Sunday, July 10, 2011

A week in the Mediterranean. (Europe '11 - # 6)

We have entered the last week of our European vacation. We have enjoyed most excellent adventures along the way, in LondonParis, and le beautiful PérigordLe HusbandJunior and I shared special times with old friends and relatives, while sightseeing and re-discovering favorite places in la Belle France

After spending a few days in the Dordogne valley, we left Sarlat and the big castles, and drove to the Vézère valley, a different section of the Périgord. This is what I woke up to in the morning as we were staying at our beautiful auberge in the tiny village of Castel Merle. Picture birds chirping in the background, and a gentle breeze rustling the trees. So relaxing. A little piece of Heaven. When we come home, I am planning to write a story about special places we found along the way, and l'Auberge de Castel Merle will definitely get a nod.

On Wednesday, we drove South to the coast on a major autoroute (toll road) past my hometown, Toulouse, and we reached Carcassonne, Europe's most famous fortified town dating back to Gallo-Roman times. 

The citadel, that stands in the upper Cité (city), is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. It is an impressive place, mostly because it has been so well preserved over the centuries. Still, it felt a bit strange to be in such a touristy, crowded place after enjoying the peaceful Vézère valley in le Périgord just two days earlier.

The first thing we noticed when we arrived was the gigantic fortress towering over the city. You would think we would be blasés about seeing yet another medieval château, but nothing can prepare you for the sheer size of Carcassonne (massive walls, a castle, fifty-two towers, an impenetrable maze of streets with restaurants, tourist shops, old houses and even a few [privileged] hotels)

Carcassonne: Even more impressive at night!
Carcassonne: the ramparts
Our hotel was right outside the fortified town

The place was too busy to enjoy fully so Les Boys went back to the hotel after an hour to relax a bit. I am glad I stayed behind as I found the most unusual museum inside the old city's walls. I was very excited about my discovery but I will save it for another story if you don't mind. Let me just say the museum was about... school. 

Later that night, we had dinner in a medieval restaurant where we had to eat fairly messy dishes with no forks or plates (they did not exist in the Middle Ages, you see. Neither did soda, or French fries.) Le Husband and I ordered cassoulet, a local stew made with beans, and a selection of salty meats like sausage and duck confit. Have you already tried deboning a duck leg with a spoon and a knife? Difficile, and messy, I assure you.

Cassoulet du Sud-Ouest

I don't know what kind of medieval potion we ordered, but when we left the place, Le Husband decided to pick a fight with a knight who was standing guard outside the restaurant. 

Then we all went on a long walk in the deserted streets and decided we liked Carcassonne a lot better at night. 

The following morning, the three of us woke up très excited at the prospect of reaching our final stop in France, the seaside village of Collioure, located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, bordered by the Mediterranean sea. The Coast, enfin! Collioure (between Perpignan and Port Vendres on the map above) is the perfect place to get in the mood for Spain, a mere 15 miles away, and our final stop on this trip.

Ah, Collioure. A magical place. Is it the pastel-colored houses around the village; the pebbled beaches; the Mediterranean climate; the seductive mix of French and Catalan origins? For over 2,500 years, visitors (or invaders) have come, fought for or fallen in love with this lovely town and its strategically located harbor. 

Collioure and Notre Dame des Anges (Lady of the Angels) church
The bell tower helped sailors return safely at night
Collioure: the 800-year old royal castle
A stroll in Collioure: French or Spanish? Definitely Mediterranean!

French and Catalan flags to celebrate le 14 juillet (Bastille Day)
How I wish I could bring one of these olive trees back with me...

Collioure's light, colors and lovely setting have always inspired artists. Matisse and Derain, among others, stayed there in 1905.  Fauvism, the short-lived but influential art movement, was born. Reproductions of paintings by "les Fauves" can be found on walls all over town (while the originals are in museums across Europe.) 

