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Chill the Champagne, Pack the Pearls, Tune up the Bugatti

September 23, 2014

The title was the cry of the wealthy as they set off for the spas and beaches of Biarritz in the 1920-30’s.

For us, in the early 21st Century, this meant chill the Blancquette de Limoux (4 Euros), pack the Philippine pearls (they might be plastic, who knows), tune up the Ford Fiesta (a cereal box but not a bad one at that)!

Yes, for our last fling in France we decided to head south to the Spanish border and hang out with the glitterati of France.

The Road Trip

The Road Trip

We first headed to Limoges to look at china.  Yes, France, and in particular, Limoges is famous for china.  It was on the way so what the heck we thought it would be a good place to wander the streets looking at china.  Yes, it’s just an old fascination that goes back years when I loved making pottery and the life that went along with it.  So it wouldn’t hurt to see what Limoges is trying to do to entice younger buyers.  There was some incredible pieces but it would not have been a wise move to load up with china considering we were about to set off to sea in 6 months time and all that china would just end up on the cabin sole! So we wandered the streets of this old town and enjoyed the evening.

Limoges - love the windows. How long is this building going to stand?

Limoges – love the windows. How long is this building going to stand?

After Limoges we headed off to see some old sailing friends that we hadn’t seen in 20 years.  Jacqueline and Christiane are two sisters who have circumnavigated twice, lived and worked in French Polynesia, rounded the south end of Chile and crossed the Atlantic innumerable times.  They just returned from a three-year sojourn to Brazil and back and have their boat up a small canal near Noirmoutier on the west coast of France.

Maris Stella in the mud

Maris Stella in the mud

Their mooring is a five-minute drive from their house but it does have the disadvantage of not moving through mud at low water. So timing a weekend away has to be done with great care.  Who knows perhaps we might get Sage up here one day.

We spent a few days with Jacqueline and Christiane re-connecting to water and the sea.  I think living in the Montagne Noir made us seasick for the ocean. It was great to smell the salt water despite the low tides and all the smells associated.  We managed to swim in the ocean each day

Our favourite swimming hole

Our favourite swimming hole

eat seafood and re-ignite an old friendship

Christiane and Connie onboard Maris Stella

Christiane and Connie onboard Maris Stella

Connie and Jacqueline onboard Maris Stella

Connie and Jacqueline onboard Maris Stella

The Noirmoutier salt pans

The Noirmoutier salt pans

Sunrise in Fromentine

Sunrise in Fromentine as we’re leaving

But time was limited.  We only had two weeks in which to make our last tour of France and we really wanted to see the west coast and get down to Basque country.  So off we went with promises to Christiane and Jacqueline that yes we’ll sail Sage in to Fromentine soon.

Of course, before heading to Basque country we had to see some of the more famous ports of western France.  Two particular places we wanted to see where Les Sables-d’Olonne and La Rochelle.  They are famous in the boating world. Les  Sable d’Olonne is the port where the single-handed round the race starts so we headed there first to walk the harbour wall.

Connie on the breakwater at Les Sable d'Olonne

Connie on the breakwater at Les Sable d’Olonne

Check that one.  Still time to make it to La Rochelle.  Only a few kilometres down the coast we come to the historical town steeped in naval history.  What a harbour.  It has an amazing entrance that we would love to sail Sage between.

The entranceway to La Rochelle

The entranceway to La Rochelle (take note of the flag of Quebec flying from the ramparts?)

So we spent the night walking the streets of yet another old French coastal town admiring the old buildings and sniffing at the wonderful smells coming across on the evening breezes from the numerous tourist restaurants in the harbour.

We made our getaway the following morning heading further down the coast to Biscarosse Plage. But first the ferry across from Royan to Solac sur Mer to avoid having to go in to Bordeaux (we’ll save this for a later date). Always on the look out for interesting boats we were drawn to a couple on the wharf in Solac Sur Mer. We just couldn’t decide which one was better for us.

The go-fast trimaran

The go-fast trimaran

OR

The deep keeled ocean racer

The deep keeled ocean racer

In the end we put away the bank book and headed down the coast dreaming of sitting on the beach with a drink in hand to watch the setting sun.

