This spring (April – June 2012) we spent three months just outside of Ille-sur-Tet in the Tet valley at the base of the eastern Pyrenees. The town is well situated town for exploring the mountains around Canigou peak as well as the coastal region north and south of Perpignan.
The valley is known for its fruit orchards, especially peaches, and we started enjoying fantastic cherries in mid-May moving on to juicy apricots in early June.
Early peaches and nectarines become available at the end of June but were not as wonderful as the cherries and apricots. Perhaps the later varieties have better flavor. Vineyards can be found in the neighboring Agly valley and along the coast.
For great local wine try Latour-de-France and my favorite, Collioure, from the pretty coastal town of the same name.
Ille-sur-Tet is a vibrant working town where older men gather along the main drag soaking in the Mediterranean sun in good weather and huddle in the bus stop shelters when the infamous tramontane (a dry cold wind from the north) blows.
The town is large enough to have a variety of services including several boulangeries, two banks, a small grocery in town and two larger ones at either end of the main road, a stationary shop, a half a dozen places to get your hair cut, and a couple of restaurants (see below).
Wednesday and Friday mornings you’ll find a small market in the center of town at place de la République with a few stalls of vegetables, dry goods and the occasional fish vendor.
However, the better place to buy fresh fish is at the Carrefour located on the northeast side of town at the N116 exit, with a consistently succulent selection of monkfish, sole, salmon, skate, etc.
The house, Mas St. Joseph, a rambling Catalan farmhouse with 5 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, is located on a rural lane lined with fruit orchards about a mile and half outside of town.
The rooms are spacious and comfortably furnished. The kitchen, really just the corner of a much larger room, includes a farmhouse table and a wood burning stove that keeps the room cozy on cold days.
A welcome feature in an old stone house with drafty windows and doors. Portable paraffin heaters provide additional heating in other rooms. The enclosed shaded terrace with an adjoining pool area is a pleasant place to hang out or eat dinner on soft warm summer evenings.
Lizzie’s Kitchen, named after the British owner and cook, is located on the main street, D916, as you are leaving town towards Prades. An interesting assortment of British influenced Mediterranean fair in a casual friendly atmosphere.
La Casa del Ram located at 6 Placa Del Ram (04 68 29 67 58) is a higher end Catalan eatery on a quiet square next to the church, a perfect place to dine al fresco in good weather.
The all French menu with a mix of local and international flavors is written on ardoise (slate board) and changes frequently. The friendly service makes it a fun place to practice your French. The food is generally good and interesting but can be overcooked at times. We started with the ardoise platter with bites from near and far – Moroccan eggplant salad and tomato relish, crostini with red pepper, and local ham with melon;
and guacamole topped with shrimp and served with crunchy plantain chips and grapefruit. An inventive combination but the execution could have been better – shrimp was overcooked and the guacamole an unappetizing shade of gray. Mains included an artfully hanging skewer of prawns and monkfish,
and duck layered with roasted peaches served in a Banyuls reduction (local fortified wine). A fruity caramelized marriage perfect for an unfortunately overcooked duck breast. Sweet endings included a deconstructed intensely raspberry tiramisu
and a heavenly combination of apple tart served with caramel ice cream. Over all lovely evening with interesting options.