2014 France, Spain & Portugal Letter 7

Monday, 29 September 2014 9:14 pm

Sitting it out in Sitges

 

Well, I’m sitting here at the dining room table looking out over the sea and trying not to feel grumpy! It’s been raining, and not on those bloody plains, like it is supposed to in Spain, but on my beach that I had plans to be sunning myself on this afternoon! I’m trying to change my external skin colour from pale off white to very a pale beige/off white. Something akin to Dulux’s most popular paint colour ‘Antique White USA’. And before anyone gets too smart, I did recognized the ‘antique’ part of that name!

Gosh, that got things started; it’s gone from light drizzle to fully-fledged downpour and Himself is out there someplace walking (thankfully with an umbrella. He’s such a Boy Scout sometimes). Even the pigeons look unhappy! However it does mean I can finally get started on this update of the ‘travels with my friend’. We are now in not so sunny Sites; a wonderful beach area about 30 kms south of Barcelona, where up until this afternoon it has been perfect. Yesterday was picture perfect and we all had playmates to drink, swim, drink, eat & drink with. But as usual I’m way ahead of myself.

We started the week at Cumbre Del Sol on the Costa Blanca, not the Costa del Sol as mentioned in the last email. A mistake which no one picked up on other than Anne & Richard (the Lad’s cousin, and her man).

I think we are now at the Costa del Dorada, but I am very confused with all these ‘Costa’s’. We are by the sea. The trip from Granada was particularly uneventful, other than a few strange twists and turns exiting the city. I’m fairly confident that I drove down or up most streets in the correct direction; left most pedestrians breathing and more or less obeyed the road rules. I am still trying to work out what the correct speed is on the Auto-Pista. Is it 10, 20 30 or 40 kms/per hour faster than the 120km signs? I do know it’s not less than 120km/hour!

Having stayed with Anne & Richard before I had a good idea of where they live and how to find them. The Sat Nav had other ideas, but I won!

Their house is in an area developed for holiday homes 30+ years ago, and most have lovely views of the sea. They are all in an architectural style that is, well, Spanish, it is Spain after all! Nothing is over 2 to 2&1/2 stories high, and there are loads of wonderful terracotta tiled rooves (the 1/2 round ones we seem not to use, back in Oz – unfortunately). The only change since our last visit is that a few new houses have been built, and whilst I really love modern architecture, somehow the rectangular ‘box’ with glass and stainless steel does not sit comfortably with the soft curves and round stucco finishes of the existing houses.

Just as in Oz, too many pollies getting pay back from dodgy greedy developers wanting to make an extra buck!

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 Cumbre Del Sol, the pool, the lad in the window and the little beach at the bottom of the hill.

Anne & Richard receive all the travel emails, and being a few weeks older than the lad, she’s like his wise ‘older’ sister. With knowledge of our food and wine intake, Anne prepared a stunningly simple meal, which included heaps of salad, and vegetables, lean chicken and no visible ‘fats’, just what we needed! She probably lost the ‘wine in moderation’ battle but managed to restrain us at lunch the next day to make up for it. I’m sure the double chocolate ice cream with dark chocolate flakes was totally fat and calorie free!

The next day the ‘Boys’ walked. It’s hard to describe the terrain as it very steep and then there are plateau. Their house in on a block with probably a 45-degree slope and the entire area is a bit like that with a few sheer two to three hundred metre drop cliffs into the sea. We walked for nearly two hours along the ridges, with a few unplanned detours, and the Lad did remarkably well, considering it was fairly rough in places. The last kilometre was the ‘descent’ into the little bay La Cala de Granadilla, which has to be anyone’s picture perfect dream of a turquoise bay. The track down was steep, (bloody steep in some places) but it’s been concreted, as the lower half also acts as a ‘road’ to some of the houses.

Anne was waiting for us at a little bar under the pine trees, so we ‘recovered’ with an ice-cold beer! By “crow fly”, the bar is about 4-5 kms from the house, but it was a 35+ minute drive back! By that time it was lunchtime; mini gazpachos, salad, olives, jamon, cheese: perfectly light and healthy and alcohol free!

