Yesterday I made a joke with a woman in a flower shop—in French. It was such a victorious feeling to be able to make the shop owner laugh in her own language. It wasn’t anything very complicated. When she asked if the plant we were buying was everything we needed, I looked around and joked, “Je voudrais tout!” (I want everything). She laughed and nodded saying it was possible, while Matt shook his head vehemently—no!! I settled for just this one pretty Pink Quill.
After two months in France, we are starting to really feel at home (we even have our residency cards now and purchased year passes for the city bikes—VélÔToulouse), but nearly every day we still pinch ourselves about the fact that we’ve already spent two months in Europe.
This past week, Matt’s work hours have really picked up, so we aren’t sure when we’ll get to take our next adventure, but we were able to visit the beach again before he got busy.
Port Leucate, a little seaside town situated on the Mediterranean near the Corbières mountain range, was our first trip to the eastern coast of France since we’ve arrived. Traveling to Port Leucate took us past the lush fields of sunflowers in the Haute-Garonne to the vineyard-filled, desert-like valleys near the mountains. It should have taken us about two hours to get there, but we hit a lot of traffic on the way (probably from others who had the same weekend beach plans as us), so it took about an hour longer than planned.
When we got to Port Leucate, we drove through the small port town until we found our hotel, Hotel des 2 Golfs. It was one of the last-available rooms we could find as we only realized we could go about a day before we left. The hotel was rated two stars and definitely showed its age inside, but the woman who checked us in was very sweet and our room smelled of bleach when we went in, so at least we could assume it had been cleaned.
We quickly dropped off our suitcase and donned our swimsuits so we could head out to the beach. Our host had kindly given us directions (go straight until you hit the wine shop and then turn left), but road wasn’t exactly straight and we ended up at an intersection staring confusedly at a map. We played the typical lost tourists until a kind gentleman from the north of France took pity on us and let us tag along with his family on their walk down a beautiful, flower-lined path to the beach.
The gentleman and his family were very friendly and we attempted small talk through a comical mishmash of French and English. Though neither group spoke the other’s language perfectly, we did have a nice conversation until we reached the wine shop and they pointed us on to beach.
Once we said our “au revoirs,” Matt and I headed for the sand and surf. We were surprised to find that the sand was very pebbly and gritty—a bit hard to walk on. The beach was busy, but fortunately not very crowded so we were able to get a great spot very close to the water and could look out to see the sailboats in the distance. We laid out our colorful blanket (purchased at Casa for just 8€—bam!!) and sat listening to the crash of the waves and drinking lemonade for a bit. We daydreamed about our future home with its vineyards and gardens and basked in the gentle breeze that danced through the air.
Finally we decided it was time to take a dip in the Mediterranean and we walked delicately over the corse sand. The edge of the beach dropped a bit before hitting the water which we soon discovered was a bit chilly–though not nearly as cold as the water in San Sebastian. We giggled and held onto each other as the strong waves crashed against our legs and stomachs, threatening to duck us with the gently tugging current. The water was surprisingly clear and we could see all the way down to where our feet were sinking into the rough sand. Neither of us were brave enough to go all the way in, so after we were wet enough we awkwardly scrambled up the slippery slope back to our towels.
I forgot to bring the extra sunscreen, so after a couple of hours covered head-to-toe with our towels and extra clothes (we burn VERY easily), we decided to head back to town for dinner. We showered (in our tub that had neither door nor shower curtain) and dressed and headed out for a cocktail, opting to stop at a restaurant with a patio overlooking the gorgeous port. We sat for a while watching people and admiring the sailboats and small yachts in the port while we sipped the house white wine.
The sun (and probably a low consumption of water that day) must have made the wine hit us because soon we were giggling and on the hunt for more.
Along the way to Port Leuctat, we drove through field after field of vineyards, so we decided we needed to pick up a couple of bottles to bring home. We stopped at Vignobles Cap Leucate and bought a local red (which the woman helping us kindly let us sample—probably just because she was impressed with my French) and white.
By this time, we knew we needed to grab some dinner so we walked along the boardwalk until we found a place serving tapas and pizza. We decided to start with a meat plate and bread with tomato spread and cheese. We split a carafe of rose and noshed on a delicious pizza.
Full and ready for adventure, we decided to stroll down the rest of the boardwalk. It was lined with small restaurants, ice cream shops and places to buy souvenirs. Local vendors had set up tables along the waterfront and were now hawking their glowing toys and shiny jewelry.
We found one of those claw games and Matt tried to win me a Minion toy for a euro. I guess he and everyone else playing must have been off their games because no one won anything (this is me with my shocked face).
To make up for the disappointment, we decided to go for ice cream. Nothing like a frozen treat to drown your sorrows over not winning a cheap toy. Fortunately, I knew just where to go: Le Palais Des Glaces! I’d been
stalking eyeing this ice cream shop which appeared to have at least 40 different flavors and promised chantilly (an amazing French whipped cream) on top of the scoops.
All of the flavors looked so good that it was very distressing to pick, but I finally settled on two flavors and made sure to top it off with chantilly. But wait—there’s more! Into my big waffle cone, they tucked a little sugar cone brimming with hot fudge. Best. Ice Cream Shop. Ever. I’d probably return to Port Leucate again just to eat there. If you ask Matt, he’d probably tell you I’m not even joking.
We ate our ice cream overlooking the water and watching a loan jelly fish float around schools of sardines darting thorough the salty water. All around us, young families strolled and children played and we soaked in the peace and beauty of a perfect summer evening in France.
Later that night we trudged back to the hotel room which we knew would be stifling as the air conditioner seemed to drop no lower in temperature than “hot and sticky.” The only room left when we booked was a four-person room with a double bed and bunk beds and the AC was positioned directly above the bunk beds and blocking the air flow. We decided to create an air-luge with the mattress on the top bunk and angled it down so the air would flow directly on to the double bed (keep that for your next stuffy hotel hack!). It worked! It may not have been that cool, but at least we had air flowing.
Sunday morning dawned on early and sweaty, but at least we had croissants and pain au chocolat ahead of us. The breakfast provided at the hotel wasn’t bad. We downed hot coffee and baked goodies before heading out for a quick peek at the market set up every Sunday in Port Leucate.
The Sunday market was pretty impressive. If you are looking for a good, open-air market in France this is definitely one of the biggest and most varied I’ve seen (at least in the south of France). Stall after stall provided everything you ever needed (dresses, cheese, fresh paella and, yes, even mattresses) and everything you didn’t know you wanted (mini statues from Africa and incense burners in the shape of a little man who blew the smoke out of his mouth).
With an adventure to Carcassone still ahead of us, we convinced ourselves to just look and not buy (even though there was some very tempting chocolate and sausage) and, after a quick turn around the market, we hopped in the car and set our sights on the walled city. Don’t worry, Port Leucate–we’ll be back.