12 June 2014

Are dogs allowed on beaches in Argeles-Sur-Mer?

When we took our little dog, Baxter, down to the south of France for his first holiday abroad, we were surprised at how few beaches in the Argeles region allowed dogs on them.

Our little dog Baxter having fun on the Marenda beach

If you've never been to this part of France, you're missing out. Part of the Languedoc region, there are miles of beautiful, white, wide, wild beaches. The small towns that litter the beaches are less built up than, say, the south of Spain, and even the more commercial beaches such as Argeles Centre are still reasonably unspoilt. 

I guess they don't want dogs fouling on the beach and antisocial owners not keeping hold of their pets which can irritate other holiday makers. But it means dog owners are a bit restricted. 

There are six stretches of beach within Argeles. If you go further North from Argeles, you'll reach St Cyprien and further South, Collioure.

Racou beach, probably my favourite dog-friendly section

The six beaches in Argeles are called (from North to South) Plage de la Marenda, Plage du Tamariguer, Plage des Pins, Plage Centre, Plage Sud and Plage du Racou. In between Sud and Racou, you'll find the marina. All of these beaches have large, patrolled areas with toilets, lifeguards and swim-safe zones. However, none of them allow dogs!

To take you dog on the beach, you have to go to the sections which are not patrolled. This means that technically you are not supposed to swim in the water and there are no facilities such as toilets and showers. However, they are more remote, less spoilt and far less busy. 

The first dog-safe section is on the edge of the Racou beach, next to the Marina. You can park for free in a large, beach car park which sadly has no shade so the cars get pretty hot. The beach is beautiful, wide and very wild. We went on a Tuesday in June and it was very quiet and although it was hot, there was a lovely breeze. 

To the south, the long beach is cornered by hills topped with ancient watch towers and the buildings are barely visible behind the trees and not that commercial. Like all the beaches in Argeles, the sand isn't soft and fine, instead, it is slightly gritty and fairly white. 

There are toilets on the main beach and also bars and restaurants. The main beachside restaurant is Hotel L'Oasis which allows dogs on their outside area and serves a good selection of salads, sandwiches, cold drinks and ice creams. They stop serving food at 2 though, so don't get caught out!

Marenda beach. A bit more crowded, but still pretty remote

The second area that allows dogs is to the north of Plage de la Marenda. This is part of the Northern section of the Argeles beaches and is very beautiful. Behind the beach lies huge campsites which seem to be popular with Germans in particular. There are lovely views of the Pyrenees from the beach and the campsites are hidden by wild plant dunes of flowers and pine trees. It has a very remote and wild feel to it. The sand is white and again pretty gritty.
We went on a Wednesday in June and, although still quiet, was busier than the Racou. However, the beach is incredibly long and, if you are less lazy than us, I'm sure you'd leave the people behind if you were prepared to walk up the beach. 

Again, there is a free beach car park, with no shade. The walk is slightly longer than Racou to the beach, but probably only about 5 minutes. To the south of the unpatrolled area is the Coco Beach restaurant that does typical takeaway food. As it is on the Marenda beach, you can't take dogs there. 

I can see why the Argeles beaches are some of the most popular in France as they are very beautiful. And, if you are prepared to go to the more remote parts, you can experience a very wild beach experience which your four legged friend can enjoy too. 

The Argeles beach region with details of the different patrolled areas

7 June 2014

Which alcohol free beers taste the best?

I haven't been drinking for about five months now (I'll let you draw your own conclusions). And the question I most frequently get asked is whether I miss alcohol.

What do you think? I write a blog on wine and travel, OF COURSE I miss alcohol. I miss drinking a nice gin and tonic on a Friday night or having a glass of wine with a meal. I miss Pimms in the sunshine, frankly, I miss it and haven't really found any soft drinks that have quite filled that place in my life where booze used to live.

So, I found myself trying some alcohol free lagers and ciders. I never thought I'd bother with these as I've always been of the opinion of you're not "drinking" then, what's the point? In the past few months, I've tried quite a few, if only as an attempt to fill the sad, pathetic gap booze has left in my life.

A glass of Bitburger Drive. Nearly like the real thing

The first thing I realised is that most alcohol free drinks are not technically alcohol free. It seems that, in the UK, there can be a small amount of alcohol in drinks and they can still be labelled alcohol free. So I guess if you were being truly strict about cutting out all alcohol then you should probably not drink them. And, if you went on a proper binge, you could probably get caught out by the breathalyser test. But you would have to drink a lot!

The tipple I've most commonly found in pubs and bars is Becks Blue. By all accounts, it is brewed in the same way as Becks (and to the same high German standards) but the alcohol is removed at the end of the fermentation process. This means that it is supposed to taste the same as its alcoholic counterpart. Even though it is apparently the UK's number one alcohol free lager, it's certainly not my favourite. It has quite a metallic taste and is so fizzy that it's hard to stomach more than one bottle of the stuff.

I also found Cobra Zero pretty disappointing. There's nothing like a glass of Cobra with a hot curry, but the alcohol free version is much sweeter and has a strong, buttery taste to it. I couldn't even finish the bottle.

Bitburger Drive has got to be one of my favourites. Again, the alcohol is removed at the end of the fermentation process which is designed to preserve the taste. It has less of a metallic taste that some of the reduced alcohol lagers have and it has only 26 calories per 100ml. Unfortunately, I've never found it in a pub or bar and have only purchased it in Tescos, which I think is a real shame.

Kopparberg cider - a bit too sweet for me

My other favourite is Erdinger Alkohol-Frei. Although this is a wheat beer it isn't too strong, heavy or citric. Apparently brewed in strict accordance with Bavarian Purity Laws, it is crisp and refreshing and seriously drinkable. Plus, as it is a wheat beer, it isn't too fizzy and contains around 25 calories per 100ml. I've found this in a few pubs and bars, so maybe Britain is catching on. 

To be honest, I'm not a massive fan of cider, so I'm not sure why I thought I'd like alchohol free cider. However, I thought I would try the Kopparberg ones as I thought they would be refreshing in the summer. They make an alcohol free pear cider and an alcohol free mixed fruit cider. Well, sweet is not the word! It is like drinking a melted ice lolly! For me, it's not like experiencing alcohol and so doesn't fill the gap that I'm looking for. But if you like sweet drinks, then knock yourself out. 

So I found a couple of German beers that pretty much hit the spot. And I also found this great UK-based website which promotes alchohol free drinks called www.alcoholfree.co.uk and you can also purchase online from there. They even have some wines and spirits which I might give a go. 

I still look forward to opening a lovely bottle of Pinot Noir and drinking two or five glasses with a plate of nibbles. Sigh, aren't I pathetic? 

Happier days!