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Walking boys! Not sure that himself was totally happy, but he endured

Siestas! Then time for dinner. The Costa Blanca has some amazing choices for dinner, our last trip turned up some great surprises, but Anne out did herself this time.

Restaurante Ca Pepe is at Moraira, is about 15 minutes away. Anne won the short straw and was the nominated driver home, she’s such a good ’sister’! The food was superb and not too heavy. I did two entrée and no mains: how’s that for restraint! First up was a beetroot-cured salmon fillet served on a bed of salad greens with pickled cucumber, a green pea puree and a horseradish mayo on the side; yummy! Next up was another salad, ’blow torched’ cos lettuce with soft-boiled eggs, crisp jamon slices, and slow-cooked tomatoes with a mustard vinaigrette. The waiter, “Stuart”, (who Himself was flirting with outrageously, and when I mentioned it to him later got the “Who? Me?” look of total innocence!). Anyway back to the waiter, he was very, very entertaining and explained that blow torching the lettuce (they call them ‘gems’) covers up the fridge burn! Himself, when not flirting, had mains, a pork chop, but not just any pork chop, it was a chargrilled smoked pork chop with a potato chive salad, pickled red cabbage & pineapple salsa, and He hovered it down, just leaving the bone!

I know Richard had the pancetta & mushroom-stuffed chicken with cauliflower puree, baby leeks & sauce verge, but I can’t remember Anne’s dish…. blush! We washed it down with a really lovely local wine – well the winery is just nearby; but they have vineyards far and wide. It was an Enrique Mendoza 2011 Merlot from their Villena vineyards. You’ll hear more about Mr Mendoza and his cellar door shortly. As ‘Stuart’ told us, “They have a great setup and do wine tours and tastings and it’s not far away!” All very interesting.

Desserts do happen, and they did (Himself saw on the menu that the “Berry Crumble” needed a 15 minute order time, so he ordered that before he selected his main course; as you do!) It’s all getting hazy; blame the merlot, but I think both boys “crumbled”. It came with vanilla bean ice-cream. I had a very light weight chocolate pot with homemade honeycomb, and Anne affogato-ed and returned us safe and sound. Then I have this memory of glasses of local brandies on the terrace before bed…..

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Beetroot-cured salmon fillet;  Chargrilled smoked pork chop with a potato chive salad, pickled red cabbage & pineapple salsa; and ’Blow torched’ cos lettuce with soft-boiled eggs, crisp jamon slices, and slow-cooked tomatoes with a mustard vinaigrette

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Pancetta & mushroom-stuffed chicken with cauliflower puree, baby leeks & sauce verge; Chocolate pot with homemade honeycomb and Mr Mendoza’s Merlot

Next morning I walked. Everyone else slept. I did the ridges nearby and took some great shots of sunrise, and managed not to fall several hundred metres into the sea below and kill myself! Anne was up, on my return and getting our breakfast set up on the terrace (it still feels quite strange when other people get up and get me my breakfast. I could get quite used to it! A gentle prod and Himself was up, and more or less awake and ready for the day. After a very long and leisurely breakfast, we took off for our day of wine tasting. We knew the tour was at 12 midday. One to two wrong turns, including a fairly extensive bottleneck traffic jam later, we also knew we would be late. Not to worry. Spain does signage, but sometimes they could do it a little better. The game became spot the ‘Enrique Mendoza Winery’ sign and all in all we did well. They sort of petered out so A&R stopped at a Farmacia; drug dealers are always helpful and knowledgeable of local affairs. The one at the town of Alfaz del Pi proved exceptional. He gave us a map and instructions! We backtracked, found the missing sign and followed it to what we thought was the correct road (and I have to admit to being the co-interpreter of said map). Well, we had fun, and every road (think track) ended in a dead end or someone’s back yard, and they did look a bit like drug farms. We then flagged down an official. He was from the council, and he set us right: right back the way we had just driven! All I can say is Richard has the patience of Job, as we were all in fits of giggles, not quite sure of where we were. Every ‘road’ had 6 foot mesh fences, and you knew that someone would soon come out with a gun and sort us out. Anyway a few more attempts, and eventually we did it! It only took one hour & 45 minutes!

