Friday, June 15, 2012

coops, waves and so many other things!

For all the grumbling I put forth about driving, I have to say, there are a very small handful of car trips that always make me very happy. Here's one: the trip to La Franqui.

I mean, the set up is so good! It's always in superb weather (why drive all that way if it's not brilliant outside), the drive isn't long (a tad over an hour each way), the music on the radio's the kind that I'll remember later on, and at the end of it all there's the beach that stretches a long long way from the tiny hamlet of La Franqui.

The weather has finally shaken off its vicissitudes. The skies are a tad hazy by the hills but ever so blue by the sea. Time for my best beach.

With a twist.

So long as we're putting ourselves in the clunker for that long, we may as well make a few detours and stops along the way. Gunter and Baerbel (our terrific landlords) gave us a gift of a delicious  rosé. Where did you find this? -- I ask. (Mind you, every grocery store here carries some fifty different rosés, but this one is really special.) All the way up in the Corbieres. A friend told us about the wine cooperative in Tuchan -- Les Caves du Mont Tauch.

Ah, the Massif des Corbières... an area of hills, valleys, of stone and Mediterranean shrub, of rosemary honey and of fantastic (if very humble) wines. The Corbières stretch from La Franqui by the sea due west, all the way to Carcassone. We've never taken the winding small roads that go up one hill and down the next. So today we have a plan: a visit to the wine coop, a hike in the Corbières and a swim at La Franqui.

I have too many photos (44: it happens on days that have great variety) and so I wont overload this post, too, with text. Instead, let the pictures, with captions describe our day!

 Yes, I know there are more in baskets behind us! No, I do not know how to say 'chewy' or 'gummy' in French! Just pick one! Any one!

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The lesser  café is actually quite nice. We're not daily customers here, but they still remember our drinks. Good people.

There's a love of rugby here. And all things Catalan. 

The first 50 kilometers of our trip are on a big road. You can see the revered Canigou Mountain, hiding in a haze. Until the 18th century, it was thought to be the highest peak in the Pyrenees.

And now, after spinning off on an ever so narrow road, we're in the heart of the Corbières. Vines... everywhere you look, vines. Hazy mountains in the distance, rocky old hills in the forefront...

... fields of vines, jutting stone, Mediterranean forest

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A sigh of relief! We arrive one minute before the Coop closes for lunch hours (the standard lunch break here is 3.5 hours)... (He has the look of Languedoc: rugged and handsome!)

I don't often visit the bigger wine producers, but this coop is special: it has energy!

...and with that energy comes tremendous success (they have achieved big sales in the UK) 

The walk after the visit is warm -- it's just past noon! The air is still, very fragrant...

We climb up Mont Tauch -- not all the way, but a good hour and a half up. Views all around are fantastic! And very different from what we see in Sorede.

You can get carried away with photo-taking. It's just so grand! 

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The ever beautiful dancing ladies

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Already showing their fruits

Did I mention the almond trees? 

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After -- a brief stroll through the village of Touchan. Smaller than Sorède. Supporting the Coop. A working village.

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As in so many other French towns and villages, there is a monument honoring soldiers who died in combat during the two World Wars. Each soldier from the village is listed at the base. 

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Touchan is pretty in its own way. Quiet now, at the long lunch break, with a tranquil color palate...

So long as we're visiting wine co-ops, I suggest a tiny detour to the even smaller village of Embres et Castelmaure, perched in the hills, between Touchan and the sea. Here, on the bench, you see the colors that signify their wine coop: Cave d'Embres et Castelmause. Where, they say, everything is done by hand.

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Lovely, well regarded (and inexpensive!) rosés here as well

Th village (Embres et Castelmaure) is a mouthful to say, but very simple, very old...

...and very pretty. 

And now we have to cross the Massif to get to the sea. The unexpected: a low cloud cover has settled over the jagged hills. The expected: narrow mountain roads are always an attractive biking opportunity here. We pass these guys all the time.

The villages are just so pretty! Even (or especially?) in this oddly cloud filled corner

As we descend to the sea, we notice that the clouds end at La Franqui. Or, at least they taper off toward the beach. Will it be sunny on the long stretch of sand?

Yes! Or at least if you look out toward the sea, the sky is tremendously blue. La Franqui is really two beaches: one by the village and a second longer one which you reach by crossing the stream that runs in and out of the etang (lake). You have to be careful! It alternates between being ankle deep and waist high!

The cove is known for being windy. There's a windsurfing school in the village and you can always have fun watching these guys.

Looking north, away from the village, there is this great expanse of beautiful sand. Ed and I have found that if you walk far enough, you'll come to sand bars. They extend heftily into the water, creating thin stretches of very shallow swimming fun

Waves form and crest along these shallow parts

You can stand in what seems to be knee high water and take photos, but you have to take heed! Steps away, the water turns suddenly deep and in any case, a nice wave can come and knock you down. Not a big deal, unless you're holding your favorite camera! (Luck is with me today! At least until this evening...)

It's sunny at la Franqui, but just barely so. Notice the clouds rolling around in the hills. Occasionally a wisp of one will come down, stay a while, then disappear again. We're just on the edge of the cloud cover!

The beach was empty, but now a group of school children comes for late afternoon of water jumping. Lovely to watch their joy.

...while Ed settles down to read (yes, we both went swimming! Of course!)

I'm walking back along the most shallow part of the sand a minute I'll be pulling up my skirts to avoid getting wet

At the cove side of the etang, another group of school kids. Looking for something... Don't know what...

One lovely tradition is to end the outing with a pistachio ice cream (and a noisette coffee for me)

The French love of biking starts early. Here, the dad hauls two kids on his velo, the mom rides kid free

Driving back to our village at the foot of the Pyrenees, we pass the larger etang, with the oyster beds...

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Home at last. It's after 8 but still very light outside. We leave the clunker and walk down the hill, past the cork oak forest that abuts the now tiny stream...

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...past Ed's friends...

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...and here's where I have my little mishap: it's not unusual for me to be looking up with my camera instead of down at the sidewalk. This time, I stumble on the step. Down on my knee, banging my camera on the stone walk. Knee and camera are doing fine.

At our favorite café-bar on the main square, we split a salade de Collioure -- that will always be with the renowned anchovies from the port of Collioure

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...and we each have a veggie pizza. The artichoke hearts on it are fresh and superb!

We walk home, as do others