This week, we left the vineyards and headed across France to the Pyrenees on the south-east coast of France. It was time for some more mountains and the constant threat of wet weather. We were also joined for a few days by Gloria, Brigit’s mum and the girls much loved ‘Nana.
Here’s what we got up to in Week 10…
Where We Went…
Our house was in a little village called ‘Codalet’ which was just outside the town of Prades. Our village had basically no amenities other than a place to park your car and a playground without swings (let’s just say it wasn’t the girls favourite). It was beautifully located at the base of the Pyrenees and Brigit and I could hike up the valley on our daily walks into peaceful forests (if that includes seeing people in full camo gear and rifle over their shoulder).
The house itself was 200 years old, four stories high with only one bathroom on the bottom floor. For a man that needs to visit the gents several times a night, it was a little inconvenient and the creaky old stairs didn’t help me getting there quietly. On a big plus, it had a perfect size pool for the girls to do flying jumps into and it beautiful views to watch the ever-changing weather blow down the valley.
Lac des Bouillouses
Our first day trip was a family hike high at the top of the valley and at the base of dam. It was a very popular spot and the girls were excited to be getting a bus up to the lake from the car park. When we mentioned we were going for a walk than the excitement quickly died. It was a beautiful alpine walk or should I call it a stroll. We managed to walk a few kilometres and we each had massive baguettes for lunch by the lake. Zara complained a lot about having sore legs and wanting to go home, but when she saw the big rocks, she was more than happy to climb on them.
Prades is a small market town with a couple of old buildings, a river running through it and possibly the worst waitress in the history of the world. One evening after the girls had eaten enough of their dinner to quality for dessert we headed into town looking for icy poles. Of course France doesn’t do icy poles like Spain, so we had to find a restaurant. Brigit said the soon to be infamous words ‘we can go anywhere because all dessert in France is good.’ To be fair, this had been our experience so far. Anyway, the pleasant waitress took our order and delivered our desserts with a smile. When Chloe saw their ‘ice cream sundae,’ she said ‘I am not eating that, it doesn’t look like the picture. It was in fact missing the smarties. We got the waitress’s attention and she come over with a snarl. We mentioned it was missing the smarties and she angrily responded ‘it is under the ice cream.’ We were like…’OK.’ So Zara looked under the ice cream and there was nothing there. While I was a little scared, I once again called her over. She snarled, and took the plate in a huff. Brigit and I were in shock. She slammed the plate back down with 4 smarties on the half eaten ice cream. I was about to walk, but Chloe was now happy and happy to eat, completely oblivious to probably the worst piece of service she will see in her lifetime.
Gorges de Galamus
On a threatening wet day, we decided to go for a drive to these gorges that were written up on TripAdvisor. You can park the car at either end and walk the length and visit a little chapel built into the side of the rock. The road was amazing, driving under the rock on one side and the other side a good 100 metre drop into the gorge (lucky there was a barrier). We did the walk at the end of the day after being there for three hours, because we got stuck at the best rock pools I have been to. These were at the top of the gorge. And were just perfect for our family. There has a massive green pool for me to jump in and swim across. Then were nice large boulders for Brigit to have a doze and read her book and there was cool little natural water slides for the girls. It was such a peaceful spot of quality family time.
Gorges de la Carnaca
When Brigit and the kids went off to pick-up Nana from the airport I took the opportunity to go for a hike. I took the bus from Prades to a little village and walked around these gorges. They were really beautiful but also really scary. The track was cut into the rock with a sheer fall on one side. It was a very pleasant morning spent in the forest.
I did a quick tour of this stunning fort. It has 742 stairs built inside the cliff leading down to the equally stunning village below, Villefranche de Confluent. It certainly would have been hard to penetrate by the enemies.
Villefranche de Confluent
On another day that threaten rain, we decided to have lunch at this stunning medieval village. It’s old walls are still fully intact and you can walk inside them and the village has a feeling that you are stepping back 200 years. We had a lovely family lunch here at a creperie where we all went for the chocolate and dulce de leche crepes for dessert…yummo!
