Fifty Shades of Rosé
We have already, sadly, come to the end of our Workaway here in Thuir, France. This beautiful little town is just outside of Perpignan, and very close to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Our usual style of travel for Andrew and I is to pick a place that we're curious about or looks interesting, show up, and then discover all the cool things it has to offer. We aren't really the types to do extensive research about a destination (maybe on a short trip, but can you imagine how many hours we'd spend on the internet on a trip like this?) so we had no idea what to expect when we showed up in the South of France.
It turns out, this region of the Pyrenees is bustling with summer activities and bursting with hidden gems to explore. Besides all the concerts and open-air markets and tapas and picturesque beach towns, this Catalan/Mediterranean/French lifestyle is one both of us can totally get behind.
This is our fourth Workaway together. (We have one more scheduled in Spain next month, which will make a total of 5 hosts and 17 weeks of Workaway-ing on this trip.) Our hosts are Holger, Laurene, and their teenage son Liam, plus of course the three dogs--Dake, Volt, and Clyde--and the three cats--Ginny, Foxy, and Casper. Their house in Thuir has been completely renovated by them; its beautiful and bright inside, and we are participating in some of the outdoor projects in the backyard that aren't finished yet.
The biggest project is completing the walls and starting the roof of the future outdoor kitchen. Once this space is completed, the back garden will be a perfect place to hang out no matter how hot and bright the sun is, with a big shaded area beside the swimming pool. The last couple of weeks we've spent evenings and Sundays with Holger, mixing concrete and leveling the walls, measuring lots, and cutting and putting up the wood frame for the roof.
Andrew and Holger
Putting together the cactus garden
We don't usually work on the outdoor kitchen project alone, but Holger and Laurene are away at work during the day. (Holger owns a shop in town, and Laurene has a photography studio one street over from him.) Instead, we constructed a terraced cactus garden behind the pool, which is nearly finished, and we do other general maintenance tasks around the house. Mornings are quiet. Liam sleeps in (it's his summer vacation), we have a small breakfast and do some vacuuming/ironing/dusting/etc. Everybody usually comes home for lunch around 12:30, and either Holger cooks something quick or we eat leftovers from dinner all together at the table. After lunch Holger and Laurene go back to work, and Andrew and I have a relaxed afternoon. Sometimes we walk into town, one time we toured the Caves Byrrh, another time we visited Castelnou, but more often we jump in the pool or nap and read.
Tour of Caves Byrrh!
A view of Castelnou as we make the walk back to Thuir.
Holger comes home around seven, and we work outside for a bit before dinner. Most tasks seem to go pretty quickly with three people. Dinner is again eaten at the table all together, though eating in front of the TV is not unheard of.
We are really enjoying our time here. The family is warm and funny and kind, and there's always something going on. They make sure for our days off we know exactly where to go and what to see! Our first day off they sent us to Villefranche-de-Conflent, an ancient (~1098) historic town in the Pyrénées, overlooked by the castle, Fort Libéria. Laurene helped us figure out the bus timetables and everything, which was very helpful. The bus around here is one euro for two hours of bus travel--amazing. We spent that Wednesday morning exploring the castle and the town below, then caught a bus to Ille-sur-Têt, another cute town, from which we could walk to Les Orgues d'Ille-sur-Têt, which is a protected natural site of "fairy chimney" rock and sand formations caused by erosion. (Pro-tip: if you are in this region and want to do both sites, do the Orgues first, because your 5 euro entrance ticket comes with a coupon for a second site in the area, and Fort Libéria is on the list!)
Fort Libéria of Villefranche
We were also told we could not miss visiting Collioure, and once we arrived (via another 1 euro bus) we could definitely see why. Due to Andrew and I being unprepared idiots--our go-with-the-flow, see-what-happens attitude sometimes is a drawback--we didn't think to bring swimsuits or towels to a town that we definitely intellectually knew was on the beach. Despite this, we had a fabulous and relaxing time in Collioure. Supposedly, the first record of the castle on the beach (now called the Château Royal de Collioure) was in 673 (!!!), and the Church of our Lady of the Angels and the Fort Saint-Elme are iconic in the landscape. The rest of the city is bright and colorful, a tourist beach destination, with endless bars and cafes and boutiques and art galleries. People were swimming in the bright turquoise water. We had a memorable lunch overlooking the beach, castle, and fort, and drank a lot of cheap rosé.
