Saturday, 18 February 2012

So, that was Winter.

People (and I used to be one of them) assume that the climate here in the Mediterranean is, well, ‘Mediterranean’ I suppose. Endless long hot summers when doing anything between the hours of 12 and 2pm seems too arduous, and mild winters where the temperature doesn’t dip much below 8 degrees and the pavement cafes are filled with diners enjoying the midday sunshine. However, for some reason, whether due to global warming, a voodoo curse or the end of the Mayan Calendar, we have experienced ‘real’ winters for the last 3 years. Obviously nothing like the UK winters where the whole country grinds to a halt and airports & schools are closed but, for several days at the beginning of February, temperatures dropped below freezing and an arctic wind blew for 5 solid days and everybody stayed indoors. I have never seen the streets so deserted – it was like a week full of Sundays as everybody huddled around their fireplaces and televisions watching the daily meteo reports and marvelling at the temperatures! Unfortunately (or fortunately?) during January we had been experiencing temperatures in the mid-teens so the change from ‘unseasonably high’ to ‘unseasonably low’ was particularly noticeable.

This was our first experience of winter in our new house and it appears that the radiators are more decorative than functional. The enormous fireplace keeps us quite warm but that is more to do with the energy we burn chopping logs, fetching logs from the woodpile & feeding the flames as there is a big glass door that slides down in front of the opening which seems to block out all the heat - we have much to learn! The warmest place in the house turned out to be the bathroom as there is an electric bar heater high up on the wall – but it is not really the most practical place to spend much time so we invested 20 euros in a fan heater which made the kitchen almost bearable. It did cross my mind, as I stood at the kitchen sink wearing two track-suits and a scarf, that ‘Having a villa in the South of France’ is not quite as glamorous as it sounds....

On Day 4 of winter (Saturday) we decided to drive along the coast and take the scenic route to Collioure. There are always tourists visiting this beautiful little town at all times of year but ‘off-season’ is a great time for us ‘locals’ to go as you can actually park the car and find a seat in a restaurant! The plan was to have a bracing walk around the sea wall which links the two bays, then to have a beer & baguette snack lunch. How we found ourselves 80 euros poorer after a 3 hour gastronomic feast is perfectly explainable! After 5 minutes of standing by the beach, sheltering from a vicious Siberian wind in the lee of a car park sign, we realised that a walk was out of the question. We ran/were blown towards a little cafe where we had had a coffee in the summer but a waitress at a ‘posh’ restaurant thought we were heading in her direction and pulled open the door and ushered us in. It was wonderful – tablecloths, lots of glasses & cutlers, waiters in long black aprons etc. etc. Luckily I wasn’t sporting the ‘two-tracksuit’ look so by the time we had divested ourselves of our coats, cardigans, hats & scarves we actually looked and felt smart enough to match the decor. The waiter brought us our ‘aperos’ while we perused the menu. I could tell my husband was starting with the prices rather than the descriptions but in fact, like most restaurants here they were offering a 3-course ‘formula’ menu which is always good value for money. The waiter not only described all the ‘specials’ in detail but then turned up with an enormous fish on a silver platter which was the catch of the day and could be cooked in any way we wanted – for an eye-watering price. The whole meal was fabulous – from the amuse-bouches of oysters grilled with garlic & cheese sauce, to the coffee & home-made truffle chocolates. To sit in a restaurant with the best view in Collioure, eating seafood from the bay and drinking wine that is from the vineyards we passed on the way in is an experience that is hard to beat.