The drink. The sunset. The beach

The drink. The sunset. The beach

Okay we do see enough of these in Thailand but we are headed to the Atlantic soon so we just wanted to compare what sunsets in the Pacific and Indian Ocean compared to those in the Atlantic.

So the next day we headed down to Biarritz – the old watering hole for the wealthy of Europe looking for spa treatments, champagne, Bugattis and parties. Things have changed a little over the intervening 50 years but the area has not lost its charm.  This is the beginning of Basque country and immediately the architecture changes and I only wish I had the contract to supply red paint.

 

Red, red and more red

Red, red and more red

Yes, Basque country is not the place you want to own a home in a paint it blue, yellow or green.  Every house without exception uses white with red highlights. I believe it all comes from the love of the pepper called piment d’espellete.  It originates from Mexico but is not a hot pepper and is used by the Basques in much of their cooking (and paint, ha, ha) and is a key ingredient in piperade.

But, yes, our goal of Biarritz was reached.  It’s quite a change in scenery from the flat country of the west coast of central France.  Here is the distance one can see the Pyrenees rising upwards of 1,550 metres.  The craggy coastline is a warning to sailors of dangerous entrance-ways to harbours but the weather is gorgeous with sparkling waters and gorgeous beaches.

Southern shoreline of Biarritz

Southern shoreline of Biarritz

It’s also here that we find our fake Bugatti

It's actually a jaguar

It’s actually a jaguar

And our Connie’s pearls

Pearls for Connie

Pearls for Connie

But alas having spent all our money on the Jaguar and the pearls there’s nothing left over for champagne.

We loved this part of the coast and France and will some day come back to explore the Basque region on both sides of the border. We spent a few days here hoping the surf would rise as many of the younger people were doing.  It’s a big surfing mecca but for the time we were there it was very tame and no opportunities to enjoy the wilder ocean other than taking a swim each day.  We had a great accommodation thanks to Airbnb and our host.  Located halfway between Bayonne and Biarritz we were close to the beach, shopping and strolling.

Hotel de Palais

Hotel de Palais

The Hotel de Palais was built by Napoleon 111.  It’s a gorgeous located hotel located on the north end of the beach in Biarritz and the interior is done in the traditional French elegant manner.

Connie is checking the menu in the Hotel de Palais

Connie is checking the menu in the Hotel de Palais

Funny, one day, on a stroll, the back gate to the hotel was open and we strolled in.  No-one confronted us although in our shorts and sandals we were obviously not staying there. However, on returning to our apartment one day we tried going in the front gate but were stopped by the guard.  Putting on my best stuffy English accent did no good and we were thrown out by the scruff of our necks! Haven’t had that happen before.

Oh well, just to get even we did go down to the pool.

Hotel de Palais pool

Hotel de Palais pool

I’m sure if I had dipped my big toe in this pool they would have dragged me off to some dungeon somewhere to conduct a serious interrogation.  Probably at a place like this below

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We did a side trip further down the coast to St Jean de Luz.  A lovely quaint old fishing port with a lovely harbour.

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Market day in St. Jean de Luz

Market day in St. Jean de Luz

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And what with distinctive Basque fabric designs why not decorate a VW Van

I think, though, what blew me away the most was the church in St. Jean de Luz called Eglise St.-Jean-Baptiste. I was walking along a street and like many other times thought why  not just pop into the church for a quick look.  We’ve seen many on this trip to Europe and I was not ready for what I was going to see.  The video below is of the inside of the church.  Warning – there is a lot piercing foghorn-like sound right at the beginning.  When I was in the church they were obviously tuning the organ.  I was not prepared for this style of church and it really brought home the fact that we were in a very different area of France.

 

Sunset in Biarritz

Sunset in Biarritz

Time to move on.  We have a few more stops to make before we get on the plane. It’s time to head up into the Pyrenees so we drive up to a place the owner of our accommodation mentioned as a lovely little spot high in the mountains – St . Jean Pied Au Port.  It’s a gathering point for those people wanting to head off on the Compestella trail south to Spain. It wasn’t quite what we had been looking for but nevertheless it gave us a taste of what the mountains in this region could offer.  St. Jean Pied Au Port is extremely focused on servicing the ‘pilgrims’.  It seemed like there were hundreds going in either direction.

