All posts tagged: France

Along the coast

At the other side of the Pyrenees

The sun shines brightly and bathes small coastal towns, the mountain range Serra de l’Albera, picturesque bays, rough rocks, traditional fishing villages and narrow streets in a golden light. Perfect conditions for our trip on a sunny day in spring.

From Perpignan towards the Pyrenees

We start our journey in Perpignan and travel back to Spain along the French Mediterranean coast. Passing salt lakes south-east of Perpignan, very popular for surfing, we get to Argelès-sur-Mer. This seaside resort connects in a way the Pyrenees with the Mediterranean Sea and impresses with its small alleys and fine sandy beaches. However, we don’t stay long and follow the street along the coast, covered with hundreds of blossoming lavender and broom plants.

Coloured plants decorate along the coast.

Beautiful plants seam the coastline.

Picturesque fishing villages and unspoiled bays

Our way southwards leads us to Collioure, an old fishing village, which attracts lots of different artists. Again and again we see their framed motifs. At the promenade, a frame shows, for example, the ancient fortified church, captured by Henri Matisse. We make a small break and take in the splendid colours and the hustle and bustle in the bay. Then we leave Collioure and its colourful alleys and soon afterwards enjoy the peace in one of the secluded and delightful bays of Port Vendres.

Fortified church in Collioure

The bay of Collioure invites coffee lovers, sun worshippers and wind surfers.

Great view of the coast

Passing Banyuls-sur-Mer, famous for its sweet wine, we finally get to the Cap Rederis. From there you have a beautiful view of the coastal landscape: from the Cap Béar to the Spanish Cap de Creus, you can enjoy a stunning panorama, framed by various illuminated flowers. Down at the water, waves with sea spray break against the rough rocks of the steep coast and through the clear, turquoise water beyond you can see to the ground.

Looking down to the seabed

Through the clear water you can see down to the bottom of the sea.

A trip full of impressions

Wonderful strong colours and idyllic small bays. Traditional fishing villages and abandoned streets along the steep coast. Clear water in all possible shades of blue and great views over the entire coast. All these impressions make a trip along the southern part of the French Mediterranean coast totally worth it.

Fairytale scenery

Les Orgues d’Ille-sur-Têt – unique sandstone world!

Enchanted sandstone rocks

Mother nature often creates unique worlds like in Ille-sur-Têt, near Perpignan. In front of the imposing backdrop of Canigou (2784 m) sandstone sculptures protrude in front of the bright blue horizon. The landscape looks just like a fairy tale! These sugar towers that are created by erosion could have possibly inspired Antoni Gaudí when he planned his Sagrada Família. This great spectacle of nature can be reached from Costa Brava by car in about an hour. To explore the so called „Cheminées de Fées“ (‚fairy chimney‘) it takes about an half an hour walk.

 

Impressive and high sandstone figures

Fairy chimneys as a source of inspiration.

 

First we enter the amphitheater that is surrounded by a fairytale backdrop of stone. It looks marvelous! New forms arise every time it rains. The nature is here its own sculptor! The rock needles protrude up to 15 meters into the sky. With a little imagination one can recognize mythical creatures, various animal heads or models with modern hats.

 

City out of sand stones

Natural art

 

We stroll through the maze of stones. We are enjoying the view and capture beautiful moments with our camera. This is for sure a relaxing trip into another world. We decide to go back to the sea and enjoy the backdrop from there. On our way back we stop by to walk around and do some shopping in the streets of Collioure. Taking the way back along the beautiful coast after a trip to France is more than recommendable! Through the serpentines we drive back to Costa Brava. We cannot get enough of the beautiful sea-views. Green vineyards, turquoise sea, blue sky – there is beauty wherever you look! These amazing landscapes remind on paradise and are truly meditation for the soul. A trip to Orgues is definitely a great excursion tip for a mild sunny day in autumn.

 

Unique world of Ille-sur-Têt

Sandstone towers from further away

How to reach Ille-sur-Têt

– from Figueres in about 50 min
– First, motorway AP8 to Perpignan, then towards Andorra. After that exit the expressway N 116 at Ille-sur-Têt.

Alternatively:
First, take NII behind Le Boulou exit towards Thuir via D 612 to Ille-sur-Têt. Here you drive comfortably through villages along wineries. Buy Fruits at the roadside and taste delicious wine of the region in one of the wineries. A picturesque landscape framed by the massif of Canigou awaits you.

Follow the signs “Site des Orgues“ in Ille-sur-Têt until you reach the parking lot behind the place.

Buy tickets (price: 5€) at the parking lot and then follow the marked path. After about 800 meters you reach the entrance to the rock spectacle. Do not forget your camera!

