nameless, had arrived and had to squeeze and touch everything on display before he or she would deign to actually buy anything. C'est la vie but annoying.

Summer apartments had their shutters raised for the first time this season. Instead of tranquility, when we sat outside having breakfast there were dogs barking and conversations to be overheard. There was a parade for the children with chocolate the reward at the end. Once again the huge bouncy castles and wooden play area were erected on the promenade. All the restaurants were busy as were all the stores making the  local business owners very happy.

With the local children returning to school on Tuesday things aren't quite so busy but there are still lots of visitors and many more caravans than before. In fact today, the weather forecast was promising all day prompting us to head up the coast to Banyuls. It was lovely to see the yellow spring flowers sprinkled with poppies lining the roadway. For much of the way we had to follow what looked like a supergiant-sized VW camper that spewed diesel fumes. Finally, we passed it breathing a huge sigh of relief and some fresh air.

In Banyuls, we wandered around mostly closed galleries along the sea front peering in the windows. After wandering around the narrow, previously unexplored back lanes, we ended up at our favourite boulangerie to buy some wonderful French bread, before having a coffee and a delicious almond croissant. How the French can bake!

We followed a back road to Port Vendres, the ridge road or "route des creates," created in the thirteenth century, through the cultivated vineyards and wild yellow broom. It was quite an experience on the paved, narrow, winding, single lane road, especially when it came time to pass a couple of large SUVs looking down the sheer drops to the valleys below. The series of blind curves were quite nerve wracking. However, the drive through the terraced vineyards on either side of the road looking back over unrestricted views of Banyuls was quite breathtaking.

We spotted the remnants of a fort below us and another one high above us.
The Tour Madeloc is situated at 652 metres. It was built in 1285 under the kingdom of Majorca and was part of a sea control and alarm system, thanks to fire signals relayed by the tour de la Massane and the Fort Saint-Elme. We passed the costal defence batteries built between 1870 and1886. Behind the batteries, once equipped with artillery able to reach far out to sea,  were the ruins of three imposing barracks, a central one and two smaller ones on each side. We stopped here to brave the strong wind and look at the magnificent view over Port Vendres, Argels sur mer and Perpignan.

Finally we reached our destination, the big fish market right on the wharf in Port Vendres, where we bought two lovely fresh Atlantic sole for dinner. Home at last we sautéed these two lovely fish in some olive oil and butter for three minutes on either side. Once they were removed from the pan I whisked a quarter a cup of fresh lemon juice and some capers into the butter and oil, which was spooned over the now perfectly boned fish. Delicious. A simple, perfect meal to end to a lovely day.

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