Garrotxa

The first town as one enters the Garroxta, Besalú’s history goes back to the ubiquitous Romans but it’s better known for its medieval buildings and bridge over the R Fluvia. The current inhabitants are proudly and fiercely Catalan.

Protest against the imprisonment of Catalonian separatist politicians

Some parts of the bridge date back to the C11th

It’s a good place to wander

I’m now heading into the area of 30 (hopefully) extinct volcanos in the Garrotxa natural park …

🙂 🙂 🙂

A Fan … (or a stalker!!)

My first impressions of Roses were that it was a little disappointing and I have to admit that I’ve seen many places that are cuter, more picturesque, less concrete touristy and to be frank, just plain better. But there really is something about this place that has got to me. Some of that is undoubtedly the convivial company, I’ve new pals in John, Iris and Graham. And then there is Sue; Sue is one of my regular readers and, bless her, followed my route from Mirepoix, via Argeles to Roses just to come spend a couple of nights here and meet me. She even took the twisty windy route. How fabulous is that? I’ve got a fan …  (or a stalker!!) Safe journey home Sue, see you in Yorkshire!

I think one of Roses (pronounced Rosas locally) charms is that it remains a working fishing port and town; it therefore has a heart, unlike Argeles Plage which is pure tourist spot/marina. Roses has a lot of history; its first invaders, long after the Stone Age peoples left their hill-top settlement, were the Greeks. They left their mark with the first harbour. After them it was quiet hereabouts for a few hundred years until the Romans turned up (as they did, everywhere) and built on top of the Greek ruins. All went quiet again for a few more hundred years after the Roman Empire collapsed, until the Moors arrived. The Moors got overthrown by the Christians after another few hundred years. Things then went relatively quiet again for yet another few hundred years and Roses became a quiet, backwater fishing village … until the tourist hordes “discovered” it.

Doing the mending

Backdrop Pyrenees

The “quiet” season

I’m having a good time, thanks to having a social life, my three night stop is turning into three weeks. Current (and as usual, flexible) plan is to stay for a bit longer before heading down towards Barça. I can’t believe it’s only three weeks til the descendants arrive …

🙂 🙂 🙂

Holá Roses

There are three choices of road to take from Argeles-sur-Mer to get into Spain. First route, the A9, the toll road, is the fastest. Second route is the 900 which runs close to the A9 but is non-motorway, non-toll and a bit slower. Third route is the coastal route, slowest of the three BUT the most spectacular (and one of my favourites). It twists round the cliffs, not often terribly steeply but drops down into coastal villages and then back up the cliffs again about seven times. The twists are frequently 180° and the last time I drove it there were a lot of places where there were no crash barriers on the cliff edge; the road surface was appalling and the camber not so great at times. Definitely not the road of choice for wet and/or windy days as its not overly wide either.

So on Saturday it was great to wake up to bright sun, cloudless sky and no wind. I’ll say no more, you know which road I chose don’t you, dear Regular Reader? I’ve never before thought of the French as spoilers of fun, but they have and still are taking some of the  scary out of the route. It’s being widened, resurfaced, re-cambered with concrete barriers being installed to save the unwary from driving off into the Mediterranean. Needless to say French car drivers are increasing their speed accordingly and very annoyed by the drivers of 3.5 ton trucks holding them up! (I did pull over in the villages to let the not-very-long queues pass me.) I grinned maniacally all the way and admired the views as much as one dares on hairpin bends!

I was reminded again, as I passed another memorial just over the border in Spain, of the Basque refugees coming over these passes 80 years ago to escape Franco’s troops. They didn’t have the modern day choices of route to follow or the time to pick decent weather to traverse them, and I bet they weren’t that impressed by the views either.

It’s been difficult to realise that Roses is in Spain, French motorhomers having the vast majority of the pitches here. It’s a nice enough place but without much character as the cute fishing village it once was is now a concrete “paradise” of hotels and apartment blocks. There are still a lot of working boats in the port which is quite distinct from the marina. There’s a nice long promenade for strolling, dog walking, cycling, roller blading, and skateboarding, whichever is your bag, and once again the bar, restaurant and shop owners are making preparations for the tourist onslaught.

Roses fishing port and the marina

Sunday early evening stroll and teensy little aperitif

(LWD was miffed I didn’t share the peanuts)

The cultural diversion inland starts tomorrow, how long it lasts will depend entirely on nighttime temperatures. I admit to being a wuss – at my age I’m entitled!

🙂 🙂 🙂

Opium.

That’s it. Done. Finished. I’m never using it again. Opium; awful stuff.

And if, dear Regular Reader, you are wondering why I ever started; the answer is I didn’t realise how bad using it would be. And getting my head together afterwards each time, was an absolute nightmare.

Hey ho, and on we go. Tomorrow actually. LWD and I are finally going up and over into Spain. Now not on the original plan, we’re going via Figueres and then inland a bit to do some cultural explorations (see the improvement in language use when my head’s not screwed up by opium?) I’ve looked at overnight temperatures in the area and we should be OK but I’ll probably add the extra duvet to make sure. In any case I shan’t be quite so far away from LPG sources.

It’s been a good time in Argeles. The place is busy with grockles at weekends but lovely and quiet midweek; well, apart from the noise of hammering, drilling and sawing going on everywhere this week in preparation for the new season opening very soon. All sorts of refurbs, cleaning and re-stocking going on in the businesses that have been closed overwinter.

Seasonal preparations in Argeles

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Opium – looks pretty tho’

Today’s crêpe, with dark chocolate, more than made up for the previous one. I went to a different place and was able to watch the lady make it for a start; it was absolutely gorgeous. My excuse is that it had to be done, I missed pancake day last Tuesday. Good job we’re off really, otherwise I’d be going there daily to work my way through the fillings list …

🙂 🙂 🙂

Very different reflections on the past.