There were to be: 1. “No tours today, as it’s vintage and we’re short staffed”, 2. “Wine tastings are on Saturdays”. 3. The charming girl on ‘cellar door’ had to rush off to the loo, 4. Most of the vines are 100kms away, 5. Said girl on cellar door was charming and helpful and is our newest best friend. But all that being said, it’s a great winery; lovely gardens, and we also spent up big on un-tasted wines, plus being exhausted from laughing!

We then decamped to the seaside for a walk, pizza & beers for lunch, a scenic drive home without getting lost, a siesta, and then it was dinner time again. Its hard work!

Bon Amb: this is very local and very, very smart. It had just opened on our last visit in 2011, but we did not go there, plus it was A’s &R’s first visit. It’s impressive and had just picked up its first Michelin star in late 2013. It deserves it, and more. We did think of trying either the 7 or 9 course tasting menu, but all of us were not feeling hungry enough. (Himself is having a few wardrobe issues, top button issues), so we did the menu. However, the first thing to arrive were the complimentary ‘starters’ or the ‘amuse bouche’ as they say in the trade.  Normally it’s a palate teaser. Well, these were almost a meal in themselves and works of art!  A little wooden tray held a platter with a cube fish wrapped in carrot. A small cup had two steamed mussels in a red martini sauce, and a little bowl contained a gin and lime cocktail. A second bowl had four serves of a cube of tomato with smoked sardine on top with some mayo. Another small dish held four oyster shells with tuna in a warm garlic cream. Then came a rock that had slots cut into it that held four perfect slices of seaweed ‘toast’. We had also been given a slice of the best sour dough bread, which came in handy to scoop up every drop of the red martini sauce!

I had to have an entrée and A & R kept me company. He, of the tight top button, abstained. I had rabbit with a pickled vegetable salad, very light and refreshing. The ‘locals’ both had slightly roasted langoustines, with stewed carrot and cumin. That looked stunning. Somehow Mr Abstemious had a bit of everyone’s. For “mains” Richard and I had the roasted , with oriental leaf vegetables and a praline of garlic & honey, whilst the two cousins had the fish number: steamed Mediterranean hake with lemongrass and sea fennel. Pretty good nosh!

There’s always a desert tummy for some. Me: figs, berries, mascarpone and galangal; Him, chocolate in various ways. Anne was ‘green’; an amazing concoction with citrus, and I think, pistachio. Richard abstained. A superb meal in a very beautiful restaurant, and shared with wonderful people! Oh yes we drank! Tarima Hill 100% Monastrell 2011: are you any the wiser? We loved it so much we had two bottles!

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The complimentary ‘starters’ or the ‘amuse bouche’ as they say in the trade.

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Slightly roasted langoustines, with stewed carrot and cumin; Rabbit with a pickled vegetable salad; Suckling pig

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Steamed Mediterranean hake with lemongrass and sea fennel; The ‘Green’ dessert & Figs, berries, mascarpone and galangal.

Sadly, next morning was time to pack and leave, but not before I walked and He slept. It was a killer of a walk too! I did the walk to the beach; I think it’s like the ‘Mount Lofty Walk’ for you Adelaide guys. I returned more or less alive, prodded him awake, had a fairly rushed breakfast, packed and then it was time to depart. Everyone cheer now: we had driven 5 kms and I suddenly remembered my mobile on the kitchen table, at Anne and Richards, and we were on a 450km drive north. “Mr Virgo” does forget occasionally. Enjoy!

Sitges was our destination. It’s only 35kms south of Barcelona, and we really could have spent the five nights there, as we just love it; but these two elderly travelers need some ‘time out’ so I did a lot of work and found the perfect abode, on the seafront, third floor, away from discos, with a view to die for.

We are very close to the historic church of ‘Església de Sant Bartomeu i Santa Tecla’ (that’s Saint Bart & Saint Tecla) so we have two saints looking after us! We have been ‘dining in’ on fresh salads and simple foods, walking and swimming and sun tanning (I’m off white now) and generally being slothful, and until today the weather has been super. It’s a beautiful town and unlike a lot of the Spanish coast, still low rise and attractive. We are in the oldest bit and the car is parked underground and will re-appear before we leave.

