Thursday, October 05, 2017

Sorede and beyond

During this Sorede week with friends, I have hinted, proposed, suggested and at times urged that we consider one thing or another from my Great Sorede List of the best of the best.

But of course, Ed and I did not touch every surface of this region. There is so much here to discover! And so I was especially happy that my friends suggested something for today that was brand new to me, even as it is so very old: the medieval village of Castlenou.

But first comes breakfast.

It's tempting just to drive over to the best bakery and eat there, but I'm a little missing the leisurely morning meal outside on the Sorede main square. This is the weather for it and though after this trip, my friends will be returning to warm climates (they all dumped the Midwest in favor of the south and southwest), I will not. And so I offer to drive out to that best bakery to pick up bread product for us to eat at the cafe bar on the square.

They are obliging.

The drive to the bakery is actually quite lovely...


The bread and croissant selections are equally splendid! Breakfast could not be nicer.


And now we pack ourselves into the car and off we go to Castlenou. (I worry: will there be parking? Will the place be packed? I look up the size of the town: 331. It wont be crowded and there will be plenty of parking!)

Perhaps it is just a tiny bit disappointing that getting there, we cannot lose our way. GPS has taken away that feeling of desperation and surrender that comes from circling around roads that lead away from where you want to be. Ah well... Excitement and worry replaced by calm. I can live with that.

We arrive. Or, almost. There is a spot where you can pull off the road and look at the entirety from afar. It's really stunning, even as you come to understand that life here must have been one catalogue of battles, and frolic, and disaster. Sure, we see ourselves on the brink of a precipice these days, but life surely was far more tumultuous in the 13th century (admittedly, the destructive powers then were much more limited than they are now).


We walk up the cobbled alley. It is a historic village. Surely a museum piece. No one lives here, right? The "331" is someone's idea of humor, no?


[I should add, too, that the weather today has you thinking that summer has surely returned, with temperatures topping at around 85F (30C). I mean, hot, for October.]

We walk up and down and all around and it is an incredible place, with beautiful plantings and intriguing descriptions of what life was like here, say, 800 years ago.



From the highest point of the tower, we can see the tiles of the village roofs, the Roussillon plane, the Corbieres. A stunning view!


There is a wee gift shop and in it I find a little wreath of flowers. Oh, it fits me! More importantly, will it fit Snowdrop?


There are two eateries in this village and we pause at one of them for a quick and delicious lunch. You'll notice the salad, beautifully prepared by the husband and wife team that run the place. Too, there is the creme Catalan -- a flan that is flavored by the local aperitif wine called Byrrh (pronounced "beer" and the fact that English speaking folk think this is simply a beer drives them nuts).


The wife is possibly the most delightful hostess you're likely to ever come across in any restaurant. She corrects that google number specifying how many live in the village.
Thirty-five, she says.
And are there kids? Do they go to school?
Yes, they get free taxi service to the nearby town of Thuir.

Thuir. Yes, we drove through it coming here and we're passing through going back. Is it worth a stop? Let's take a look.

We stroll past lovely little bakeries...


... and colorful buildings and quiet squares. But the big attraction here surely are the caves of Byrrh.


We go inside.

Oh, there are tours, but none of us wants to do the big walk through with a guide. And still, they welcome us here with open arms. Come in, come in! Try this special edition and that dessert version!


Byrrh has been advertised for decades on posters that are now a collector's item.


If Banyuls-sur-Mer has its fortified wine, Thuir has its Byrrh. (It's not exactly "just" a fortified wine, as it is a mix of several wines and quinine and spices.) I'm told Byrrh has been introduced for sale in America just a couple of years ago, but only in small amounts and with modest success. The name confuses everyone!

We spend far too long at the Byrrh Caves. You get caught up in the story, the rich history and it's hard just to move on.

The town itself is pleasant and we do walk up and down its honey hued streets...


And finally, in the very late (very late!) afternoon, we head back to Sorede. As I am the driver, my friends have to suffer through the occasional pauses as I pull up at the sides of narrow country roads to take photos of the vineyards and the fantastic cascading mountains. Yes, you can spot the tower on the last grand peak that tumbles down to Collioure. (Yesterday's hike!)


By 5 p.m. we are in Sorede again. Two from our group are nap inclined. One putters in the kitchen. Me, I set out to the sea.

On my way out of Sorede, I come across the children of this village leaving school with parents and grandparents. French kids end the day late, but their after school activities and assignments are limited, leaving plenty of time for family and friends.





I turn the car toward the sea now. If ever there was a day for swimming, this is it! Who would have thought that an October day could be this warm, this sunny, this summery?!

Le Racou beach isn't crowded, but it definitely has drawn out the locals for that last hurrah that an unusually warm Fall day delivers.


I am there too. And I take a (time release) selfie. Perhaps I look pensive in it. This would not be an incorrect depiction of my mood. Is this the last time for me to come back to Sorede? Is it? Would I come back even without Ed, or friends?


This view of the gentle beach and its small community of homes and boats hasn't changed much. Will it be the same next year? Or thereafter?


I splash, swim, think. I shower in the outdoor shower, I drive back home.

Did I just write "home?"

Barbara has fixed a veggie dinner for us. It's a wonderful break from restaurants, pizzarias, and bread and cheese meals.

We eat it outside. Of course! October in Sorede is far gentler than it is back home at the farmette.


Tomorrow is our last day in this Catalan village. I'm putting aside ideas or suggestions. I have done all that I wanted to do here and then some. Will my friends leave with the same love of Sorede that I have held in my heart for all these years? Maybe. I mean, it's all in the memories, isn't it? We surely have had some grand ones here this week.