It’s just as well there is no other vehicle coming towards us as this particular village street is only as wide as our car. We turn into Rue d’Andorre and park outside number 6. This is our home for the next three days.
What? Where? Well I could have done Paris or Provence, but let’s face it they’ve been done to death, and I did say at the outset I would take you to places you had never heard of. So welcome to Banyuls dels Aspres—not to be confused with Banyuls sur Mer—which is of course, on the mer. The village of Banyuls (let’s call it that) is a small community in the hills of Languedoc which was once a Province of France and is now known as Languedoc-Rousillon. The closest town is Le Boulou, and the closest city (and airport) is Perpignan about half an hour away.
We are staying in a maison-de-village and the front door opens into one room with a polished terracotta floor and bright white walls. We enter into the living area which has three large deep red sofas, a coffee table, bookshelves (chock full of books), and a TV. To the left there is modern kitchen, and behind that, a large solid timber dining table and six chairs. The house is four storeys with bedrooms and bathrooms on the next two levels, and the top level reveals a roof garden complete with fireplace, BBQ, furniture, and the omnipresent geranium pots.
We unpack our groceries (bought en-route from Perpignan) and settle down with a supper of fresh bread, cheese, saucisson, and a nice bottle of red, before climbing four flights of stairs to the bedrooms. We are woken a 6am by the sound of church bells, and after a breakfast of coffee and pain-au-raisin we decide to explore the town.
Banyuls is a mix of old and new. The old—the Town Square with its Maire office, café/bar, hairdresser and boulangerie, probably looks much the same as when it was it was built, with its cobble-stones and typical grey stone buildings. The streets around the Town Square are narrow; the maisons-de-village are tall and tower over the town, and the beautiful old church just by the square is responsible for the bell ringing. The old men sit outside the café sipping coffee and smoking Gauloises, before shambling over to the boules court beside the church.
We walk a little way down the hill to the vineyards and come to the new. White and terracotta single storey villas, pristine lawns and gardens; a kindergarten; a few more shops including a Pharmacie proudly advertising the number of mushrooms it can identify; a group of single level townhouses, and the Cave with its own bar and restaurant. Past the village cemetery and back up the hill, the cobbles return marking the boundary to the old.
Back in Rue d’Andorre, the garage next door is open and a young man is endeavouring to reverse his black Mercedes into the street. It’s a tight fit and he gets out and yells up at one of the windows “Papa”. He turns and nods in our direction. He’s wearing a black suit, black shirt, black tie, black polished shoes and aviator sunnies. We decide on the spot that he’s a Marseilles Boy (well, either that or a real estate salesman) and sidle up against the wall trying not to touch his car. Papa—who is now shouting and gesturing as his son reverses—by contrast wears dungarees and a cloth cap.
After lunch on the roof garden we study the map. A 10 minute drive will take us across the border to Spain, and the border town of La jonquera. La jonquera is a truck stop with enormous freight trucks from all over Europe rolling down its streets. Huge truck parks are set aside off the main street so the drivers can take a nap before entering the Barcelona highway. Interestingly, La jonquera is also home to the biggest brothel in Europe which offers 150 prostitutes. Now I’m not saying there’s a connection there, but …
In the evening, dinner is at the big wooden table and we feel very regal as we sit at opposite ends with the candelabra in the centre. We extol the virtues of the perfect lamb steaks, purchased from the charcouterie van in the square, accompanied by a tomato and olive salad and nice drop of Beaujolais. Later we try very hard to watch a French quiz show on TV but by the time we’ve worked out one question and its answer they’ve moved about three further on, so we give up and decide to plan our next two days instead.
We could visit Collioure, a picturesque artists’ town on the coast road to Spain; Argelès sur Mer, a fairly new development of apartments, units, and townhouses, but sporting wide tree-lined streets and parks; we could, if we dared, revisit La jonquera and continue into Spain calling into the seaside towns of Roses, LLança, and Escala, or even venturing as far as Barcelona.
But for now, we pour another red and consider ourselves blessed.