Goodbye Roch Hotel, hello artisan cheese and France.

We slept in a bit this morning (unintentionally) but Xavi was waiting for us, cheerful as ever.  He showed us in to the cheerful breakfast room, and  instead of the breakfast buffet one is normally offered in hotels,  he just asked us what we wanted!

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We asked for coffee, juice and “catalan breakfast” (grated fresh tomato and olive oil on toast – DELIICOUS), which came on huge pieces of fresh toasted bread, and YES there was proper coffee!  I even had a second one…. We ate our desayuno looking up to the sunlit mountain tops with a beautiful old broken-down stone building in the foreground – possibly not everyone’s cup of tea, but definitely mine.

We paid our enormous (not) bill; it was just over €100 for everything, dinner/bed/breakfast for two, including drinks ….. and on our way out of Altron we stopped at the artesan cheese producer “La Peca d’Altron” at the entrance to the hamlet.

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It’s a one-man show, complete with the odd fly and a cat that wandered in from time to time, and he talked us through the whole process, taking us in to the back rooms where the different parts of the process all take place.

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It was fascinating, as was the tasting – we bought an aged round cheese eventually, eschewing the ‘spreadable’ VERY STRONG cheese that nearly took the roof of our mouth off.

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Mr Fromatge assured us, smiling calmly as our eyes watered, that some people had compared it to wasabi.  Mmmm.

So off we went, our destination tonight being Céret.  Our route took us to Seu d’Urgell, then down to Puigcerdà, across to Bourg Madame in France and along the French road N116, which follows the valley of the Têt.

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I give the road number for once because it is a bit like the number 11 bus in London – it takes you past some amazing scenery on a route that any tour operator would charge you a fortune for travelling.

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It would have taken us all the way to Perpignan, but we cut off the corner and went through the market gardens all around Thuirs, that we know from previous years and which apart from endless ‘job creation roundabouts’ (thank you, Tim, the description is perfect and has stuck) is a good route with little traffic.

The road through the mountains was stunning, round every hairpin bend there was a view that just begged to be photographed and at each photo opportunity we said sadly to each other “it’ll never come out properly in a photo”.

 

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I’m putting some pictures in here anyway, because we so enjoyed each place as we took the photos, but really you just have to go.

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At one point as we looked down from a fantastic viewing point into the dizzying depths of a gorge, we saw the little yellow train that plies its route up into the high Pyrenees from Perpignan, as it crossed the Gisclard bridge over the Têt.

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We stopped in Puigcerdà (Spain) for a snack lunch, having driven once over to Bourg Madame (France) intending to go on but decided that in France 2pm was way too late for lunch, so Samson hung a quick U-ey and back we went to relaxed Spain, through the non-existent frontier, that invisible line that causes people to speak differently and eat at different times, and had some delicious croquetas and an ensalada before going back, yet again, into France to pursue our journey.

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Samson the Skoda waiting at the ‘border crossing’ that no longer exists between Puigcerda (Spain) and Bourg Madame (France).

 

 

That whole area of the Pyrenees where France and Spain meet is fascinating, and not just because of my own Catalan interests.  The railway ‘frontier’ towns like Puigcerda and, more importantly the now very tiny town La Tour de Carol, saw a massive influx of Spanish migrants as the Spanish civil war got under way in 1936 and thereafter and so many people chose to flee – one can’t help thinking of the situation in our own time as yet again migrants feel they have to leave their countries in other parts of the world.

To me there is still an air of nostalgia and melancholy about these pretty, quiet places in the Pyrenees – I will write more about them on a different occasion. Suffice it to say that as we drove on I remembered old newsreel of thousands of exhausted Spaniards arriving by train in France in the 1930s, and tried to superimpose that image of desperation on the tranquil streets that I was driving through.

Anyway, we drove on to our destination for that night, Céret, which I will write about separately.

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