I’m not sure what I think about the refurbishment of the shops in Mirepoix’s medieval centre. At first I thought the new all glass fronts and revamped interiors were too modern; then I realised that the “old shabby chic” shopfronts and interiors weren’t original and that maybe I was just reacting from the point of view of my love of shabby chic. It might even be I disliked the new look because not all the shops have been completed. I shall defer from opinion until I see it finished. Anyway I found it hard to wander round with the usual enjoyment with all the plant around and decided to hightail it to the coast.

Mirepoix before the recent renovations

It wasn’t much of a hardship to drive one of my favourite routes running parallel to the Pyrenees, the views quite make up for the parts where the road surface is extremely poor and the camber frequently wrong, especially as I suspect that is what makes the road so fabulously underused!

On Sunday, the day after arriving at Argeles Plage, right down in the corner of south western France, I meandered through the pine trees heading for the promenade when I was, at first distracted by a heavy Gendarme presence, and than told I couldn’t proceed along my chosen route. There appeared to be some sort of demonstration (which I was politely informed would be over in 30 minutes) and from the flags I saw I thought it must be the Basque Separatists protesting. LWD and I detoured round and walked the promenade to the port – where I was unable to finish more than a few mouthfuls of the disappointingly cold leathery crepe that arrived along with my drinkable tea.

The next day I took LWD on the same walk up to where the beach and pinewood had been cordoned off. On the beach I discovered an exhibition of photos of the camp that was set up in 1939 to house the 100,000 Basque refugees who escaped over the mountains from Franco’s forces in Spain. The previous day had not been a protest but the 80th anniversary of the events. The camp was set up right on the beach, it was early  February when the first refugees arrived and the conditions must have been horrendous. Exposed to the elements, families were split, as women and children were housed in one camp and men in another, taking up 1.5 kilometres of beach. The camp remained open for two years before all the refugees were dispersed to more permanent accommodation.

Argeles Plage

And I, 80 years later, find myself camping in almost the exact spot, although parked somewhat more comfortably and for far more pleasant reasons. The story does go to show that in 80 years dictators have not disappeared, and that ordinary folk are always the ones who suffer most. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

☹️☹️☹️

Hit and Miss, and Staircases.

The Aire at Mont de Marsan was a Hit; I was able to fill up with water, empty out the grey water tank and have electricity overnight.

The Aire at Mont de Marsan was a Miss; the French Air Force appear to have a base very close, landing and take off was directly overhead and the fast jets were very low and a tad noisy.

We left the next morning; strangely enough not long after flights commenced for the day.

Auch was a Hit! We arrived mid-afternoon parked up and had a mooch. The Pooch was dragged up the 374 steps of the monumental staircase, she didn’t seem very impressed but I was; my knees coped, I didn’t get out of breath and the view from the top was superb. Last time I was in Auch the staircase was being repaired. When originally built to impress (1863), and to improve access to the cathedral, it was made of poor quality stone and had deteriorated to the point where the repair that finished just after I last visited took eight years to complete; the staircase does impress now.

 

The monumental staircase ( these we walked up and down)

This morning we went on another quickish mooch this time using one of the pousterles (narrow steps) built in the Middle Ages to allow the citizens of the city to easily(?) get down to the river for water supplies, but were easily defensible. We entered the citadel via the east steps and left via the steps of the Oumettos (I have no idea, I think it might be Spanish as the street that leads to them is call Rue d’Espagne)

 

From L; Eastern steps (up), Oumettos steps (down), Oumettos with cat

It was all about steps and staircases. I also visited the Maison d’Henri IV as did, tradition says, Henri IV in 1578, and he would’ve walked up the stone and wood staircase. I didn’t.

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Henri VI’s staircase (allegedly)

We are overnighting in Auterive on our way to Mirepoix. The more attentive amongst you may have noted, if you’ve consulted your maps to ascertain my whereabouts, that I do not appear to be heading for Portugal via northern Spain. I have decided to wait to do that until the night temperatures in the mountains there are above freezing, I’m nervous that it will be difficult to get LPG thereabouts and I don’t think these old bones could manage without heating or hot drinks if the gas ran out.

The new plan is to mess about by the sea in eastern France and Spain whilst waiting for the nights to warm up – daytime temps are lovely and loads of sun at the moment.

🙂 🙂 🙂

Little Britain?

I’m back into the habit of picking out the best Aires and villages. This Aire has a lovely view of the river Charante just the other side of a small green park and electricity for only €2 per 24hrs which is wonderful as the nighttime temperatures (brrr) require heating to be on, and the boiler positively gobbles gas. My trusty electric heater is keeping us toasty at night and the daytime temps require no heating at all – wall to wall blue skies and lovely warm sun.

A quintessentially French village, Verteuil-sur-Charante is deservedly on the Beaux Villages list.The village boasts tiny independent shops, restaurants, a weir, two mills, one converted to a five star eatery, a chateau, a splendid church and, I’m reliably informed, six watering holes. 

Well gorgeous!

My reliable informant is one of a strong English community here. He was an early settler 20 years ago; lots more English arrived after some celebrity chef did a programme a few years ago about the restaurant at the mill and it’s chef who’s a whiz at brioche, and showed the village as well. There are now about 50 households of soon-to-be non-Europeans! It’s a beautiful place even in winter, in summer it must be absolutely gorgeous; unfortunately for the local populace, French and English, it’s then not so tranquil – Grockles like mosquitos, in droves!

We’ve been here four nights. I’ve been unable to drag myself away. LWD is well happy, loads of dog friendly lanes to wander off-lead. But we’re continuing south tomorrow …

🙂 🙂 🙂