Photo Album from Canet #2

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Back in May, I posted some photos taken in and around Canet-en-Roussillon and promised that I would post a few more later in the summer. Here is another selection of views from the village that I am pleased to call my second home!

(Photo above: The brickwork of the west front of the ancient parish church of St. Jacques, highlighted with the early evening sunlight.)

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(The church Tower dominates the skyline above all the houses in the historic quarter of the village, as it proudly flies the French Tricolour)

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(Across the Place Saint Jacques from the Church is the Hôtel de Ville, the town hall, the administrative centre of the village)

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(Between the church and the Hôtel de Ville, on its north side are the essential shops in any French square; la boucherie – the butcher, la boulangerie – the baker, and le coiffeur – the hairdresser!

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(I love the brick facade of this small house in the rue Carré Llarg, standing between two much larger houses with their painted facades)

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(If you don’t speak French, let me translate Carrefour du Bec de Cygne for you; it means Swan’s beak Crossroads!)

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(This grand old house is where we buy our fresh peaches and apricots in the summer, its front is almost hidden by its equally old olive trees)

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(The Avenue du Corps de Garde is one of the roads leading to the historic centre of the village, and as you can see, it is very well cared for)

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(Town houses in the Avenue Joseph Sauvy, named after a local worthy, wine merchant, and one time owner of the nearby Château Esparrou, one of the vineyards in Canet)

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(Between the old village centre and the house I call home in France is this area of pine trees, La Pinède, which affords some welcome shade from the Mediterranean sun!)

I will try to post some more photos later in the summer, with other interesting views of the village and the more modern Canet-Plage, the beach area.

Wines from Domaine Lafage

One of life’s little pleasures of being down here in the Roussillon is the proximity of so many very good vineyards, and the availability of so many excellent wines. Here in Canet-en-Roussillon, we have the beautiful nineteenth century Château Esparrou situated on the edge of Canet-Plage, and the Domaine des Hospices where the Benassis family have been producing wine in the centre of the village for five generations. A little further away between Canet and Perpignan is the Mas Miraflors, where the Lafage family have been engaged in wine making since 1798. In my opinion some of the best wines in this region originate from the vineyards of the Domaine Lafage.

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The Domaine has three vineyards in the Roussillon, the one surrounding Mas Miraflors is just a few kilometres from the sea, being part of the ancient flood plain and has a strong clay and limestone soil. Along with the Mediterranean climate and the northwesterly wind, known here as the Tramontane, these factors make this vineyard ideal for producing the fruit for some of the fine white Grenache and Rosé wines, for which Domaine Lafage is renowned.

The northern part of the Roussillon plain, near the River Agly, provides the Domaine with some of its more opulent and elegant wines, as this vineyard is situated in an area of limestone and black slate, and is exposed to the strong north winds.

The third vineyard belonging to the Domaine is situated at an altitude of four hundred metres in the foothills of the Pyrenees in marbled slate soil, surrounded by scrubland. Here the vines are planted in terraces following the contour lines, and benefit from a warm climate which is occasionally swept by the Tramontane.

Different grape varieties benefit from different conditions, and you will see that it is not just the grapes which make a good wine, but the soil, the rocky sub-soil, the wind the altitude, and of course the sunshine all have their part to play.

I believe that wine tasting is a very individual thing. Personally I love red wine, and went for years not drinking white wine. Since I discovered the wines from Domaine Lafage, I have learnt to appreciate both white and rosé wines as well. In fact two of my favourite wines are the Lafage Côté Floral, a lovely white wine which has a beautiful intense flavour of exotic fruits, and a very delicate floral note. The recommendation of the Domaine is to drink it with Sushi, which we did, but believe me it is delightful with fish, chicken and asparagus too.

The other wine which is an absolute delight to drink, is the very pale rosé, the Lafage Miraflors. Some would say that this is a vin gris  or grey wine, not having that rich pink colour associated with many rosés. We enjoyed a bottle (or was it two?) last week with friends sitting on the beach at a local beach club over a Tapas lunch.