After lunch, we couldn't resist sunning ourselves at the water's edge. We went around the corner from the church and castle, mostly because I was self-conscious about wearing a nude-colored bra--though I had shorts on under my dress--and we wanted a spot that was less crowded. "Andrew, everybody walking by probably thinks I'm topless at first glance!" I whispered from our spot laid out on a warm rock, as a family passed a few feet behind us. Later, strolling back though the more populated beach, we realized that a good number of the women here were actually topless. Because it's France, and that's normal.
A view of Collioure
Perhaps the most notable activity of our time here so far was the Les Déferlantes. Laurene's passion is concert photography, so she gets a media/VIP pass into this major South France music festival each year. Our first night with the family, while sipping some after-dinner rosé ('tis the season!), she said, "Do you know Macklemore? Or Thirty Seconds to Mars?" Um, yes. We do. We told her Macklemore is from Seattle, also where we are from. "You have to get tickets to Les Déferlantes! It's a giant music festival by a castle not far from here."
Music festival by a castle? Sold. Sure enough, the last day of the festival rolled around and Laurene drove all of us to the venue, Château Valmy. Surrounded by vineyards and with a view of the sea, the castle was also overlooking three stages, twelve bars, ten food trucks, and room for more than 15,000 people at the height of the show. We were a little bit in awe. We'd arrived quite early, so Laurene could get ready to take photos, so we spent the afternoon checking out all the different vantage points and watching the place fill up. Drink and food prices weren't cheap, but when we found we could get a bottle of rosé for 18 euros and take home the little plastic wine glasses, we decided it was worth it.
The first half of the evening were mostly French artists: Raggasonic, Aya Nakamura, Trust... but John Butler Trio also performed the day were were there, and as the sun went down and bright colors were projected on the castle, the crowd really rolled in for the closing acts. We finished our wine and decided we ought to just go for the full experience and squeeze through the crowd near the front.
Music and rosé, anyone?
I don't exactly seek out music by Thirty Seconds to Mars, and neither does Andrew. We had to look up some of their songs to be reminded which angsty rock band from our adolescence they were. However, they put on a really good show. And France loves them. It's hard to resist crowd energy like that. We were waving our hands in the air and yelling the words, too. I wondered if I was subject to mob mentality when Jared Leto pulled out a Catalan flag and I was cheering and clapping along; does my allegiance change that easily? Or does travel just make you feel connected to all different places?
After Thirty Seconds to Mars, a French rock band that was really good, Dionysos, came on. We very much enjoyed them, but the group that surrounded us in the crowd was clearly there for the last performer of the festival, Macklemore. Finally, after midnight, the big light-up banner on the stage flashed his name and everyone went crazy. It struck me that from what we'd observed throughout the festival that day, while French music is excellent, there's nothing quite like American pop stars' concert performances. Sometimes I wonder if our artists' showmanship is more important than the music itself. Either way, the Macklemore show was super fun and energetic. He did all of his most popular songs--meaning even I knew most of them. We had a great time.
The crowd, the stages, and the castle. Unforgettable.
Jared Leto waving the Catalan flag.
I think I can speak for both of us when I say we aren't quite ready to leave. We have a lot more summertime adventures coming up (we're spending some time in Nîmes, France before visiting Barcelona, and then our Workaway in Spain, after which we fly to Ecuador!) but we're really vibing with this French-Catalan life. Yesterday we lounged and swam at Collioure for hours and are sporting the sunburns to prove it. Last Sunday, Bastille Day, after a bit of work on the roof with Holger, the whole family hung out by the pool for hours, sipping boxed rosé (more delicious than anything boxed I've had in the U.S.) and swimming with the dogs. Tonight we are going into town to see the carnival of giants, a Catalan cultural event both in this part of France and in Catalonia, Spain.
Jumping in at Collioure.
Tomorrow evening we'll watch the last episode of Game of Thrones with Laurene, who is a huge fan and is dedicated to ensuring we complete the season on their big TV with surround sound, and on Monday we catch a Flixbus from Perpignan to Nîmes. The summer is absolutely flying by, but it's definitely a good one.
Laurene tries to take some sneaky photos of us at Les Déferlantes...