Tuesday, 25 September 2018

A pretty perfect weekend!

We’ve just had some friends to stay for the weekend, and it was such a typical ‘perfect weekend in the Pyrénées-Orientales’ that I have to write about it!

 It was their first trip to the region but as they had been travelling around America, and then seeing all the sights of Barcelona, I wanted to make their stay as relaxing as possible.  Their arrival happily coincided with ‘apero-time’ and apart from a quick walk around the vineyards (on the insistence of the dogs), we spent the rest of the evening eating and drinking on the terrace.

Saturday morning found us on the terrace again (all wearing sunglasses and talking much more quietly!) while we had the usual coffee, orange juice, croissants and, of course, home-made apricot jam from our garden -yes, honestly!  (Although I was only responsible for writing the labels!)  As it was already 30° and very sunny, my suggestion of going to Thuir market was rejected in favour of just lounging in and around the pool.  Thank goodness.

At midday we managed to drag ourselves to the beautiful village of Castelnou – one of the ‘Plus Beaux Villages de France’ – which is a very miniature version of Carcassonne with steep cobbled streets and arty shops – but just 28 residents in winter!  (There is also a Chateau for sale for just 1 euro if anybody is interested…) We had a delicious lunch at L’Hostal, from where you can enjoy fabulous views – and excellent profiteroles - then headed back to the sun-loungers just in time for a siesta.

Their visit happily coincided with Le Vendange (grape harvesting time) so I had booked tickets for the annual Fete du Vendange, in Thuir, our closest town.   It is held in the impressive Caves Byrrh (worth ‘googling’ and visiting if ever you are in the area).  You pay a small fee and are handed a wine glass in a small shoulder-bag (should you ever feel the need to put it down somewhere!) and then you wander the alleyways which are lined with stands of local producers offering tastings of their wine.  There is music, and also ‘nibbles’ on offer, and we spent a great evening trying to pretend we knew what we were tasting! 

Sunday morning got off to a comfortable slow start involving breakfast then the pool, and then we took them to Collioure.  My friends come from Suffolk and are very keen on ‘boats’ – so Collioure took their breath away and looked particularly good on yet another hot sunny day.  We had a lovely fishy lunch at Les Mouettes, strolled around and took all the obligatory touristy photos and then headed back to the car – which I think was parked in Port Vendres! 

Sunday afternoon’s dog-walk was really special.  We were up in the hills above our village and you walk through vineyards and olive-groves – and there are even benches dotted around!  There was a beautiful sunset behind the Canigou mountain, and in the distance we saw the (nearly) full-moon appearing just above the sea.  I couldn’t have arranged it better if I’d tried!

I can’t pretend that every weekend is like that – sometimes its cloudy or windy, sometimes the meals aren’t as good as you might have hoped (particularly in my own house!) but for a relaxing weekend with old friends, this one was perfect.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Feeling Hot Hot Hot!

I’ve just been to see some clients in one of the holiday villas I run and as usual, they were draped over the sun-loungers in pools of sweat, sun-cream and sangria (actually it was beer and wine but I’m a big fan of alliteration!).  They are 5 couples who said they were coming to the area to play Boules - but as far as I am aware, they haven’t moved since they arrived.  And who can blame them, as it is very very hot. 

Nobody really knows how hot it is.  Is it 40 degrees in the shade? Does it include the ‘wind-chill’ factor?  What does ‘feels like’ mean?  Either way, it feels hotter than the sun on my terrace, any wind is similar to a fan-oven and doing anything other than swimming and sticking my head in the fridge feels like hard work. 

Apparently it is officially a heatwave and we are on ‘Orange Alert’.  This weekend temperatures will not drop below 31 degrees, people are being advised not to go out between 11am and 5pm, the Town Halls are providing ‘air-conditioned’ rooms for people to go to if they need to cool down, and bus drivers are officially allowed to wear shorts (following a protest in Nantes where the drivers turned up in skirts to prove a point!)

I have never been the sort of person to say it is ‘too hot’ –I chose to live in the South of France specifically for the sunshine and the heat, but this week, it is ‘too hot’.  Luckily I don’t have a ‘proper’ job – so don’t have regular hours where I have to spend time in a office – but there are still clients who want to view houses, or rental clients who need something so there are occasions where I have to leave the pool and venture out…

… which brings me back to my visit to the rental clients.  They had called to say that one of the fans in the bedrooms didn’t work – so I went to deliver a spare one.  When I arrived, every door and every window in the house was open. No, No, No, No, No!   There is a knack to surviving the heat in the South of France and here are my ‘top tips’ (some of which I even heard on Woman’s Hour during my siesta): 
Morning – close all south-facing windows/blinds/curtains.
Midday – stay indoors with everything closed, put the fans on, take a Siesta (and listen to Woman’s Hour).
Evening – As soon as the outside temperature is cooler than indoors, open doors/windows and let the cool air arrive inside.  Basically keep the house open at night/closed during the daytime. 

In principle this all sounds quite easy, but in practice keeping doors closed when there are people and dogs wanting to go and in out all the time is difficult, and if there is any cool night air, it doesn’t arrive until 5am.  Luckily my need for a cold drink of water (or some other need...) usually wakes me around that time and I make my perilous journey down the dark corridor trying to avoid either knocking into the floor fan or tripping over a dog lying on the cool tiles, and fling open all the doors and windows.  Until 9am, when it is already time to close them again.

 So stay cool, and remember the important difference between "J'ai chaud" and "Je suis chaud" - the latter is a different kind of 'hot'!