It goes without saying that the red wines from these winemakers are also superb, and a favourite of this household is the Lafage Nicolas, which is 100% Grenache Noir from vines whose average age is sixty five years. This Côtes Catalanes wine goes well with strong meaty dishes and cheese, although we often drink it with fish too. Maybe by now you are wanting to try these wines. Sadly they are very difficult to obtain in the U.K. You may be able to buy them online, but most wine stores do not stock Lafage. For me, that’s another good reason to continue visiting this area, but who knows, if we continue to remind the staff at the Domaine that people in the U.K. enjoy good wine too, they may decide to expand their market there. Then again Brexit may make that more difficult. We shall have to see!

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Downpour to Heatwave!

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(This is the view of Canet that we normally see on our approach to the airport in Perpignan – but not on this occasion! Thick rain clouds meant we saw nothing at all)

To say it was raining is an understatement! As we came into land on our Ryanair flight from Birmingham, the skies over Perpignan were full of thick dark clouds. It wasn’t just raining, it was pelting down, you could hear it on the fuselage of the plane, you could see it pouring down the windows in rivulets. When the steward opened the front door of the plane to secure the steps he was absolutely soaked, despite wearing his raincoat, and the captain announced that no one was getting off in the next few minutes. Despite all that, thankfully the landing was pretty smooth, although there was one almighty flash of lightening as we touched down. What a welcome to the south of France!

We’ve been here a week now, and it has got a lot better, thankfully! In fact by the time we reached our house in Canet half an hour later, the sun was beginning to peep through the clouds, and the second downpour that we had experienced on the road from the airport had ceased. By the evening, when we went out to a local restaurant, everywhere was dry. Dinner on this first night was to be in a restaurant we have known well for the past twenty-four years. Back in 1993 when we first came to Canet, we stayed at a place called Malibu Village, a holiday resort made up of Timeshare apartments, rentals and owner-occupiers. The restaurant in those days was very good, but has gone through difficult times of late. We had heard that it is now very much on the up, and we were not disappointed. Carefully prepared and beautifully presented dishes were put in front of us by friendly and attentive staff. We both started with Escalivade, a Catalan dish of roasted vegetables, served here with asparagus and a Parmesan Crisp, which we followed with Gambas for my partner and Sea Bass for me.

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(Escalivade with a Parmesan Crisp served with Black Olive dressing on a glass plate)

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The dessert, one of my favourites, was Tartelette Citron Meringuée.  A good helping of really local red wine ensured that we passed a very pleasant evening.

Sunday was spent working in the garden, which during our absence over the previous two and a half weeks back in the U.K. had burst into colour. There was lots to do, cutting back the creepers, and thinning out the vine, to ensure a good crop of black Muscat eating-grapes in late August and early September. That done we made our way to Perpignan where we were going to attend the evening Mass of Pentecost at the Cathedral.

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(The Sanctuary of the Cathedral in Perpignan prepared for the Pentecost Sung Mass)

As the weather gradually got better during the week, much of our time was spent organising the outdoor furniture and getting the swimming pool (la piscine) back into operation. Our regular pisciniste arrived on Monday and did the major cleaning work after removing the winter cover, cleaned the filter, checked the ph levels, and reset the timers and the heater. All done within an hour, and all we had to do was wait until the temperature was at the level we like it. Within two days the water was crystal clear again, without the use of chemicals. In the pool house there is a UV lamp over which the water constantly passes, removing any impurities and thereby doing away with that awful smell of chlorine! Thanks to the summer cover, which is like thick bubble wrap, and the efficient heater, the water temperature is now 28° Celsius, or for those who work in Fahrenheit, a very pleasant 82°. With the aid of the sun, (and this weekend we are experiencing a bit of a heatwave down here) it will soon be over 30° or a mere 86°. A bit like a luke warm bath!

