Sunday, June 10, 2012


Breakfast at the Mas (old farm hotel) at the edge of the town of Begur in Spain. Outside, on the terrace, we nibble  on rolls with cheese and quince paste, cherries locally grown, cake that is densely layered with slices of apple. Chosen from a richly assorted table of foods.


I’ve evolved: from a kid who hated the morning meal, to someone who considers it a highlight. Especially (but not only) when traveling. It should never be rushed, it’s better in the company (even if silent company) of another, it’s almost always finer if outside.

So now the morning has meandered into a later hour. And we do have a set agenda: a hike up to the castle in Begur, a beach or two, a medieval village and finally, not too late, before the stores close, an arrival in Sorède.

Begur is really quite pretty. We passed by it a year ago, but this time we’re steps away and so we do poke around some. A pedestrian heart, warmly toned buildings, a happy, lively square with a church and a wedding and higher up – old fortifications of a castle.


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It feels warm now, but I see clouds coming in from the hills and I’ve learned this about the Catalan region – the weather has become far less predictable. Even Sorède, the quintessentially sunny little village has its share of showers these days. The old saying that it’s a place with 300 days of sunshine still holds, so long as you can tamper with the denominator. Nothing is predictable, only that in the course of the day, you may see many different weather patterns passing through.

It’s barely sunny by the time we drive down to a well liked cove beach a tad to the south (Aiguablava). Very well liked. It’s Saturday and we are really not that far from Girona or even Barcelona. So the city folk come out for the day.We take a look...


...and drive on. The parking alone is a major headache as the coves really cannot accommodate heavy traffic. At some point, the parking possibilities are gone and you’re left wondering what’s next. Ed comments that we’re better off crossing the border to our favorite spots in France for swimming.

And so our search for the second and final recommended beach is really half hearted.  After a while, we spin around and head back toward the highway leading to France.

With one small detour. This area of Spain is dotted with a number of medieval villages.  Monells is one of them and it’s just a stone’s throw from where we are, so we detour and pause there for a brief peek.

It’s an eerily quiet place, except for the main square, where a very large group of Spanish seniors, clearly on some day trip or other, is enjoying a hearty lunch.



We find a spot on the opposite side of the square for a refreshing glass of rose (or mineral water, depending if you’re Ed or me) and watch this rather sublime little scene. Seniors, animated, clearly enjoying each others company. Cats crisscrossing the square in search of scraps. Young children playing in what appears to be Spain’s answer to hotwheels.

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Ed and I look on. He’s back to making faces at my camera, but they're happy, smoochy faces.


And anyway, I can still catch him off guard.


After, we stroll. Let me repeat: it’s very quiet here and for this reason, you can put yourself back in time...



Okay. Done with the detours.  Now we’re heading due north and in some fifty kilometers we cross the border – always a thrilling pass in between mountains of the lower end of the Pyrenee chain.

And now we get off the major North-South highway and we take the lesser road that promises to put us just in a few kilometers on the coast. Except we don’t quite reach the coast. Sorède is just short of the Mediterranean which is, of course, why it is so blissfully quiet and not really part of the coastal clutter. Even as it is not even ten minutes from some mighty nice and sandy shores of the sea.

We know to turn off the main road before reaching Sorede. We stop at the Carrefour (supermarket) outside the village to stock up with the essentials: Roussillon (regional) cherries. Tomatoes. Roussillon potatoes. Roussillon eggs (regions are often clearly specified on produce and farm products). The exquisite thin green beans. Four cheeses (yes, four... we couldn’t agree on which to eliminate). A salami. Rosé wine. Mineral water.

It’s sounds so simple and inconsequential: stop at store, pick up groceries. But when I’m back home and thinking ahead about coming to Sorède, I often imagine just this moment in the parking lot of the Carrefour. Everything changes for me in the space of a few seconds. The view before me is of the hills and the tall trees.


Just a couple of kilometers down the road, Sorède life is moving along, at its own pace and I am about to join it. Our small routines suddenly are exceptionally pleasurable. Picking lunch foods is joyous – you should see us debating which potatoes to select. Ed finds his favorite apple juices – the nonfiltered ones, each made from a different apple species. I find the very lightly tinted rosés and Ed tries to focus my attention on those that hover in price around 3 Euros. We debate cheeses as if they had the value of mutual funds.

And now we’re set. We wheel back the shopping cart and retrieve our token, which madame in the store has kindly replaced for me as I lost mine from last year. Small detail, special meaning.

And within a minute or two, we are in Sorède.

Yes, definitely, we should stop at the bakery. We don’t need bread, but we need their little cookies. And most of all, we need to see if it’s still there.

It is.

A determined Ed.

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Madame asks which weeks we are here and whether we’ll be back next year because at the end of June they’re closing for a major remodeling! Oh, how very fortunate! Not until after we’re gone!

Ed is so tempted by the (weekend only!) Napoleaons...

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...but I know if he buys one he’ll eat it before we even get to the house. That surely will mean no supper on the square. (I’m too full!) And so I talk him out of it. Tomorrow, I say. We’ll get one tomorrow.

And there is one more stop to make – at Ciboulette, the lovely little produce store right in the heart of the village. In many ways, it is like a small farmer’s market – if there are good melons in season, you’ll find them here.


Or tomatoes, or lettuces, or – which is what I’m searching for right now – their local olive oil.

We’re set. A short drive toward the hills and we are home. Our most perfect apartment (well, not ours at all, but the true owners, Gunter and Baerbel keep it in such immaculate fine condition that it’s as good as home).

So, nothing’s changed in Sorede? I ask.
Oh, but there was one calamity – November 21st, it rained heavily and the river flooded. Washed away the pedestrian bridge! Took off a chunk of a neighbor’s property! Incredible!

A year, any year, is never without changes.

We unpack in the lovely little apartment that faces the garden. And now it is late enough so that we can walk, past vines and trees and houses...


...and cats... always the cats...

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... for dinner on the square. I do have to say that there is always the worry that a place you love will have lost some elements of what drew you there in the first place. The square – the main one, up the hill – is, to me, the village focal point. There is a café bar where so many people come and go all day long and it is where we have our breakfast and so often our pizza and sangria and if the café bar closed, our visits here would be far less pleasurable, I’m sure of it.

Almost there, almost there, yes, the flags of France and Catalonia...

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Ah, there we have it. Still welcoming, still the epicenter of village life.


[A friendly type asks if he can take our photo... we never ask for it, but if offered, we'll pose.]


And because we are in the thick of the soccer world cup tournament, the large TVs are going strong and the men are clustered, standing around a table, over pastis and beer. The evening progresses. Someone else comes over, exchanges kisses with his buddies, shakes hands with our familiar spry waiter and joins in on the animated conversation, with only an occasional glance at the game (Portugal against Germany).


Ed and I have our mushroom and olive pizzas and salads and, yes, the fruity sangria...


... and it is a beautiful evening, a welcoming evening, one where I’m thinking it’s as if the eleven and a half months since our last meal here are some distant thought, a bit fuzzy now, because we have much more pressing things to do. Like savoring the mushrooms on the pizza. Or watching the man at the table next to ours hug his dog.

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After, we walk home, up the road, past the small vineyard, just as the last dusky light disappear behind the hills.