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On August 10th I moved further south in France to stay in the foothills of the Pyrenees peaks, the region known as Pyrénées-Orientales. There, I rented an apartment in the town of Vernet-le-Bains, which is a springboard for hikes up Canigou peak, and also includes mineral hot springs. Author Rudyard Kipling and his wife visited here a few times before the First World War (he sent for his Rolls Royce to pick him up and drive them home after their last trip).
At first I thought the town somewhat outdated and staid, but after a few evenings visiting cafés, bars and restaurants along the central square, and after taking a few hikes to waterfalls and peaks, I found the locals friendly and warm and the geography energizing. One evening, the town had a wonderful dinner and Spanish flamenco concert on the public square (the town is close to Spain).
1. DISHES & WINES.
Bistrot Le Cortal—Town of Vernet-les-Bains.
This restaurant is a five minute walk from the apartment where I stayed, and yet I had to wait two weeks to be able to book a table. Small place. Paper napkins and good stem ware and playlist. Sounds of the fizz of sauté pans and the scent of buttered fish came from the kitchen. From the linked outer porches, I heard church bells and looked at wooded peaks on a warm summer evening. Spanish and French couples dined together. One woman was fanning herself while a nearby young, hot and tanned couple obsessed with taking selfies. Humble and gracious chef Abou Sow wearing his Nike T-shirt acheived delicately balanced harmony in each dish, with correct and appreciated textures.
Amuse-bouche of spicy quinoa.
Filet de veau: róti au beurre noisette, pommes de terre pyrenees, réduction de miel gingembre, sauce soja. Filet of veal: roasted with hazelnut butter, Pyrenees potatoes, honey ginger reduction and soy sauce.
Sablé breton—creme praliné, quenelle de chocolat noir, framboises, glace vanille artisanale. Breton shortbread—praline cream, dark chocolate quenelle oval, raspberries and homemade vanilla ice cream.
2021 Le Petit Modat’mour. Côtes du Rousillon. Blend of Carignan, Grenache, Syrah. Aromas of red plums, blackberries, sage. A light flow of cherry juice; soft and velvety with a flavor of unsweetened chocolate and kir and a fiery finish.
Restaurant Au Fil du Temps—Village of Casteil.
Located about a seven minute drive up the valley road from Vernet-les-Bains, between steep mountain walls. Quiet locale, unpretentious. Two women industriously at work. The food served rapidly—rich, simple, delicious. Crunchy fries and a gooey loose confit of pork with a sinfully delicious honey glaze. Local groups and couples drank pitchers of wine and the overall chatter was a low key rumble. Ancient pair of skies hung on one wall.
Tarte aux 2 saumons, tomate cerise. Tart with two types of salmon and cherry tomatoes.
Galte de porc confite au miel. Catalan pork confit with honey.
Château des Hospices de Canet. Grand Terre. Côtes du Roussillon.
2. SCENE & INSIDER ANGLES.
This is a land for hiking and for exploring, whether hiking to the Cascades des Anglais (English Waterfall), or taking the famed train jaune—yellow train—into the mountains and back or visiting Vauban fortresses located both in Villefranche de Conflent or further up valley at Mont-Louis. Or drive two hours to visit the coastal beauty of Cadqués in Spain.
Thanks for tuning in.
Next—Sicilian wineries, Americas Cup racing, and ancient whale boat racing in Pico, Azores …