La Côte Vermeille

Amelia and I took a short holiday last week-end, and discovered another beautiful corner of France.  When I say a corner, I really mean it as it is the southern corner of the Languedoc-Roussillon, bordering the Catalan region of Spain.   The weather was poor, but fairly warm, however, we found the Pyrénées-Orientales absolutely beautiful, and at this time of the year the mountains were full of wonderful wild flowers.

We stayed at the beautiful coastal town of Collioure.

Collioure

Collioure

On Sunday there was a picturesque street market selling original Catalan goodies.

1- Street Market

Collioure street market

After a short drive south we approached the town of Cerbère only four kilometres from Spain.  The walk along the rocky coast let us see the wild flowers, some quite different from those in our own region.

2- Towards Cebere

Looking towards the town of Cerbère and the Spanish coast

The hills were truly alive with wild flowers.

The clumps of flowers were quite stunning against the rocky coast line.

The little flowers were very delicate

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The area is also called the Rocky Coast and I must admit that looking way down towards the sea it was difficult to get a sense of the size of the rocks, like little islands

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I tried to catch a glimpse of the cormorant, spreading its wings..

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On our return we could look back at Collioure.

Looking down towards Collioure

Looking down towards Collioure

The guidebook we bought from the tourist office proved to be somewhat lacking in clear description, nor were the mountain paths very clearly marked.  Nevertheless we had a few wonderful walks in the foothills of the pyrenees.  Rocks have always fascinated me; their forms, their colours; their size, all seem to me as interesting as the flowers growing beside them.  The contrast often between the rocks, the wild rosemary, the lavender and other wild flowers was impressive.

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At the edge of the paths I could often find trees growing out of almost no soil.

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This was certainly the area for the Quercus suber, commonly known as the cork oak.

Quercus suber

Quercus suber

Close up I was almost feeling sorry for the trees with their barks removed.  I hoped they did not feel the cold!

Quercus suber

Quercus suber

I loved seeing the wild almond tree so high up the mountain..

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Wild almonds

The natural rockery gardens here and there

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and the vivid colour of the wild – I don’t know which type of – euphorbia  was quite cheerful.

Euphorbia

Euphorbia

But seeing wild cistus with its crinkled petals was something else.

Grey-Leaved Cistus (Cistus albidus)

Perhaps it was Grey-Leaved Cistus (Cistus albidus)

The mist was beginning to come down rapidly and I was not quite sure if we were actually on the right path.  The guidebook referred to various passes like the Col de  la Serre, and the Col de Mollo, but in the mountains there are no panels naming the rocky  corners and one pass looks like another.  Perhaps we were not as well prepared as we should have been and so our three hours walk had taken over five hours.

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No, we were definitely on the wrong path, as the only way to cross the river was to take our shoes and socks off and roll up our jeans

IMG_3017The evening was fast approaching and coming round a bend in the path I was surprised to see a head peeping out.

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Looking up, we could see the farmer bringing the rest of his herd down the mountain.

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We were lucky to cross the rushing water as half hour later, on the bank of the river we saw a house.  I am sure, however, that if that boulder had rolled a few feet further along the house would no longer have been there.  We had reached the little village of Rimbau with its few scattered houses letting us ask for directions.

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We got back to our hotel safely, but I did remind Amelia along the way that alternate accommodation could have been found for us in the shepherd’s hut, if all else had failed – she did not look impressed.

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36 thoughts on “La Côte Vermeille

    • It is a great area for walks.
      That’s life for a oak cork tree! The bark is removed to make cork for wine bottles. That is why many environmentalists are encouraging plastic bottle tops. But many French wine producers are quite set on their traditional methods.

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      • The cork oak has a natural break in the bark by the cambium layer…
        so it is never “undressed” fully and regrows a full cork layer in a few years.
        The environment, however, is vital for many migrants and certain species of insects.
        Please, never buy plastic corked bottles… whilst they may be good for cheap wines, they are allowing vast areas of natural cork forest and its related species… a habitat that has built up over thousands of years…. to be ripped up as “worthless”, and put down to development… Birdlife International has been trying to stop the process before the natural wildlife corridors are completely destroyed.

