Monday, June 20, 2016

St-Rémy-de-Provence and Some News


We're back in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (previous installment here) for a few more days to relax and wrap up our trip. The Gounod Hotel where we're staying, steps from the historic center, is so pretty it's hard to leave.


The Gounod, the town's oldest hotel, takes its name from the 19th century composer Charles Gounod who wrote the opera Mireille here. The building was originally a post house in the 1600s and then converted in lodgings.


The vibrant, blue ceiling of the Church of St Martin was rebuilt in 1821 in neoclassical style after collapsing. Only the 14th century bell tower and chapel at the back remain from the original building.










The Nostradamus Fountain commemorates his birth here in 1503.



Our favourite square, Place Favier, and one of our favourite lunch spots, Les Filles du Patissier.







A beautiful, tufted-eared cat naps next to us by the pool.


Lavender is just coming into bloom.


Recycling chic at the Wednesday market—these items are made from the pull-tops of aluminum cans.




Originally created in the 16th century by potters inspired by the Medicis, colourful French Anduze terracotta pottery is one of the most iconic symbols of the French garden. Hand-carved garlands and medallions decorate the sides of these traditional French vases as they have for hundreds of years. The village of Anduze where they are created is about a 90-minute drive from St Rémy and the vases produced here are in seen in abundance throughout Provence.


A statue of Jesus crucified on the cross presides high over the main square in town, a constant reminder to passersby not only of the town's Christian heritage but also that Jesus died for them so they could have eternal life.


Tim tries a fish pedicure and doesn't know who's enjoying it more, him or the fish.



And the news?


We bought an old (c.1860) stone town house right here in the heart of St-Rémy, oui, oui, we did. A petite bourgeois maison as they call it. It's a diamond in the rough that needs complete renovating so our life over the next few years will be travelling between Whistler and St-Rémy and immersing ourselves deep into Provençal life. And that includes Sandi trading in her beloved Chacos (finalement!) for a fine pair of espadrilles. We're not sure what we've gotten ourselves into but we know it's going to be une grande aventure.


The 300-year old magnolia tree in the front yard is inspiring us to call the house, “Maison Magnolia”. Sandi envisions a rose garden and fountain in the raised section—Tim is thinking boule court.


The one-bedroom maison des amis (guest house) in the backyard.


Le chambre de maitre (master bedroom).


The fireplace in the master bedroom.



There's even an underground well that supplies water for the garden. How cool is that?!


We've had a great time and will be back in Provence soon but for now are heading to London, Vancouver and home. À bientôt!
***
“If business is business in other parts of the world, here in Provence it is more fun. Let those who complain of the snatch-and-grab methods of commerce in this century, and the rush and hustle of modern life, come and shop with me in a Provençal town. Here there is a lovely leisure in all our doings. The sun shines so gloriously, the sky is so incredibly blue, and the scent of flowers, warmed by the sunshine, so drowsy and intoxicating that there is every inducement to be lazy and leisurely. A stranger without humour might perhaps be maddened by the ways of the Provençeaux, but he whom God has endowed with much patience and a little humour will enjoy them.” - Lady Winifred Fortescue, Perfume from Provence, 1935

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Costa Brava: Keeping it Surreal


 Buenos días mundo!!! We're exploring Spain's Costa Brava. Yay, me encanta la playa!


Just 37km (23m) along the coast southwest of Barcelona, Sitges sizzles with beach life, nightclubs and an enviable clutch of festivals. It has been a resort town since the 19th century and was a key location for the Modernisme movement, which paved the way for the likes of Picasso. Despite its bacchanalian nightlife, Sitges remains a classy destination: its array of galleries and museums belie its small size and there's a good sprinkling of upmarket restaurants in its historic center. Its biggest draw however, remains its 17 beaches.


Cafe-Bar Roy is a good stop for a coffee or a glass of cava and snacks. This classic, old fashioned coffeehouse has marble tables, hand-painted tiles and Art Nouveau touches.


It doesn't take Sandi long to discover delicious Majorcan ensaimadas; fluffy pastry coils that are sometimes plain and sometimes filled with preserves or cream. They are enjoyed for breakfast or merienda (Spanish teatime), serving as the perfect mid-afternoon pick-me-up in anticipation of Spain's legendary late dinner hour. If you notice smudge marks on some of our photos they are from Sandi's sugar-dusted fingers on the lens.


An hour north of Barcelona is Girona, one of Spain's most historic cities. Its pristine Old Quarter is among the most beautiful is Spain.


The Eiffel Bridge over the Onyar River was designed by Eiffel in 1876.


Built on an old Roman settlement and steeped in the layered histories of the Romans, Moors and Jews, the town center is a compact jumble of narrow stone streets, dark alleyways, and the medieval arches of El Call—the ancient Jewish neighbourhood. Bustling by day, the cobblestone streets of the Old Quarter turn quiet as night falls. Though one of Spain's wealthiest cities, Girona has a reputation as a provincial and emphatically Catalan city.


Steep baroque stairs climb to Girona's imposing cathedral overlooking the city. On your mark, get set, go!


