Slow travel is a state of mind. I like that notion. I understand that concept. It isn’t necessarily about time spent in a place, it’s about how you spend time in a place. It’s about absorbing what’s around you; whether that’s by way of an afternoon spent boozing in a local bar, perusing and buying the fruit and veg at a farmers’ markets, checking out the new season in a chic shopping centre with the local fashionistas or ambling across the countryside.
In the case of our last visit to The Pyrenees it was the latter. Long walks across rolling hills, over sharp peaks and through drowsy villages presented us with a smorgasbord of local flavours; each one adding a little piece to a jigsaw that, as it slotted together, revealed a satisfying snapshot of life in The Pyrenees.
The perfect Medieval film set. It was our second time in Santa Pau and the compact streets were as enchanting as we remembered. Long, chatty dinners were taken below golden arches outside of the restaurant Cal Sastre. We heard all about, and ate, the local speciality, fesol beans and listened to tales of a mysterious owner of one of the historic buildings in the main plaza. The absent owner never visited, letting the building fall into disrepair, and refused to sell. What was his gripe with the town? It sounded like a plot from the mind of Carlos Ruiz Zafón.
Hostelat d’en Bas
Cobbled streets jiggled the buttocks as we cycled through Hostelat d’en Bas which was like an artist’s impression of a quaint Catalan village; all stone buildings with wooden balconies filled with sprawling vines and perky geraniums. Ca L’Esteve was one of those leafy pavement café/bars that would be a crime to pass without stopping. So we didn’t.
With buildings the colours of the stones that lined the banks of the two streams flowing through it Beget sang in perfect harmony with its surroundings. We picnicked by a translucent slate-coloured stream before having a coffee in the village where the owner offered me cream for an oversized mosquito bit on my neck. As we supped, we watched an elderly local builder insist on driving a mini dumper truck backwards through the village at speed, crossing a humpy bridge that was barely wider than the truck without slowing down. He was clearly the village show-off.
Whilst I pondered the existence of an iron dragon, Andy negotiated lunch in a small bar beside the town plaza. In Pardines it takes 30 minutes to make up two baguettes with ham and cheese. This is slow travel. Admittedly they were big baguettes.
A misleading town. From below it looks as though it sits perched on a rock. It’s a bit of an optical illusion which we were glad about as it didn’t actually mean we had to climb a rock to get to it. The street through the village is narrow and at one point a tractor and trailer blocked the path above a hay barn. The only way past was to walk under the ladder. The farmer offered to move it but Andy walked under. I awkwardly fumbled my way around the outside, trying not to fall as I explained about it being considered bad luck in Britain.
We wanted to buy water and wine and I’d clocked a likely looking shop; not difficult as there were not a lot of shops to choose from. As it was closed, I asked a man who was sort of doing nothing by the roadside if it sold vino. It took him five minutes to ponder the question and confirm that it did sell water and wine and that it was due to open again in 5 minutes. He then gave me directions to get there – “see where that little girl is playing, it’s to the right of her…”. This surprised me as A) I obviously knew where it was as I’d pointed it out to him and b) it was right across the road from where we stood. It was a great little shop, one of those places that sells everything even though it’s size of a big cupboard .
You have to take a photo of the Pont Nou, everybody does. They claim it’s the most photographed bridge in Catalonia. I couldn’t find the starting point of a walk in Camprodon. After a couple of aborted attempts at engaging with locals (they weren’t locals) I decided that an old woman pulling branches from a tree must be home-grown on the grounds that nobody else would vandalise a tree in broad daylight. She was and she knew where I was looking for. When I told her where I was going, she cackled. A sweaty half hour later my screaming thighs knew why.
We struggled to find the best time to have a drink or lunch without disturbing people in pretty Setcases, named after seven houses built by a family of farmers. First time was a post-walk beer at around 4pm. We walked into a bar to find the owner and family sitting eating a meal and watching TV. They served us the beer but we felt like intruders. The following day we arrived back in town after another walk in time for a late lunch about 3pm. It was a different restaurant and a different time but again the owner and family were eating and had to break from the meal to serve us. Maybe people just eat all the time in Setcases. Maybe they were addicted to their own fritters in the second place; they were addictively good.
Sleepyville when we arrived, the following day it was fiesta time as Molló celebrated the Temps de Flors with witty and often acerbic floral-ish displays. As we strolled around the small town, two women motioned that we follow them up a street dedicated to the ‘creesees‘ where both matriarchs doubled over in howls at each visual satirical dig at Spain’s Government. We liked Molló’s wicked sense of fun.
These are all little things. There’s no ‘wow’ involved and no adrenalin pumping experience. Just the pleasure of interaction on various levels.
We weren’t travelling slowly but we were basking in the warm glow of slow travel.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+