St. Jean Pied Au Port as seen from the college above the town

St. Jean Pied Au Port as seen from the college above the town

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Despite the fact St. Pied Au Port is used as a servicing point for Compestella trail walkers it is quite quaint and beautifully maintained.

Downtown St. Jean Pied Au Port

Downtown St. Jean Pied Au Port

Main Street

Main Street

And always the Basque door

And always the Basque door

Okay off again.  This time we are headed back to St. Antonin Noble Val to pick up our suitcase from our friends Evelyne and Herve.

This is the planting that all round-a-bouts should be planted with

This is the planting that all round-a-bouts should be planted with

We had left the suitcase there at the beginning of July.  It’s alway a nice stop there and while there we managed to see a Hollywood movie starring Helen Mirren called Les Recettes du Bonheur. It was filmed in At. Antonin Noble Val and was showing in the local cinema so we couldn’t resist.

The next day, saying goodbye to Evelyne and Herve, we headed to Toulouse for our last night in France. We had one more market to stop at before getting to Toulouse and almost came home with the animal below. He’s so cute and does have a purpose in life as explained to the pig by the cat in the movie Babe

Was tempted to take with us

Was tempted to take with us

Toulouse is a great city and it’s another place we will return to someday to explore more. It’s a fantastic place for bicycles with great infrastructure, canals and pedestrian friendly areas. But it’s time to go.

Enough of pearls, Bugattis and champagne. It’s time to return to some work and planning.

Pont Neuf - Toulouse

Pont Neuf – Toulouse

So, we bid adieu to France.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian Gibb permalink
    September 23, 2014 15:12

    WOW! … and whew! You two sure are great travellers! You try not to miss anything, which is of course impossible but you do a wonderful job of taking yourselves and any friends, brothers or other such relatives to as many of the regions’ spectacular historical and cultural sites as time will allow. Thanx so much for being such great “tourists” (I’ll bet you dislike that word) and host&hostess to the many of us who have come to join you briefly in your travels. Cheers!!! Brother Brian… oh yes, and many thanks for being such wonderful hosts in Saissac and area

  2. Wayne Holt permalink
    September 23, 2014 17:02

    BRAVO et merci beaucoup!

  3. Donald Innes permalink
    September 24, 2014 06:10

    Tony and Connie
    Hello you Two
    Thanks for the great pics and stories
    Stay Well and be Happy
    Much Peace
    Don

    • Gilbert permalink
      September 24, 2014 11:14

      Was very glad to read all your comments on your discoveries along our West Coast .
      Next time you come back to France you can plan to spend 2 full weeks on that
      southwestern part of our country . You wont be disappointed…. and it’s not far from
      Toulouse ( and Saissac ) …..Our very best wishes …Gilbert.

  4. Sue Donaldson permalink
    September 24, 2014 16:51

    The fleurdelisé flag of Québec flies over La Rochelle harbour to commemorate it as the main port of France-New France trade from the 1600s to 1763 when the French lost Nouvelle France in the Treaty of Paris to England after the Seven Years’ War.

    • September 24, 2014 23:33

      Is this a permanent display of the flag?

      Tony Gibb/Connie McCann

      Onboard SY Sage 11

      Ph: +66 93 78 06825

  5. September 25, 2014 05:40

    Tony:

    I can’t offer a higher kudu than to say that this was your most fantastic blog of all. Having just come from a Carlos Nunez concert last night (The Spanish piper from Galicia), the tears are weeping from nether regions to be there too. Damn you! Keep these fantastic blogs coming.
    Well done. Wow! Fred

  6. Annie Boldt permalink
    September 27, 2014 15:52

    Ok, so my ? is .. what IS the difference between sunsets on the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans??
    Mirbie and I were in Biarritz in 1973 and we were lying topless on a deserted beach but with in sight of the Casino. A Beach cop marched over to us and told us to put our tops back on!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I took some small shell pieces from the beach and still have them in my travel cosmetic bag as good luck tokens now 42 years later.
    Love the blogs and oh yeah, U guys 2!
    Annie B.

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