 

Pyrenees and Costa Brava- Horses, Castles and monuments

Espinavell

We take a step out of the house. The first impression is simply breathtaking. Sun rises up at the sky of the Costa Brava. Pictorial Pyrenees in the background. The smell of firewood creeps into our nose. Early in the morning we start from Torroella de Fluvià towards Espinavell to experience the annual horse-drift down from the mountains. The path takes us through stunning mountain scenery and small villages high up in the Pyrenees. Passing Besalú and Olot we stop in Camprodon. Crusty bread and delicious cheese of the region get packed. A traditional Catalan ´Coca´ with a sugar hood sweetens the rest of our way. Slowly moving forward to Espinavell we cross red-colored vine. Brightly colored trees are lining the serpentines. Only a few spots are still green. Autumn is knocking on.

Tria de Mulats- the traditional horse-drift

Horses running down the hills

Horses going downhill to Espinavell

We are moving forward to Mollo- a little municipality right in the pyrenees. For those who are afraid to ride the cliffy street up to Espinavell on their own buses are made available. We follow the numerous people up to the parking lot with our own car. Mud covers the floor and makes it pretty difficult to reach the parking lot. After several attempts we finally succeed. Crowds immediately passing us to the fairground. Many locals got dressed up for this special event. Every year on the day of St. Edward – 13 October – retailers and animal lovers meet to experience the traditional horse-drift in Espinavell. The little village seems do be in a state of emergency. Families, school classes and even tourists don´t want to miss the local spectacle. After months on the meadows, high up in the Pyrenees, horses and foals now get handed over to their owners or buyers. With concentrated power herds storming down the slope. The gathered crowd gives a brawly applause to „man and beast“.

Artesania- the colorful market

Olives in Espinavell

Delicious olives on a market stand

We stroll along the many market stalls. From traditional products of animal husbandry to sweet and savory delicacies of own production- everyone is able to find something. You definitely should take a walk up to the centre of the small romantic mountain village Espinavell. You will enjoy a fantastic panoramic view up there. A warming catalan coffee is irreplaceable. Later on the most beautiful horses will be awarded by an expert jury.

Horses grazing

View down to the horses and fairground

Free wild life on the mountain meadows with delicious wild herbs is over by now. When the last snow thawed and the spring sun attracts the first flowers in the next year the horses will be back in the highlands. The festival lasts until the evening. Many take advantage of the culinary coffer to enjoy a delicious lunch at the unique restaurant of Espinavell. For us it´s time to move towards the French border.

French Impressions

The french border is only half an hour to go and we use the afternoon to visit the neighboring country. Enjoying picturesque landscapes and charming little villages with a typical French atmosphere. From Ceret over to Le Boulou the way leads us back near the coast to Collioure. Even in mid-october the small colorful artist-village is still well attended. Since Henri Matisse and his fellow artist André Derain discovered the sleepy fishing village in 1904 it is considered as a „mecca of art“. Red roof tiles. Ornate balcony railings. Blue shutters. Pastel-colored facades. Winding streets. Steep staircases. Ancient fortresses. Different kind of boats in the harbor. All that details form a picturesque backdrop and beautiful holiday memories. So, no wonder that even the kings of Majorca were huge supporters of the village and used the castle – now a museum – as their summer residence.

Castle in Collioure

Former castle of the Majorcan kings

We stroll through the small village center, browse through small boutiques and delicatessens. Enjoying a cappuccino and the view to the harbor before we go back on the road towards Spanish border. Vines now dominate the surrounding landscape.

We are in the middle of Roussillon and drive through the wine-growing region of Banyuls. A wine of Banyuls may remind you of a good port wine, characterized by intense flavors of honey, dried fruits and vanilla.

Unlimited

Further along the coast we are now back in the direction of Spain. No barrier, no fence, no border post market the crossover from France to Spain these days. Once upon a time many refugees killed themselves across the Pyrenees because they had no way out.

Memorial of Walter Benjamin

Memorial of Walter Benjamin in Portbou

We stop near Portbou to take a look at the Walter Benjamin Memorial which is called “passages”. This was designed in 1994 by the Israeli artist Dani Karavan in memory of the philosopher Walter Benjamin. “The Temporary, short duration” describes his escape from the Gestapo in an impressive way and which ended tragically. The quote of Benjamin at the end of the tunnel high above the sea is even more relevant: „It is heavier to honor the memory of the nameless than the famous. The memory of the nameless is therefor dedicated by the historical construction.“

Thoughtfully we continue towards Figueres.  The contrasts of mountains and rugged coastline captivates us. Flora and fauna show themselves in their most beautiful way. Winter seems still far away. But the first migratory birds already landed on the Mediterranean. The last tourists soon leave the beaches. Hibernation is coming.