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        • You might know that cork is starting to be used (again, since we know of properties from the 1920’s where chiller rooms relied on an internal cork layer for insulation) as building boards compressed with just heat and pressure. It has fantastic thermal and acoustic insulation properties. Although expensive compared with less ecological man made properties (like polyurethane based foams such as Celotex), having just worked through our house using this material, applied with lime based plasters, we are hugely impressed evangelists for the system, which has vital breathability. For the first time we have a cosy property.
          I’m sure that once the system gains wider recognition it will help to drive up cork prices, and preserve the cork oak forests. I aim to write a review of its benefits in older houses with solid walls and no damp proof courses, shortly.
          A really informative interesting post.
          best wishes
          Julian

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          • Thank you for a very interesting and informative comment. I must admit that despite the joke that that the cork oaks looked a bit naked, I was pleased to note that the cork forests in the area we visited appeared to be well cared for; all the dead bits and other debris cut down and removed. Hopefully testimonials such as your will encourage more people to use the more ecological ways and preserve areas such as cork oak forests. – K

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    • Thank you. I am sure that your advice about a better wild flower guide is a valid and useful one. It is very difficult to identify local varieties of wild flowers. However, at the parking area the tourist office had put a large panel showing the pictures of the local wild flowers and they were specially proud of their Oeillet de Catalogne – (Dianthus pyrenaicus). I admit it did not look like what I would have recognized as a dianthus, but it certainly was not a spiked Star of Bethlehem, which by the way is growing in abundance in our backyard lawn at the moment and is starting to flower. The latter is only a few inches off the ground whereas the dianthus in Catalan was a good couple of feet high.
      Similarly I must admit that what I called ‘some kind of broom’ did not look to me like a brassica. These ‘broom-like’ flowers were definitely ‘pea shaped’, and not like brassica flowers.
      Nevertheless, I am more than happy to be corrected as my better half has informed me that you are far more knowledgeable on these matters than what I will ever be (just a simple chemical engineer). Thanks for the comments. – K

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      • Spiked Star of Bethlehem can grow to a metre high (although is usually half that). Perhaps what you have in the garden is Greater Star of Bethlehem if it is low growing. Dianthus pyrenaicus must be very rare — there seem to be very few pictures of it online.

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  1. A lovely post about such a beautiful part of France and beautiful wild flowers. What an adventure. I’ m glad you didn’ t have to sleep in the shepherd’s hut.

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    • Amelia is also very happy not to sleep rough!
      Despite the weather, and the wet feet and tiredness, it was one of the most enjoyable walks I have had for several years. The peace and quiet; the beautiful green mountain sceneries were enough to make it a delightful adventure. What else could I want? – K

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    • We saw a few Cistus in flower, but that particular one looked so sweet. I don’t know how those plants could grow in the rough rocky mountainside, whereas Amelia and I do not have as much luck with Cistus in our garden. – K

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  2. It’s fascinating to visit different areas, although not knowing exactly where I was would be stressful for me. That Dianthus looks like it would be a good pollen source for some bees.

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    • It was on both accounts! A little stressful, but most enjoyable walk.
      The flowers must definitely be a good pollen source, however, very sadly, this year has been a disaster for the bees in Southern France where our bee-keeper friends have lost between 60 – 90% of all their hives. The hives are full of honey but no bees. A lot debate is going on, but fingers are being pointed to pesticides sprayed last autumn. Amelia and I were very surprised that with all thos ewild flowers and the relatively mild weather, we saw very few bees. – K

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    • Despite the weather there were fair number of foreign tourists visiting Collioure last week. We oved the place but felt that probably after April it could become a little crowded and difficult to drive around on those narrow roads. – K

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  3. Thanks for this, it reminded me how much I like this corner of France, especially the rugged countryside.
    I first went to Collioure nearly 40 years ago and I remember it as red roofs and sunshine and a relatively sleepy place. 20 years later I returned in high season and found it to be very touristy. It sounds like you went at the right time of year.

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    • It must have been absolutely lovely years ago. Now, even in a rainy March, there were fair number of tourists at Collioure. I hope you can go back there again – it is worth it – but probably no later than April, as it will get crowded. – K

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  4. I know I’ve heard of Collioure but I can’t remember in what connection. In searching just now I found on Wikipedia that the Spanish poet Antonio Machado died there: “When the Spanish Civil War broke out in July 1936, Machado was in Madrid. The war was to separate him forever from his brother Manuel who was trapped in the Nationalist (Francoist) zone, and from Valderrama who was in Portugal. Machado was evacuated with his elderly mother and uncle to Valencia, and then to Barcelona in 1938. Finally, as Franco closed in on the last Republican strongholds, they were obliged to move across the French border to Collioure. It was here, on 22 February 1939, that Antonio Machado died, just three days before his mother. In his pocket was found his last poem, “Estos días azules y este sol de infancia”. Machado is buried in Collioure where he died….”

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