Already feeling pressured by how little time we have remaining in La Belle France, we’re determined to see as much as we can so, today, we hopped in the car and headed to Collioure, a lively little tourist town on the Mediterranean near the Spanish border.
As we whizzed down the A-9, I asked Craig if he had checked the map before we left. “Not exactly,” was his reply. Hmmmm…..not exactly what I wanted to hear. Craig depends on dead reckoning and signage to find his way around. It usually works…..but not this time. We passed exit after exit…..looking for the elusive “Collioure” sign. A little over an hour into our trip, the péage ended. Uh-oh….this can’t be good. There was a subtle change in scenery as we continued whizzing down the A-9…..which soon became the AP-7. Au Revoir, France…..Hola, Espana!
Finding ourselves in Spain, our main concern was how to leave. We took the first off-ramp and ended up in a slow-moving line of trucks and cars queued up for a tollbooth. Welcome to Spain…..35 cents please.
We paid the toll, made a U-turn and paid another 35 cents to get back on the AP-7.
We finally wound our way into Collioure…..a beautiful village of red-tile roofed homes cascading down to the aquamarine waters of Mediterranean….it’s small harbor guarded by the sturdy walls of the Church of Notre Dame de Anges. The very essence of this village beckons you.
We wanted nothing more than to walk it’s ancient streets, feeling the cool sea breeze as we explored it’s secrets……but it was not to be. This is August…..the month of French “vacances.” We drove down to Collioure, through Collioure and out of Collioure. There wasn’t a parking space to be found. We ambled our way out of Collioure and into Port Vendres…..Collioure’s working-class neighbor.
It’s large harbor, bordered by colorful buildings, is home to all sizes and types of seafaring vessels….huge cargo ships, small fishing boats, yachts and sailboats. It’s waters were so clear you could almost see down to the seabed. Fishermen….done with their day’s work….were rolling their nets in. Definitely not Collioure, but a village with charms of it’s own. We decided to stay for lunch.
Restaurants lined the marina…..specializing in, of course, seafood. One café had no need for a chalkboard listing of their daily specials, their menu was obvious…..the morning’s catch was displayed on ice…..just waiting to be chosen by hungry diners.
But the afternoon sun was bright and the day was warm so we chose a nicely shaded restaurant. We started with an aperitif of chilled Banyuls….pressed from grapes grown in nearby vineyards, it’s a semi-sweet fortified wine with soft undertones of the garrigue….. rosemary, thyme, lavender, lemon verbena, marjoram. The flavor was sublime.
Our starters were local favorites…..Mussels with a Banyuls sauce and Catalan salad (greens topped with slices of local sausages). For our main course, grilled dorade and brochettes of calamars….each served with delicous squares of Potatoes Anna and zuchinni casserole. For dessert? Creme Catalana (the Catalane version of Creme Brulee), of course.
After lunch, we drove into the hills above town…..the scenery was amazing! Picture-perfect views of the village, of the sea,of the rolling vineyards and, surprisingly, cork groves! We (evidently misakenly) thought that cork only grew in Portugal!
It was a day of pleasant surprises. Driving back to the cottage, we vowed to return to Collioure…..after the tourists leave.
“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” ~ Paul Theroux