And yet another year flew by! Without wanting to sound like a granny, this year has passed in a blink of an eye. It has been a fun ride, though, with many new discoveries on my side. I never would have thought that the ‘La Ramoneta’ blog would keep me going for so long. But I still have a very long wish list of hidden treasures that I can’t wait to share with you. So, unfortunately for my happy family, I will continue to drag them to picturesque villages, on long hikes, to local restaurants and many more activities and places of interest that I’ve heard of or read about…
Last year, I gave you a list of my year’s favourites, and I thought it would be nice to make it a little Ramoneta tradition. Therefore, below you will find 10 of my 2019 highlights. As always, I love receiving your tips and ideas by email or DM, and maybe you might see one of your favourites posted next year!
For now, I wish you a happy new year full of beautiful new memories. With maybe a few made in the South of France? Hope to see you back in 2020!
1. Favourite village: Castelnou
My first encounter with this charming village was on a gorgeous, bright, autumn day. The snowy white peak of the Canigou mountain stood out against the blue sky, with Castelnou comfortably nestled in the foothills of Les Aspres. The village, with its typical stone houses, has many picture-perfect spots and it is lovely to stroll around the cobblestone streets. To top off my visit, I decided to treat myself to a sunny sangria on the scenic terrace of the restaurant/bar L’Hostal. Being so close to the Spanish border has its advantages.
2. Favourite town: Perpignan
Another place of interest that is seeped in Catalan influences is Medieval Perpignan, which is the last big town before the Spanish border. Not surprising when you think how many times Perpignan has switched between French and Spanish rulers. Today, you can still enjoy a great mix of cultures. By the time I had seen all the ins and outs of the town, it was lunchtime. And lunchtime in a city with so many Catalan influences is a great thing! A nice platter of tapas accompanied by a great local wine ended my lovely visit to Perpignan.
3. Favourite festival: Les Grands Jeux Romains in Nîmes
This year, I finally took my family to Les Grands Jeux Romains. Once a year, in the Spring, the ancient city of Nîmes is invaded by troops of Roman soldiers. Over the course of three days, the Roman Games, or ‘Les Grands Jeux Romains’, take place in the town’s historic amphitheatre. Re-enactors, in beautiful and realistic battledress, converge on the city centre, to relive ancient Roman history. I found it quite impressive to watch these Roman Games inside the arenas, just like the inhabitants of Nîmes did over 2,000 years ago. If you would like to go next year, think about getting your tickets early, as the games are very popular.
4. Favourite shopping town: Béziers
Living close to Béziers, I mostly go there for my shopping. As it’s a medium-sized town with a big shopping mall on the outskirts, the city centre is filled with lots of unique independent boutiques. Somehow though, I find that I don’t go into the centre very often. When I do have the time however, I love to take the whole day to roam the historic streets, which is a great way to discover many local treasures.
5. Favourite activity: Electric scooter tour
To celebrate the end of our summer holiday, I decided to surprise my family with an electric scooter tour of Roquebrun. After all the hikes we’d been on over the summer, I thought I’d plan something without too much physical effort. The kids, Chéri and I had a blast riding our scooters, and the views of Roquebrun and surrounding areas were absolutely stunning. Our children agree that this was the most enjoyable trip of the year!
6. Favourite cultural sites: Châteaux de Quéribus and Peyrepertuse
Although these two castles- Quéribus and Peyrepertuse– are two different sites, I’m counting them as one favourite as they are so close to each other. Most people visit the two castles on the same day anyway, which I can only but recommend. Both Quéribus as Peyrepertuse are situated in the heart of the ‘Land of the Cathars’. The wild beauty of the surrounding landscape of the Corbières mountains overwhelmed me, and the remains of the fortifications led to an adventurous exploration with a breathtaking view.
7. Favourite wine cave: Cave de Château Castigno
Instead of giving gifts for Christmas and birthdays, Chéri and I prefer buying experiences and days out for each other. As we live in one of the biggest wine regions of the world, it was not that difficult to find the perfect experience this year: creating our own wine at the Cave de Château Castigno. So, on a gorgeous autumn day, we headed for Assignan. The remarkable Château Castigno winery has an amazing building in the shape of a gigantic wine bottle covered with the bark from cork oaks, and now we would finally be seeing it from the inside. After our wine tasting and wine assembling, we concluded the morning with a delicious lunch at ‘La Petite Table’.
8. Favourite hike: the Sentier du Guetteur in Leucate
Spring and autumn are my favourite seasons to go hiking. Especially as Indian Summers in the South of France are the best! Walking the Sentier du Guetteur in Leucate brought Chéri and me along the cliffs between La Franqui and the lighthouse. From the Cap des Frères, we had a magnificent panorama from the 52 meter high cliffs. The deep blue sky married perfectly with the crystal clear water of the Mediterranean Sea and the bright green of the pine trees. A warning though- there are no barriers whatsoever, so be careful at the edge, especially with children!
9. Favourite restaurant: Äponem
Restaurant-wise it is difficult to pick only one favourite. This year, I have discovered so many new ones, each one more surprising than the last. However, there is one that stands out, and I am not the only one who thinks so. The restaurant Äponem received its first Michelin star only six months after opening in July 2018. Since then, it has been high on my wishlist. And my birthday was the perfect occasion to finally have dinner there. Over no less then 12 courses, Chéri and I enjoyed the most amazing culinary journey and it was undeniably an evening to remember. Äponem means ‘happiness’ in the Brazilian indigenous language of the Pataxó. And what we tasted there was definitely pure happiness!
10. Favourite market: Port Barcarès
Living in the South of France doesn’t give you a high chance of getting a white Christmas. Which is why I love going to Christmas markets to get into the festive spirit. The one in Port Barcarès is one of the best in the region, and people come from far and wide to walk through this winter wonderland. And when evening falls, the Village Noël of Port Barcarès turns up the magic even more. To admire the market from even higher up, I went for a ride on the 55-meter tall Ferris Wheel. The night had already set, which brought out all of the Christmas happiness in its full splendour.