Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday - Villefranche de Conflent

Chris and Ron leave late afternoon today from Perpignan, so we decide to check out Villefrance-de-Conflent, about an hour west of Perpignan in the foothills of the Pyrenees. This is another village that is described in a book we have at home, "Discovering the Villages of France". Dave had photocopied the pages for villages in this region and we have now visited 3 others, each of them spectacular in setting and interest. We think this will likewise be a cool thing to see and we're right.

This fortress with it's village safely ensconsed within its walls was built originally in 1092 as a border defense between Spain and France. It was enlarged and strengthened by Louis XVI in the 17th century. It's ramparts are UNESCO world heritage sites. The town and its site don't disappoint. Villefranche-de-Conflent is situated at the confluence of the Tet and Cady rivers, both of which run swiftly and loudly over the rocks and steep incline of their waterway.

There is a fort-stronghold build high above the town across the river. We didn't climb its 734 steps (although there's also a train that runs to the top) to explore it. That will have to wait for another trip.

We wander the 3 streets that run from the lower gate to the upper gate. One street runs next to the ramparts on the river side and is empty and quiet

(although there aren't many people in town today - there's a cold wind and the threat of rain). The other two streets have all kinds of shops and a few restaurants to recommend them, along with beautiful metal signs identifying the commerce in the building.

We decide to have lunch at the top end across from the Ramparts Tour entrance. We all order tartiflette with salad, the special of the day. It's a perfect dish for this slightly chilly day. Basically it's what we would call scalloped potatoes. Potatoes with onions and ham bits (lardons) with crème fraiche, a bit of wine and lots of raclette cheese. Absolutely delicious and stick to your ribs good.

After lunch, Chris, Ron and Dave pay to tour the ramparts. There are two sets - the original 12th century ones and the 17th century ones on top of the 12th century ramparts.

The tour takes them an hour after which we must head back towards Perpignan's airport. But there's time to stop for a couple of photos of towns clinging to the hillsides along the road back.

One such town is Eus, a beautiful example of a hillside village where we stop for a half hour "quick look". We wind our way to the top, or almost to the top, where the church is located and are treated to both sun and beautiful, if somewhat cloud-obscured views of the valleys spreading out below the town.

Sadly, we drop Chris and Ron off at the airport with promises on both sides not to allow 14 years to pass before we see each other again. (In 14 years, we're likely to need walkers or wheelchairs which would complicate travel quite a bit.) We've had such a great time together this week, lots of reminiscing and lots of catching up. And we enjoy the same kinds of things. Chris and Ron have the advantage of being just across the channel from France and the rest of Europe and so have seen much of the countryside in France and have visited many other countries on vacations over the years. Just the kind of thing we'd love to be able to do!

Dave and I are still full from our lunch so when we get home we finish the bag-in-box of the Mas Blanchard rosé and haul out some of the St Chinian vrac. We have extended aperos and just skip dinner altogether. Of course we each have to eat 25 olives to fill Dave's daily olive quota.... It's a hard life.... Chris and Ron, we miss you already!

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