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Tough life! The Church, The beach, The boats, all from our third floor apartment at Sitges

You can’t hibernate for long! Saturday we had ‘playmates’ join us. “Darren” from Sydney town is in Barcelona, and Alexander Grosset and his girlfriend Sarah, from The Clare Valley, came down for the day. We started with beers and sangrias on the beach, and because you can then find a restaurant for lunch that serves a rose (Darren is going through a ‘Rose’ period) and the restaurant just below our apartment serves Rose and we ‘lucked’ in. I had a feeling all the seafront places might be very commercial, but Bar la Gavina was a great find. Himself noticed the menu of the day for a whopping 16.50 euro each!  Plates of Whitebait, tiny calamari the size of your big finger nail (did their mother know they were out?), a dish of steamed mussels, and a plate of endive with tuna, marinated cod with a dressing of tomato, almond bread with olive oil and onions, and then anchovies and olives on top, pretty amazing starters. Oh I forgot the tomato bread!

The main course was a huge paella made with toasted angel hair pasta instead of rice, and filled with cuttle fish and cockles, served with a bowl of aioli, stunning! And for dessert, Crema Catalan; what else?

Numerous bottles of Rose help us digest the meal.

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A simple lunch on the seaside at Bar la Gavina. Alexander & Sarah, glasses of Rose.

Lunch was followed by swims, and walks. Some members joined in the dancing in the square! More bar crawls and G&T’s!

We were planning dinner, when someone had the brainwave to check the train timetable for Barcelona: last train – 10 p.m! As it was after 9pm, no time left for dinner dates!

We sort of knew something was afoot on Sunday as there were ‘no parking’ signs plastered around our area, but we could not find out what. Google did not help. The signs gave nothing away, but at 10 a.m. it started. A fiesta: first it was up on the terrace in front of the double-sainted church, but then it moved down into the streets. We think it involves dragons: certainly fireworks; maybe the odd saint or three. Certainly drums, bagpipes, Spanish flutes, primitive trumpets and hundreds of kids doing everything at once, in costumes and very large ‘giants’ costumes. Truck loads of firecrackers whizzing around without the slightest thought of “Occupational Health and Safety” issues! Pretty crazy, lots of noise, and huge fun, and in our front yard! Three hours later the council workers were out clearing up spent firecrackers. The masses had departed for lunch, and then the rain came. Typical Sunday in Sitges!

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The Fiesta!

Tomorrow is our last day here and sadly the forecast is not looking good, but it’s still warm, if not sunny.

Well, it’s now ‘tomorrow’. In fact it’s 9 p.m. ‘tomorrow’ and we will soon go and find somewhere to have dinner, a last supper in Sitges.

After being told it would be a crap day, I awoke to a stunning sunrise and went walking and found the local cemetery. It’s a bit of a local landmark, as it’s the last stop before the ‘clothing optional’ beach, but I kept missing it. Today I discovered why, it has a 20-foot wall around it, and I just assumed it was a some sort of storage shed, which in a way I suppose it is! Anyway I walked back via a slightly different route, found the gates and wandered in. It’s stunning, beautiful old graves, ancient pine trees and lovely flowers. Then my eyes moved up, and the penny dropped, it’s has an eight floored ‘apartment’ building built into the walls, and from the size of each ‘apartment’ you can fit four souls in each! A multi-storied cemetery. What will they think of next? They even left a ladder so you can nip up and put fresh flowers by the front doors!

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The walled garden and cemetery (last stop before the nude beach!) and the modern section, note the ladder for flower delivery!

After that excitement, we spent all morning and part of the afternoon sitting on sun lounges on the beach (we also hired a ‘brolly’ and we slipped and slapped, so we are only ever so lightly pink, but it might have been from the Sangrias we drank!

Well, cases are packed, car sorted for once. Next stop, France, the Dordogne, and party time!

 

despedida de los dos, or, au revoir: choose your own language!

Him & Himette xo

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