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Yesterday we marked a personal event, and took ourselves off to Saint-Cyprien, the next town south along the coast, to celebrate in style at a restaurant that had been recommended to us by friends. Saint-Cyprien is one of the largest pleasure boat ports along this coast and also has a fishing harbour, so the fish is always very fresh in the restaurants there. Before our meal we enjoyed a Mojito in a bar on the edge of the port called Le Bateau Ivre, (The Drunken Boat), and since I was driving, mine was non-alcoholic, I hasten to add. It’s known in French as a Mojito Virgin!

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At the restaurant, L’Hidalgo, once again we were not disappointed. Our starter was a rather large platter of Tapas. Being so close to the Spanish border, tapas is very common in these parts and is often found on menus. Ours consisted of a selection of cold meats, Manchego cheese, white anchovies, razor shells, squid, crispy chicken and a fried fishy doughnut, called acras de Morue. We were able to take our time over all this with a good bottle of red wine from Collioure, a beautiful fishing port and wine producing area two more town further south along the coast towards Spain.

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(Platter of tapas, with the inevitable, but delicious bowl of Aioli in the foreground)

Then came our main courses: my partner had chosen to have Parillade de Poissons, a mixed grill of fish and seafood which he very gallantly made his way through!  Mine was a  Cocotte d’Agneau façon tajine, a slow cooked North African Lamb Tagine, which was not too spicy, but very flavoursome. I did leave room for another of my favourite desserts which I have mentioned in a previous blog, Un Café Gourmand, a selection of four tiny desserts, including a Crème Catalan, and another tiny Tarte au Citron Meringuée, with an espresso coffee. Sitting facing the harbour, watching the moon rise, with not a breath of wind, was a lovely end to the evening.

We have really kind neighbours here. Four days ago, the neighbour on one side brought us a huge bag of cherries, which her cousin had picked up near Vinça, about twenty-five miles away. They were beautiful and we have enjoyed some every day since. Then two days ago, the neighbour on the other side brought us a bowl of apricots which she had just picked from the tree in her garden. They were delicious. Not many food miles involved there! Thank you Nicole and Suzanne!

And so our first week here in Canet-en-Roussillon has come to an end, but not without a little sadness. Just above the covered terrace outside the kitchen there is a decorative water spout, which serves no purpose, it’s just there to add symmetry to the look of the terrace,  but over the past few years it has become home to nesting birds who have successfully reared their chicks there, and we’ve watched them coming and going to bring food, and eventually see the young fly the nest. This year, sadly things have been different; first on Wednesday, then yesterday, and now this morning, we have found three chicks on the floor below. Did they fall, or were they pushed? We shall never know, and we cannot interfere, nature has to take its course. But it is still very sad to witness, and we are wondering if there are any chicks still in the nest?

What started with a downpour has ended with a heatwave, but better that way round as today the French are voting again. Just over a month ago they held Les Présidentielles when Emmanuel Macron was elected President, and today is the first round of Les Législatives, when members of parliament are elected. Personally, I’ve had enough of elections, but that is another story, and not one that I intend to get into here!

Photo Album from Canet #1

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Before I go back home on Tuesday, I’m going to share some of the photographs that I took yesterday in the historic quarter of Canet-en-Roussillon. There will be more to follow when I come back in a few weeks time. For those who might be interested, all the photos were taken with the camera on my iPhone SE.