The many impressions of today will be with us for a long time…

Road Trip to the French Border

Curious about what the Pyrenees might look like from the other side, we start out on a road trip with direction to France. The sun is shining through the open hood of our car and the nothern wind Tramuntana causes the leaves to dance. Our journey takes us through the countryside, passing by numerous little villages of the Empordà which provide a view at the mountains and the sea.

We cross the Aiguamolls at Castelló d’Empúries. In the midst of the marsh land which is a nature conservation a swarm of storks stops us. The huge birds strut around sociably among cows.

Aiguamolls-Storks-Cows
We go uphill to reach Vilajuïga where the mineral water’s source of the “Aigua de Vilajuïga“ is located. We know the water from the supermarket. The inhabitants of Vilajuïga are allowed to draw the water from the source’s public tap for free. The water is said to have magic powers, so we need to try it.

Next, we follow the signpostings to Sant Pere de Rodes, taking the pass up to the foothills of the nature park Cap de Creus. We stop high up at Mas Ventós and enjoy the breath-taking view over the Empordà’s vastness up to the sea. The Pyrenees’ white peaks mark the horizon.

We go onwards to Sant Pere de Rodes. The former Benedictine monastery thrones illustriously upon a rock. The road steeply leads down to the sea from here. The view down at the coastal town El Port de la Selva and Llança is enchanting. We go further through vineyards and cliffs until we reach Colera. The sleepy little village just before the French border attracts us to take a break and to drink a coffee nearby the sea.

Portbou is our last stop before we cross the border. We visit the memorial of Walter Benjamin. The Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan has created an impressive accessable memorial by creating “Passages“ – a tunnel made of rusty steel leads the visitors many stairs down the cliff and nearly meets the sea. A glass screen on which one of Benjamin’s quotes are engraved bolts the access to the horizon.

The last Pyrenees’ foothills dive into the Mediterranean Sea between France and Spain. We take the winding road up to the neighbouring country. O

nly the deserted border houses, now covered with graffiti, remind of the formerly guarded French border. Everybody is now able to pass in both directions.

Time and time again, wars create limits which were many people’s undoing. Today, we are happy to live in a united Europe and are able to detect – travelling freely – that the Pyrenees are as impressive as from the other side in Spain.

Bonjour Perpignan – “The Centre of the World”

Standing in the station concourse of Perpignan in 1963, the man with his twirled mustache knocked onto the floor with his crutch several times, caught up in a hallucinatory inspiration and calling out theatrically: “C’est le centre du monde!“ – This is the centre of the world.

As the master of surrealism Salvador Dalí had already seen great potential of the city and his monumental painting “La Gare de Perpignan“ is considered to be an autobiography of the paintor, we also wanted to form an opinion about this important city in the midst of the French Roussillon.

Perpignan-Merry-go-round

A beautiful coastal highway let us along the picutresque Spanish villages Llança, Colera, and Portbou to Perpignan, located 30 km away from the Spanish border.

Via-Perpignan-Marry-TJ

We arrived at the city, being illusionary immersed into the beauty of the mountains and the vastness of the sea, and located only a few kilometres beyond the Costa Brava. 
Perpignan is a lively, historic city, marvellously situated between the Pyrenees on one side and the sea on the other side, and is tempting with French charme.

Fascinated, we were strolling along the small alleys of the old town. Paved streets were awe-inspiring, bright façades were shining, painted in pastels, and buildings were inspired by the Gothic style. They all reminded of the time when Perpignan had been known for being the capital of the kingdom of Mallorca.

Perpignan-wall-of-building

The completely renewed Castle of the Kings as well as the cathedral Cloître Du Cimetière St. Jean are worth a visit and above the landmark of the city Le Castillet the Catalan flag is fluttering. 
Due to the proximity to Spain and also its history, the city in the north of Catalonia not only proves itself with French architecture and all sorts of local delicacies but also attracts many people every year with ist Catalan fair and lightness to come to Perpignan.

We were making our way along the small boutiques and beautiful places, exploring those mysterious little courtyards with all its cafés and restaurants which offered a perfect place to rest.

Perpignan-Flower-Shop

This day, Perpignan did full justice to its reputation as one of the most sun ripened and hottest cities of France and so we didn’t want to miss the chance to search for cooling in the French department store called Lafayette and to finish the day off with an inspiring shopping tour.

Perpignan-Roses

In how far Dalí’s visionary opinion about “The Centre of the World“, which is written in capital letters onto the central station of Perpignan, can be shared among the people is left to themselves. 
Nevertheless, at this point it might be a good idea to think of the words that a Spanish artist spoke benevolently:

„If there was only one truth, one wouldn’t be able to draw houndreds of paintings about the same topic.“

Pablo Picasso.