Thursday, June 16, 2011

late starts

It is, once more, a sunny day in Sorede. The late morning walk to town (first to the bakery, then to the café) requires some shade searching. Every few paces, there’ll be a tree – offering a cooling moment.


Our neighbor across the road, Madame with her three pooches, is out with her basket, snipping the yellow flowers that grow among the grape vines. I want to ask her about those – what could she be using them for? But our conversation turns to the dogs. They are quite gentle and friendly, she tells me. An obvious invitation to stoop down and pet them. I oblige.


At the main square, where we pause for coffee, another Madame, the one with the apartment over the café-bar is on her balcony people watching and talking on the phone.


The women of Sorede are having a busy morning.

We settle in under one of the umbrellas of the café-bar and read. Slow paced. For us, this day is turning out to be very slow paced. Pick up berries at La Cibulette. Drink coffee, munch pastry. Slow day.


Until the late afternoon. I suggest after lunch (a leisurely meal of bread and cheese, on the patio) that we drive down to Banyuls -- the next to last French town along the coast before the Spanish border. I’ll offer these three reasons: it’s a short drive. Maybe thirty minutes. It’s also the home of the Domaine du Mas-Blanc – a wine producer from whom I purchased wine last year. I have no reason to think he is the best in the region, but he was darn good and I like going back to winemakers, if only because it makes me feel faintly connected to their wines in some weak fashion.

My third reason for Banyuls is that it is the end point (or the starting point, depending which way you hike) of the GR10. This Grand Route hiking trail runs for nearly a thousand kilometers across the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. In Scotland, we hiked from one sea coast to the other in five days. It would take 52 days and a lot more oomph to do the GR 10, but I thought it would be fun to at least go up a bit of it at its tail end.

But first the wine shopping. Banyuls is famous for its sweetly aromatic aperitif – known simply as the Banyuls. So there’s that to throw in the bag. Then, a rosé. Then, oddly enough, an olive oil. Which is, I suppose, only slightly more out of place than last year’s purchase of the Banyuls vinegar. Which, by the way, I love. (The olive oil is actually made by a friend of the Mas-Blanc proprietor, but I have a hard time picking excellent olive oils to take home and this one has the seal of approval of a person whose tastebuds I trust.)

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People drive up from all regions of France and Europe to purchase bottles directly from producers and I always am a tad sad that I haven’t the ability to fill a trunk with wines for home. They are so good and so inexpensive here! I take my wee three bottle purchase, put it in our wee car and concentrate on finding the beginning of the GR10.

Would it surprise anyone to know that it is exactly 4 pm when we start our hike? Some would say -- woah! That’s a slow moving day! But really, a late start has its advantage. The sun isn’t nearly as hot, the light – not as piercingly strong.


And so we hike. Sometimes the trail is along a narrow country road, but most often it’s both steep on the ascent and not too easy to navigate. You need a little hand assist now and then.

The views? Oh, magnificent! Terraced vineyards, views toward the mountains, toward the sea, toward Spain, too.



We have a goal – one of the first peaks of this great big mountain chain. Not too ambitious. A two and a half hour climb. There -- the one with the tower on it.


It’s still warm outside, but the wind up there kicks in and I find myself searching for a sheltered spot to rest and take in the views.


And then we turn around and head back.

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The light is fading now, the mountains are half shaded by the descending sun.


And still it’s warm. Ed pauses by a spigot pouring out mountain water, fills his bottle and pours the icy stream over his head. I’m not inclined to do that, but I am sympathetic. We’d been climbing at a steady pace.

By 8:30, we are in Banyuls again. The wine producer suggested we get dinner at a nearby waterfront place – the Domaine San Sebastian. It’s a simple and deliciously lovely place. We choose a quiet outside table and order many different combinations of seafood.


I am thrilled with all of it. It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten a meal this close to the sea.The meal comes with dessert and we order a splendid apricot ice cream, with chopped fresh fruits, red berry coulis and chantilly cream. (Feeling well fed, we turn down the second one.  It seems best to eat great things slowly and without excess.)

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A couple to the side of us asks about our days here. They’re from Montpellier and they come down twice a year with their camper to this stretch of the Mediterranean. For the calm, the food, the waters, too. (Montpellier’s weather is much like this – endless days of sunshine.) Try this coast in September! She coaxes. It’s fantastic then! September. I have three classes to teach in September. Early retirement never felt so attractive. Someday, I tell her. Maybe someday.

Banyuls looks twinkley lovely at night. They say there was a lunar eclipse tonight. Missed that one. Too content looking at the lights playing on the waters of the sea.