(Photo above: Plant pots outside a house on the Rue du Presbytère)

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(Left: Coloured shutters on houses in the Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville. Right: The sun shines through the arch on La Placette René Marty)

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(Above: A classic Peugeot outside the Restaurant Vigatane on the Rue des Remparts)

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(Left: An old town house on the Rue du Château. Right: The sun shines on the tower of the Parish Church of Saint Jacques, built between the 14th and 16th centuries)

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(Above: Dappled sunlight shining through a palm tree leaving shadows on the old brick wall in La Placette René Marty)

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(Above: The fountain by the Church in La Place Saint Jacques)

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(Above: Le Château Vicomtal, originally built in the 11th century, is gradually being restored to its original splendour by local stonemasons)

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(Left: An ivy clad house in the Rue de la Bascule. Right: View through an opening in the northern medieval town wall)

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(Above: The local bar, Le Castell, advertises Brochettes, which are served on the terrace in summer, in the shade of the plane trees, yet to come into full leaf)

Thursday Thanks #5

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There are a few more days left of this holiday, staying at our house in Canet-en-Roussillon. Just a few hundred metres away, the town’s new Medical Centre is nearing completion. Health-wise we are well served in this area, with a world renowned clinic just a few miles away, a large brand new hospital in Perpignan and two private clinics in the city. The new centre, due to open later this summer will be an important addition to the town’s health facilities for both locals and tourists.

I often pass the building site (photo above) where the centre is taking shape, and that has led me to think about healthcare this week, and for it to be the subject of my Thursday Thanks blog post. It’s not just the new building  which has prompted this, but also a number of friends who have recently undergone medical treatment. Healthcare here in France is supposedly amongst the best in the world, and one of my friends, an eighty six year old ex-pat is recovering well from recent major surgery, and what she describes as excellent treatment, to replace a ball and socket joint in the shoulder.

The National Health Service in the United Kingdom comes in for a lot of criticism, but it is also something that the British are usually very proud of. I certainly am, and with respect to any American friends reading this, I don’t really understand your country’s opposition to a National Health Care system like ours in the U.K. As I get older, like most people, I find I’m needing healthcare more and more, and I know it will always be there when I need it, and it will be free of charge. Another friend has recently had day surgery, and if she is reading this we wish her well.

Most doctors, nurses, and others in the healthcare system do a wonderful job, and we can all be grateful for their expertise and care, but many of them on the front line suffer abuse, and of course, we know that there is severe understaffing in the British system. Today, in my Thursday Thanks, I am expressing my gratitude for healthcare in general and for the healthcare that I have received over the years, and those dedicated people who have cared for me and enabled me to be as healthy as I am today! I look forward to the new Medical Centre here, Medi-Canet, being opened and improving the health of the people of this town for many years to come.

Thursday Thanks #4

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In the past week we have travelled to our home in the south of France, to the town of Canet-en-Roussillon to be precise. This town is a seaside resort on the Mediterranean coast in the department of the Eastern Pyrenees, or PyrénéesOrientales to give it its correct French name. The department, similar to an English county, is the southernmost department in France, and has a border with Spain along the Pyrenees. It also has a strong affinity with its Spanish neighbour across the border as the locals here, as there, consider themselves Catalans. French may be the language of this nation, but Catalan is widely spoken here as it is in north eastern Spain down to Barcelona and beyond.

We first came on holiday here nearly twenty five years ago, and have seen the town grow and its amenities improve. Its near neighbour, the city of Perpignan, is only about six miles away, and thankfully for us has an airport with flights to both London and Birmingham, bringing sun seekers in the summer, and skiers to the nearby slopes in the winter.

This fourth Thursday Thanks allows me to express my gratitude for this place and all that it means to me. I’m a sun seeker rather than a skier, but I love the view that greeted me when I opened the bathroom shutters the other morning. The sky was a beautiful blue, but there in the distance to the south west were the snow capped Pyrenees, and as someone who doesn’t like snow, and is not that keen on being in the mountains, I do have to say that I never fail to appreciate that sight.

This is a home from home for me, but it’s not somewhere that I take for granted. I realise that I am very fortunate to be able to come here as often as I do, to enjoy everything that this region has to offer, beautiful scenery, good food, wonderful wine, and (despite my gripe about the wet and windy winter just past in my recent blog post entitled Postcard from Cuba), the climate too!

So today, it’s a thank you for this lovely corner of France, the mountains to the south west, and the sea to the east. Summer is not quite here yet, but it’s not far away!

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