Collioure harbor, Derain (Circa 1905)
Collioure's roofs, Matisse

Today, art galleries and small artist studios are tucked away in the colorful streets. Even street names (written in French, or in Spanish) give visitors something to look at. 

"The Painter's Hut"

It's been hard on Le Husband to be boat-less on the Mediterranean. Our sailboat, Mistral, (his most treasured possession) is waiting for us at home in Seattle. You should have seen him looking longingly at sailboats, bobbing in Collioure bay... Très triste... 

He and Junior found a way of getting out there by signing up for a tour. It was not quite sailing, but it was something, wasn't it?

Happy husband and son back on the water...
Off they go...
Moi? I picked a first row seat at the best café right on the beach...

It would have been lovely to spend another day in Collioure, but my relatives were waiting for us in Spain. 

It is a lot easier to cross the Spanish border these days!

My family originated in the Mediterranean region, and my parents have spent most of their summer vacation in Spain as far as I can remember. Thirty-five years ago, they invested in a small apartment on Spain's Costa Brava, in a small resort town, L'Escala. It is a modest place, but my favorite feature is the large terrace where we enjoy dinners alfresco, while gazing at the Mediterranean sea in the distance. Junior could not w.a.i.t. to get there to catch up with his older cousin, Théo. While the boys stay with my parents, Le Husband and I picked a hotel in a small cove a short distance away. There is a pool, of course, so the boys can play in the afternoon, but the big draw is the beach, and the waterfront restaurants and bars that remain open until late at night. With dinner starting after 9:00pm, nightlife is an important part of a Spanish vacation. 

Calla Montgo (Montgo cove) - view from our hotel room

We have been here a few days and have made the most of local activities. Le Husband and Le Brother (who flew down from Paris for the weekend,) have taken the boys on pedal boats, jet skis, and there has been some talking about renting a small Hobie Cat on Monday. Yesterday, Le Brother [a certified diving instructor] took Junior on his very first scuba dive. He knows the best diving schools in the area and we received special treatment from Spanish friends of his. 

Georges (my little brother,) our intrepid diving instructor

Junior is getting ready...
Junior jumps in while Le Husband looks on...
The whole crew after the dive

We still have a few days here before we drive to Barcelona where our flight will be waiting. The weather is absolutely gorgeous, in the lower 80s, and we enjoy every minute of it. Who knows what we will find when we land in Seattle at the end of next week?

This has been a long, and eventful vacation. I have struggled with erratic Wifi connections to post some stories and pictures, and I will be looking forward to sharing more material once in Seattle. Thank you for coming along and for all your messages. Have a wonderful July!

A bientôt.

Two cousins
Long live Europe!


  1. v-JUST BEAUTIFUL...the whole post...but the real question i have is how did jr. like the dive? love that adventurous spirit of his...did le hubby dive too? love the fact your bro. is exciting... the world under the water!!!enjoy the rest of the time spent with family...making memories for your son to keep the rest of his life...nothing else like it in the world!!-g

  2. Bonjour g. Yes, both le Husband and Junior had a great time during their first dive. La Costa Brava attracts divers from all over. Beautiful rugged coast, and clear, warm water. My brother said he will take him down there again when we return next year. Thanks for staying with us on this trip and posting comments-- as a blogger friend puts it: "Comments are icing on the blogger's cake" ;-) V.

  3. It was very funny, and I can confirm that "junior" love scuba diving.
    30seconds after the beginning of the "baptême", we went into a "cave" to see the "big blue"!
    The area "estartit and the medes islands" are very known in Europe. it is a "nature reserve" and you can only dive an take pictures. So, the bio diversity is exceptionnal!!!
    For american people, the diving club recognize all the pady levels and speak all languages...
    the "tonton"

  4. Merci for the comment en anglais, "Le tonton." Merci, aussi, for les fun times a Paris et a la Escala! Bisous. La sister.

  5. Wow you made me feel home sick. The paella photo hurt my feelings.=) *sigh* nice post! I still have to make it out to Collioure one of these days. Looks super charming.

