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In fact, there is a mountain high enough

Part 11 of a 2006 Cataluña/Pyrenées/Roussillon travelogue

by Thor Iverson

22 October 2006 – Saint-Savin, France

Col du Tourmalet – Bikers sweat, struggle, and bleed their way up…then down…this shockingly precipitous, beautifully desolate mountain climb. They can have it. In a car, driving inches from an unguarded plunge into cartwheeling death, it’s…less fun. Considering how long it takes to get here, it’s all more than a bit frustrating, but after a half-hour’s climb, the swift onrush of imminent mortality becomes just too much to bear for the acrophobic. A cross-peak hike does help allay the disappointment, but it’s a grey, gloomy day in any case. And picnic spots, as ever in France, are in ill supply, though we do eventually find a semi-convenient and vastly uncomfortable bench.

Jaume Sabaté Mestre “Mas Plantadeta” 2004 Priorat Garnatxa Blanc Roure (Cataluña) – Big, heavy, and sun-baked. Minerality abounds, with moderate wood slightly masking peach and apricot fruit. So heavy it’s very nearly a syrup, and the structure is completely wonky, yet one can’t help but feel that with a different upbringing…

[col du tourmalet]

[col du tourmalet]

Steeped in history
[col du tourmalet]

Bet or fold
[alpine flower]


Chapelle Notre Dame de la Piétat – Our second attempt, and this time the door’s open. The interior is strikingly decorative for such a remote church, and the mood is decidedly…chilly. In its absolute silence, it’s actually quite reverent, but in a rough-hewn, against-the-elements sort of way. As befits its location.


The hobbit choir

Ceiling wax

Café de la Poste – Other than a fairly well-regarded hotel/restaurant, and a tiny shop selling artisan ceramics, this is pretty much it for commerce in this tiny hamlet. I’m an inveterate collector of cafés, having discovered some sort of personal nirvana in a long-ago visit to the Rhône that became as much a tour de pastis as an actual vacation, and this area – decidedly short on cafés – has left me somewhat bereft. So amongst a few hard-drinking locals, who look on this tourist with decided amusement, I step up to the bar, mangle a few key French phrases, and retire to a chilly outdoor table for a refreshing shot-sized glass of semi-local refreshment.

Vigneau la Juscle Jurançon Moelleux (Southwest France) – There’s no vintage listed, nor is there a specific cuvee indicated, and I don’t get to see the bottle…not that it really matters. For all I know, this isn’t even the promised Jurançon. It tastes of light apricot and peanut, faint but clean, and the effect is more refreshing than luscious. It’s not worth a second look, but it serves its current purpose quite nicely.

Dinner consists of duck breast with a Dijon mustard crust, beans with a rather prodigious quantity of garlic (plus some leftover scallions), and wine. While we dine, I stuff the rest of the garlic into a chicken and roast it for later consumption; all through the meal, the beautiful aroma (is there anything from the stove – except bacon – that’s better?) permeates the room, serving to enhance the food we’re actually eating. Who needs molecular gastronomy for this sort of thing, anyway?

Finca Sandoval 2002 Manchuela “Salia” (Central Spain) – Leather, dark blueberry, and soft, wood-like smoothness that turns to cedar on the finish. Really quite lovely, with a texture that alternates between silk and satin. It’s fruit-forward, but it’s balanced, and rocks lurk underneath. A very compelling wine; not “great,” but probably not intended so. I like this much more than its more ambitious big brother.

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Copyright © Thor Iverson.