Girona was home to a prosperous Jewish community for more than 6 centuries, until its members were expelled in 1492. The Jewish district (“El Call” in Catalan) is a tangle of narrow, dark, atmospheric streets tucked within the Old Quarter and said to be the best-preserved ghetto in western Europe.


Rocambolesc is a Wonkaesque ice cream parlour ablaze with colour—even the pipes are painted in red and white, barley-sugar style. It offers up some of the best sorbet and ice cream you will taste anywhere.



Sandi nonchalantly glances in a shop window and as luck would have it spots the shoes she drooled over and regretted not buying in Aix en Provence last year. She rushes in to snap them up and an hour later emerges not only with the shoes but also with both outfits in the window display (plus several others). And all for 50% off! (Huge thanks to dear Tim for the fab birthday present.)


L'Empordà, the plains and rolling green hills surrounding Girona, is Spain's Tuscany. Inland from the coast are small and mostly unassuming medieval villages, clusters of ancient stone houses—many converted into weekend and summer homes. The intoxicating smell of jasmine permeates the air.


The quiet village of Monells is an attractive enclave of medieval stonework. Monell's main claim to fame is its magnificent square.

 
The Costa Brava, the “untamed coast,” is a stretch of rocky coves and sandy beaches, with deep cobalt-blue Mediterranean waters, pine trees, and whitewashed fishing villages. Several of the most beautiful coves and sandy beach spots along the Costa Brava are near Palafrugell. There is good swimming and walking paths through pine-forested hills.



Calella de Palagrugell.


We're staying at El Far Hotel, a cliff-top property formed by a 17th century hermitage and a 15th century lighthouse, with drop-dead views of the bay. This is the dreamy view from our room and private terrace.






The courtyard of El Far Hotel.


A road-side view of the bays of Llafranc and Palafrugell.


The attractive town of Begur is topped by the ruins of a 13th century castle, with commanding 360-degree views of the whole of L'Empordà and the Costa Brava, all the way up the coast to Cadaqués.


Almost too pretty and perfect, the medieval town of Pals rising above the plains is hugely popular with tourists. Pal's alleyways and stone walls look as though they could be part of a movie set.



Cadaqués gleams above the cobalt-blue waters of a rocky bay on Catalonia's most easterly outcrop. This whitewashed village owes its allure in part to its windswept pebble beaches and meandering lanes, and the easy-going atmosphere that draws throngs of summer visitors.


But it's the artist Salvador Dalí who truly gave Cadaqués sparkle. The artist spent family holidays here during his youth, and lived much of his later life at nearby Portlligat. Thanks to Dalí and other luminaries, Cadaqués pulled in a celebrity crowd and still does. Look for the two silver heads atop Dalí's house.


Portlligat, the neighbouring village to Cadaqués is connected by a stone-walled trail lined with cacti and olive groves. It's centerpiece is Casa Salvador Dalí, the labyrinthine seafront house where the artist lived and worked for five decades. Along with the silver heads, his signature eggs balance precariously atop the roof.


“Hola Senior Dalí.”



We join the queues outside Es Fornet bakery to buy burilles, a thin aniseed-flavoured, nut- and sugar-sprinkled biscuit that's a local delicacy.




Hotel La Residencia where we're staying is a lovely mansion from 1904 with attractive and surreal Dalí-themed rooms, many with balconies and sea views. Picasso lodged here in 1910 and The Lovells in 2016.





Our large suite is the size of an apartment.


The staircase to the bedroom is cleverly hidden in a column topped by a bust of surrealist skier Timothy Lovell.




Sandi channels her inner Salvador Dalí.


Dinner tonight is at Es Baluard, a family-run harbourside hotspot since 1967, serving its own take on Mediterranean seafood favourites: hence, spider crab with rice (Sandi's pick, regrettably).



The ornate, gilded wood alter of Santa Maria church located at the highest point of the Old Town.



Giant shells hold the “holy” water.




The Empordà region is marked by the trail of Spain's famous oddball, surrealist artist Salvador Dalí who hailed from northern Catalunya and lived much of his life on the Costa Brava. Three points including a museum and two curious homes, form the Dalí Triangle. Together they are a must-see for anyone with an appreciation for Dalí and the absurd. That's us so we're here in Figueres at Dali's Teatre Museu.



Dalí designed his museum-theatre as his legacy in his birthplace of Figueres. It is part theatre, part amusement park—fittingly idiosyncratic and witty. Dalí is buried in a crypt here. The red building is topped by giant white eggs and decorated with glazed ceramic loaves of bread. Dalí's motifs were symbolic with deep meaning. For example, the eggs symbolize the resurrection of Christ and are the emblem of purity and perfection.


Dalí's bed.


The painted ceiling in his bedroom.





The famous Mae West salon with furniture resembling her face. The lips are a sofa.


The inner courtyard.



Self portrait cutting his wife, Gala's hair.


Not sure what this doorway symbolizes—okay, maybe the guy was a little weird.


Weird or not, he had boundless imagination and creativity and didn't hold back expressing it. His opulent jewelry designs are exhibited in the museum next door.








Back outside on the streets of Figueres, with jewelry on the brain, Sandi discovers where Hermès found inspiration for their iconic necklace and bracelet design.