  6. Merci Sandy. Great to hear from you. I know, that paella shot is a killer. Just had another paella for lunch in our little cove today with Le Husband. Wonder how many paellas you can have in a week before you become sick? Will let you know ;-) V.

  7. Sounds like such a fab holiday. Im quite envious.

  8. Thank you for visiting. We have enjoyed this long European vacation. Living in Western Australia must be something too. I will go and spend more time on your beautiful blog when I go back home. A bientot.

  9. Encore, merci beaucoup pour le travelog! What a wonderful vacation you are having. Les photos sont tres grande! Vous avez un bon voyage a les etas unis.

  10. What a fantastic trip! :) I love all these photos. I had never seen a city with a fortress around it before. That is really cool!

    The culture, the arts, and the food all sound (and look) amazing. My mouth is watering just looking at the photo above. Lol.

    The scuba diving looks like so much fun!

  11. Chérie-- Je vous en prie. Je me suis bien amusée avec le travelogue moi aussi. Nous rentrons vendredi cette semaine. A bientot!
    Jennifer Fabulous-- Thank you for stopping by and coming on this trip with us. Now you have to organize a visit to France (and Europe) soon. Looking at your blog, I know you would love it. ;-)

  12. It was so lovely for you to stop by my blog. Merci!
    I loved looking through yours today and will definitely be back for more adventure. I have just returned from a 7 week trip to Europe, 5 spent in France ( 2 Paris) and 2 send in Spain. I loved it all!
    France always has my heart but I found it easy to fall in love with Spain.
    On my journey i couldnt up load photos so my blog was in limbo but am back with a vengence.
    It is so nice to meet fellow travellers.

  13. My pleasure, Suzi. 7 weeks is a long time to be away from home. We have been gone for almost 4 and I can't wait to see our furry children (the pets!) and our friends, but like you, will miss Europe a lot. Dieu merci, we, bloggers, get to re-live our trips through the stories we write when we get back ;-) V.

  14. I just found your blog and look forward to exploring it more fully.
    Your European holiday sounds wonderful and your description of your visits and photographs are excellent!

  15. Bonjour Craig and welcome chez French Girl in Seattle. I can't wait to read more about Boris' adventures on your blog. Where did you leave in France?

  16. How sad you must be to be back home (commenting on July 15th). I hope you will keep on posting more photos of your wonderful trip to Europe.

  17. Merci Nadege. We are home now, back in Seattle with rainy weather greeting us. I will be writing more stories in the next few days. It will help to look at pictures of the gorgeous Mediterranean summer we enjoyed for a few weeks! V.

  18. I really enjoyed your two last posts showing many areas I did not know. Even though I was born in Ales I have not visited the Dordogne towns which are not too far – we always say we will go but somehow we have not yet. Your pictures were lovely and the food looked so yummy.

  19. Welcome back Vagabonde! Yes, go visit le Périgord, absolument. France offers many beautiful regions, but this is one truly amazing area, with so much to offer. Loved your last post. Good story, and wonderful illustrations, as always. V.

  20. I'm glad to see that your adventures are so fruitful. You give me the opportunity to visit the places that you've been to. The metal armor must have been rather hot to touch.

  21. Thank you Olga. Hope you are feeling better. Back in Seattle now (where metal armors will NEVER be hot to touch due to weather conditions ;-) and working on the next story... Come back soon! V.

  22. Très belle escapade à travers la France...
    Merci !



Bonjour! I love hearing from you, my readers. To quote a fellow blogger, my friend Owen, "Comments are the icing on blogcake... Comments are the UFO in the twilight sky bearing news from other planets... Comments are raspberry vinegar in salad dressing... Comments are the cool balm of after-sun moisturizing lotion... Comments are the moment the band comes back out onstage to play an encore... Comments are the gleam in the eye across the room in a smoky bar... Comments are the rainbow after the rainstorm..." Merci for your comments! French Girl in Seattle