The best thing about living in Southwest France is that Spain is at my doorstep. In four hours, I am smack in the middle of the Pays Basques eating pintxos and drinking sidra in San Sebastian or I am perched at a small table eating calamar and drinking cava by the Dalibluesea at Cadaqués. Summer strikes hard and hot this year and the cool eau-de-nile green canal isn’t enough to quench my thirst for salt water and all that swims therein. I long to see clear blue water.
The opportunity arises to take my 11-year-old goddaughter, Clotilde-Julia, to visit 12-year-old Adele on the Costa Brava. We jump in the car and drive southeast packing (along with our swimsuits) haricots verts, a half-dozen perfect courgettes and the first ripe tomatoes from the garden. Along the way we collect bottles of sweet Maury* wine driving through this little aperitif-producing valley that sweeps from the edge of the Pyrenees Orientals through Rivesaltes* and on to the Mediterranean at Banyuls*. Bright hot sunny days and long warm nights pump the grapes full of sugar here; some of these vins cuits age in barrels outside for years under a brutal orb—literally cooking the wine to a deep amber/ruby nectar.
*When to drink: The complex Banyuls is a perfect match for chocolate and rich desserts and turns up often on top restaurant menus accompanying these. Rivesaltes is a common bar aperitif and Maury, though less available, is worth the hunt to sweetly finish a summery meal instead of dessert.
Clotilde has never been to Spain. She sings ‘tween pop songs contentedly all the way. I love being the fairy godmother. As we swoop across the invisible border near La Jonquera, she sings, “Es-pagne!!! en fin…”. “At last,” I echo and we drop down the eastern edge of these great frontier mountains leaving the Midi, the Cathar castles and all things French behind. Next stop… vamos ala playa!
Eating Catalunya: I love the Catalan ‘jet-lag’—everything is an hour or two behind our usual French schedule, including eating. The famous late Spanish lunches and dinners are made up for by the abundance of small food one might eat when at a bar. Although tapas or pintxos reflect aperitif hour of the western Basques, it is not against culinary law here to eat a snack before a meal. Mid-morning, I walk down to the Bar Boia on the beach. I order a cortado*- a short coffee with a splash of milk and an enterpan* or bocadillo with thinly sliced jamon or my favorite filling, truitas*- a freshly made omelet. Of course, the bread is rubbed with tomato and drizzled with olive oil—the ubiquitous pa amb tomaqet*.
*things to order in a bar
Stayed tuned for eating Dali....