Well, sort of. The problem with a wonderful holiday is that sometimes, you’re not quite ready to leave it in your head & get back to reality. It doesn’t help that it’s cold & grey here, and there’s tons of stuff that really needs doing, preferably right now, or before. Usually at the end of a holiday I’m looking forward to getting back to all the things I’d miss about our beautiful & quirky little part of the world, but now I’ve found somewhere equally beautiful & quirky. And warmer… Say no more!
It was very interesting to see how people have lived, and to some extent still live, in a landscape that’s equally as benign as our own, if not more so. I live in a smallish medieval market town just inland from the mild & beautiful South Coast of England, and we stayed in something very much equivalent in the south of France, just where the Pyrenees are sloping down towards the sea. Like here, there are still markets; the bigger ones are partly what we would call “grockle-traps” though we found (and bought!) some excellent, inexpensive regional specialities too. But there’s a tiny weekly market in the village we stayed in, too; just four food stalls selling absolutely top-notch, mouthwatering local produce, that you were encouraged to try before committing yourself to buy. The leftovers are in my fridge or my garlic pot even as I write.
I don’t think I have ever been in such an abundant & beautiful landscape. On closer examination, what looked like acres of verdant wilderness clearly was no such thing. Just about every tree was edible or otherwise useful; down in the villages, fruit trees predominated, with olives, figs, grapes, citrus & cherries everywhere – the area is famous for its cherries, in particular, but the tiny black figs were melt-in-the-mouth, honey-sweet gorgeous too – but higher up the slopes, nuts predominated, with chestnuts, hazels & walnuts dotted amongst the cork oaks. The villages consisted of tall terraced houses (with wooden shutters, all painted in beautiful colours – I do love shutters!) clustered tightly around their town squares, Mairies, little forts or priories, usually with mountain streams running in channels down both sides of the roads. Presumably these were once their main water supplies.
Outside the villages, usually a little upslope & almost indistinguishable from the forested surroundings, were areas of gardens, possibly allotments, though they seemed much more permanent & not all of them were used just for produce; we saw one which was clearly a family relaxation area, with outdoor oven, swings & an above-ground pool as well as tomatoes, sweetcorn, beans, olives & berry & currant bushes. The water channels ran through these first, with little pipes going into each garden & channels leading the water though to each bed going downwards, all fed by gravity from the river. In the villages, there were lots of little independent shops, which do seem to be well-used by the locals, though there are hypermarkets & estates of villas with pools & sterile gravel gardens springing up nearer the main roads down on the plain. There are ice-pits upslope, where ice was stored (and still could be) each winter, and thermal springs, which the French take very seriously for their health. In short, a landscape that is or has been used to the full, in a beneficial & light-handed way; there seemed to be plenty of wildlife too. It’s a bird & butterfly heaven!
The coastal towns were delightful; each had its own distinct character and most still seem to have reasons for existing other than as holiday havens or yachtie stopovers. Anchovy warehouses & big local wine domain “outlets” sit alongside the leather goods shops & the soap & candle emporiums; the soaps are a genuine local speciality & our suitcases smelt fantastic on the return trip. I also stocked up on spices as we get through them in much larger quantities than most households, and things like culinary lavender & juniper berries are much cheaper out there.
Needless to say, Elder Daughter & I couldn’t resist a trip to the vide-greniers & marché-aux-puces of Perpignan, the nearest city. And although we couldn’t bring back a lot, as we were flying Ryanair, we did find some irresistible vintage treasures and had a lot of fun, although it almost hurt to leave that beautiful old Kohler industrial treadle unexamined…
One day, we will drive down & come back with a loaded car… but it’d be touch & go whether it’d be loaded with lovely vintage stock for our stalls, or with edible & potable delights to see us through a grey & dismal British winter! And if ever I persuade my doctor to say that I need to go & live in a warmer climate for the sake of my health, you’ll know where to find me…