Abbaye St Martin de Canigou
On yet another wet morning, I needed to get out. So I drove to the nearby village of Casteil in the driving rain. Having second thoughts, I read my book for an hour in the car and then with some luck the rain cleared to a drizzle and I made the steep walk up to the stunningly situated Abbaye hanging on the cliff. I wanted a bit more exercise, so I headed higher to the beautiful forest and rocky landscape above the Abbaye. With everything wet, the forest smelt so clean and the air was peacefully crisp. Apart from sliding down the rocks on my bum and thinking I had broken my wrist and thinking it is better to break a wrist then a leg as at least I can still walk, it was lots of fun.
A stunning seaside town, with beaches, a fort, a small port, hills all around, a path around the sea and great food. Not much not to like about this place.
This was an old and very quiet village high up in the hills which we had a quick stop at. The girls loved the old school building.
What We Did…
Family bath time
On a sunny afternoon (but we were expecting rain of course), we thought it would be nice for a visit to one of the many hot spring baths in the area. For your health, you are suppose to visit them daily for three weeks, but a two hour visit would have to do for us. We went to the St Thomas des Bains that had some old-school outdoor baths surrounded by the hills and forests of the Pyrenees. It was so much fun. The girls loved being like little ladies and spent their time under the showers and exploring the jets. Other than suspecting that the family illness (see below) started at the baths, we loved it here.
French fine dining
Brigit and I were lucky to have Nana look after the kids a couple of time this week (plus all the other great hel…like putting them to bed every night [YAY]), so we got to enjoy some proper French fine dining with dinner one night followed by lunch the next.
We had dinner at Le Chateau de Riell, near Prades. It was in a stunning room, part Safari, part Western (with swinging saloon doors to the toilets) and the food and service matched. The service was very formal and made us feel like we were eating in a fine restaurant in the 1950s. Our favourite part was when the waiter brought out our mains and then he realised he had got our order wrong. He was mortified and was really sorry. Later, he came back and said he would give us two glasses of champagne for his mistake. Then when the sommelier delivered us the €17 a glass champagne, he said ‘for the DISAPPOINTMENT.’ It was so dramatic and over the top. It made an already very memorable evening, very special indeed. What service!
The following day, we had a lovely lunch in the town of Collioure at Le Restaurant La Balette. It was another memorable experience. Beautifully situated on the water, we had the best corner position (and I didn’t even have to lie and say it was our anniversary). We were greeted outside the restaurant and led to our table and this was typical of the service. They seemingly watched us go to the table and seamlessly come over helped with the chair each time we returned to the table. We felt very special. We had matched wines and ate pigeon for the first time that really was delicious. The French really do know how to put it on. However the €6 ($A10) for a coffee was a bit different to Spain…but we did get some beautiful petit fours with it.
Trying to relive the past
Our visit to Collioure was prompted by my visit there 12 years ago when I was backpacking with friends. I think I was trying to relive the memories of drinking, sun and being free. With family in tow, I wasn’t feeling particularly free, the rain was keeping the sun at bay but at least there was the drinking. I even tried to have a passion sorbet after a big lunch because I had a memory of the best passionfruit sorbet from my visit, so many years ago. It just remained me that the past is the past and everyday is an opportunity to have a new experience and it is never going to be the same as both you and the place continually change and more forward.
All girls sick simultaneously
After Nana was very sick on Wednesday night, we were a bit worried we might all get sick. Well, that happened all at once. While Brigit was being sick in the bathroom, I heard a massive yell upstairs. I sprinted upstairs and there is Chloe fast asleep, but she has managed a massive spew all over the wall. About an hour later it was Zara’s turn, but luckily Nana got her into the bathroom in time. I spent the night expecting to the same and unable to sleep, but my iron stomach won out. The next morning, the girls were like nothing had happened. Kids definitely seem to have an ability to right themselves very quickly.
Next week, we head back to Spain and say goodbye to all the yummy pastries, but get to say hello again to pan con tomate and we can actually understand some of the language.