Sunday, June 27, 2010

leaving Sorede, finding Gombren

At the last minute, I find one: another apartment rental in Sorede that has a possible Internet connection. I am not surprised that the landlords are not from here – they’re German expats and they do what so many are forced to do – they rent out part of their home in order to raise their income a bit.

On Saturday morning, we tidy our old apartment (because, of course, you want to leave the impression that you were keeping it together and orderly all along), thank our British landlords for their help (especially with Internet issues!), and go up to the village for a final pain au chocolat on the square.

But in a burst of what comes as close to sentimentality as I’m likely to see in Ed, at the last second, he changes his mind and asks the sweet, kind boulanger person behind the counter for a mille feuille instead. (Shouldn't I? It's the last time! Of course you should.) Or maybe it's not sentimentality at all, but merely a deep deep love for those thousands of layers of pastry, sandwiching the rich and wonderful creme...


(We pick up a baguette as well. For lunch. With the market cheese and tomatoes.)


At the café bar, Ed eats his mille feuille and I eat my pain and the café crème is better than ever, or perhaps I am imagining it to be so, because in the last hours in Sorede, everything is better than perfect.

Ed tells me I just always see things that way and it is not untrue, even as it feels quite genuinely beautiful here now, as I look around me.


After breakfast, we walk over to the potential future (and I mean future: not this year) rental place. It’s actually just at the edge of the village, on the mountain side of Sorede and this is good, as it will have the benefit of additional minutes spent walking to and from the bakeries. Added value, I say!

Gunter and his wife (the landlords) are fastidious and welcoming and I am certain that it'll be a fantastic place for us in years to come. (Years? -- Ed asks. Don't you want to go to new and different places? Not always... I say. Not always...)

By noon we are ready to head south. We are to reach a mountain village (Gombren) in Spain (in the Sierra de Montgrony of the Pyrenees) this evening but there is no rush.

We head now for Le Rocou – our "home" beach really, because it’s the one we came back to for the quick swim or cool down again and again.

It’s Sunday and the beach is predictably more crowded, but it hardly matters. The beach people are quiet (no raucous music!), the ambience is pleasantly familial and friendly. The home umbrellas are lovely and colorful, the water is calm and a rich Mediterranean blue.



And it is warm, very warm. So that the coolness of the water doesn’t feel intimidating at all. I proclaim it to be the perfect swimming weather.

Le Racou is the beach with the quick drop and so I can stay close to the shore, swimming from one end then back again, watching all the while the beach life to my side.

We take out our baguette and cheese (having left the tomatoes back in the apartment! Ahhh, age!), drying off in the sun (they have a free shower, so we’re not saturated with salt)...


....thinking about how summer is just beginning for the French, while our time here has now drawn to a close.

By 2:30, we are on the road. We have to retrace our steps through Sorede and I suggest we wait til the neighbor starts selling peaches and apricots again at 3, and maybe we should stop also and stock up on your favorite apple juice?
Nina, we’re going to Spain. Let’s not take France back with us.
I know, I know... but when again will I eat apricots that taste like heaven on earth...

We don’t stop.

I pick up the highway across the border and within minutes we are in Spain.

How different it looks here, south of the Pyrenees! The vines of Languedoc are replaces here by golden fields of... alfalfa?  Many of the fields are already harvested, as if summer is truly past its midpoint.


As we turn in toward the mountains, I see that clouds are brewing over the Sierra peaks. And sure enough, within a few minutes, the rain comes down. Not heavily, but it surely is a cool, wet air here.

Gombren – our destination for today – is not easy to find. It’s just north of Ripoll, which I’m sure tells you nothing at all. We’re in the mountains, in Catalonia, not too far from the French border, and not too far from the Andorra border as well, but away somewhat from the sea.

It truly feels like we have crossed more than just a strip of mountains. Everything looks different. The villages and towns are a little forbidding – you don’t ease into them, you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a small mountain town with a handful of apartment buildings on both sides of the road. No farms, no orchards. As if industry has moved through these mountains and still maintains a presence. (I read later that Ripoll is a place where iron was extracted as early as in the Middle Ages. With furnaces blazing, it was the town to come to if you needed nails. It still feels larger and heavier set, even as there are fewer than 10,000 living there now.)

When we finally find Gombren (this is not an easy task, though it's a mere dozen kilometers on a winding road just upwards of Ripoll), we drive right through it without seeing our home for the next two nights. That drive through took ten seconds – the village is that small (population as of two years ago – 239).


Why here? Well, I want for us mountains to hike in, and a place to stay with Internet access and good Catalan food to eat. Gombren by pure happenstance has all three. A restaurant with rooms sprung up here not too long ago (Fonda Xesc, here since 1730) and the cook has recently been “discovered” by the French who have rewarded the place with great praise and admiration. Gombren is suddenly a culinary treasure – of simple regional food. When you stay overnight, the halfboard option (with a limited menu for dinner)  is a very very good deal. And the mountains are fantastic.


The village is Catalan through and through and it becomes clear that Spanish will help us only a little. The language of choice is Catalan.

But on this day, the evening is simple and quiet for us. We take a long walk along the road that winds up into the mountains, and admire the skies and peaks around us. It’s quiet here (except for the cow bells). And the smell is of wet pine and Mediterranean juniper and maybe eucalyptus? I’m guessing here.



It’s a heady walk and we keep wanting that view around the next corner and the next until we see that it is almost nine and dinner starts right about now at the Fonda. We retrace our steps. It's just after nine, and the sky shows the muted colors of an after the rain sunset.


We sit down to an exquisite dinner of mushroom soup and strawberry and basil soup and fish for me and rice with artichokes and calamari for Ed and so it continues on and on late into the night. With flutes of Catalan Cava – so effervescent, so south of the border, so very delicious.