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  • Carol Duval

Farewell to France—With a Couple of Friends

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

View over the Pyrenees from Elaine's terrace at La Forge del Mitg

After nearly seven weeks in La Forge del Mitg, friends Avis and Peter Gunn shared our final few days and gave us a chance to revisit some favourite spots—each with a very different flavour.

Day One

Staying close to home we spent an hour or so wandering around our nearest Spanish village, Macanet with lunch at a hotel restaurant that Elaine, our exchange partner, introduced us to. We’ve since become regulars for their garden setting and delicious lamb cutlets and grilled vegetables.

Actually, we returned today— after the Gunns’ departure and needing a break from pre-departure washing and cleaning—to find they were out of lamb cutlets. But la Signora suggested baked goat’s shoulder. Being our last day and a bit reckless after a glass of cava, we agreed. It turned out to be very nice indeed and as we’ve discovered a goat herd down the road from our house and the priapic antics of the horrible male (I wonder why it reminds me of Donald Trump!) we didn’t feel too badly about eating a bit of one.

Day Two

A very different day, again in Spain but in the arty town of Figueres with a long visit again to the Dali theatre museum.

Day Three

Back French-side to Ceret for the Saturday market and a healthy vegetarian tart and salad opposite the Museum of Modern Art. By chance we found an art/craft shop co-owned by a group of mainly expat artists, and learnt that there is a vibrant Aussie/Brit expat community —mainly artistically inclined—in the immediate vicinity. Now I know where I’d choose to live if forced to quit Sydney and live in the south-east of France. Avis bought a glass vase, Rick bought a ceramic cup cake and I bought a brightly coloured street scene of Collioure at the market. Suckers all. Only Peter resisted.

Day Four

Sunday so always a bit of an issue in these parts so we opted for a trip out west, first to Prats de Mollo in France where we encountered an alpaca, which was slightly scarily friendly.

The little chapel was more restful though. We were glad to see the Spanish images of torture, fire and brimstone hadn't traveled across the border even though the patron saints had sticky ends.

Then an increasingly foggy drive up over the mountain into Spain and the valley town of Camprodon. By this time it was bucketing down but at least since everything was closed — last time we were here it was Thursday and everything was also closed — we didn’t need to linger. Most restaurants were full or closed but we did find one and amazingly got a table looking directly over the now fast-running river. The food was well priced but patchy as we’ve come to expect in Spain but we weren’t complaining at those prices and with that view.

Day Five

A complete change of pace and scenery again with a trip to Collioure on the Mediterranean. The weather had cleared though the surf was still up but at least we had no rain or wind.

We found a wonderful restaurant, Le Neptune, on the cliff looking over the sea, with a great formule du jour that included half a dozen oysters.

All was great except for a table of five in the best position at the window, where one youngish woman held forth VERY LOUDLY in a particularly unpleasant high-pitched nasal voice. We were at the furthest end of the room but could hear her every word. She told the whole dining room that she was from San Diego, her online wine business was going well, her friend Tiffany only bought wine from her…and on it went.

The silver lining was that we had a lovely bonding afternoon with the staff who were equally fed up and all other diners at every other table who mimed eye-rolling, brain-shooting and throttling— not to mention table jumping as we all shared our annoyance. My TripAdvisor entry for Le Neptune in Collioure was remarkably approved without any cuts. A waitress told us they were friends of the owner who came once a month and so there wasn’t anything they could do about it so maybe my entry will give them a bit of ballast.

Avis and Peter left the next morning so we had a couple of days of clearing up and one last feast of oysters from the market at Amelie les Bains.

On market day the surrounding restaurants are fine with you bringing a plate of oysters bought at the oyster van and sitting with a glass of their cava. That's what I call civilised.

Our journey to Chichester turned out being more difficult than we’d planned as one of our trains was cancelled because of flooding so we had to try to hire a car from Perpignan. At least we weren’t among the poor people having their homes washed away. And at least we had one more bus ride for the princely sum of 1Euro each from outside the door in la Forge del Mitg, down the winding mountain road, to Perpignan Station.

It’s been a real experience here in the Pyrénées-Orientales and we’re glad we came but also happy to be moving on and head to as yet un-flooded England.

Bottom line: Lovely people, fascinating history, breathtaking scenery. Also--Catalan isn't easy to work out and a bit of Spanish and French muddled together goes a (very) small way. At least we avoided pigs' trotters, black pudding and snails. Miming helps as well.

Stopover in Bergerac was perfect with river, winding lanes and creative street planting displays. No rain!

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