So, we’re nearly there – it feels dreadful to almost wish your life away, but August is such frenetic month that you just want it to be over. Our otherwise sleepy little town with a permanent population of 8000 souls is suddenly invaded, first by the Dutch who arrive at the end of June, then the Germans, the French – LOTS of French, it only being half an hour to the border – and finally the Catalan/Spanish tourists from the big cities such as Barcelona and Girona, culminating in a population of over 80,000 for the month of August. As you can imagine it is pandemonium – the bars and restaurants try desperately to milk every last centimo from the idiot tourists, supermarkets put a good 10% on their prices for the months of July and August, people on the Old Town beach have to turn over in unison to avoid unpleasantness and the daily excitement for the residents is watching the air ambulance try to land on the little square by the beach to deal with an emergency – sometimes twice in one day! I really don’t envy the paramedics, all togged up in their orange jumpsuits and crash helmets, manhandling patients on trolleys from an ambulance to the confined space of the helicopter in 34 degrees of heat. And if it’s not the beach it’s the road – why is it that people on holiday seem to leave their common sense at home and drive like lunatics?
It isn’t just the bars and restaurants who try to part the tourists from their cash. Home-owners move out to stay with friends or into tiny bedsits with no air-conditioning in order to rent out their property for exorbitant sums. The house two doors down from us where normally there is just one retired French lady was occupied for two weeks by three families – a total of five adults and seven children. The house is identical to ours so we just wondered where they all slept – we feel our house is full to bursting when our son, his wife and three year old daughter come to visit, but twelve people in a three bedroom house? That’s beyond cosy. Must have been quite a queue for the loo in the morning.
Our way of retaining our sanity is to take short trips away from the coast. Over the past two weeks we have been to the pretty mountain town of Compradon and also to Andorra.
Compradon is about a two hour drive from home into the Pyrenees, close to the beautiful Catalan mountain of Canigou. I adore that mountain the sight of it, particularly in winter when it is covered with snow, is magical. At this time of year it is often hidden in haze but makes a majestic appearance from time to time. Compradon is popular both in summer and winter. In summer the river is a cool oasis, the little town has a couple of squares with bars and restaurants and there is the most eccentric little hotel – imaginatively named Hotel Compradon – which from the front looks as though nothing has changed there, including the customers – for the past 50 years; but at the back the rooms have balconies overlooking the river at the other side of which is the hotel’s beautiful private garden with a swimming pool, accessed by an elegant footbridge. In winter, of course, Compradon is close to ski resorts and is even home to the Compradon Ski Club, no less. The town has had a traumatic past, particularly during the civil war and there is a museum in the town devoted to past struggles. We had a delicious picnic sitting on some big boulders right by the rushing river, but our reverie was interrupted by the first rumblings of thunder and some big spots of rain so we quickly packed up and headed back to the car. We drove up to the top of the mountain pass, where Spain meets France, and sat in a car park to watch the storm – spectacular lightening over the mountains and torrential rain. But, as is mostly the case here, it only lasted about half an hour and then the sun started to peek through again. We drove down on the French side so we could do some shopping – whilst Catalan wines have improved immensely over the past 10 years or so, and many are quite enjoyable, no-one will ever convince me that Spanish wine is a patch on French so we always take every opportunity to stock up!