La Retournant a France

Trip Start Dec 26, 2011
Trip End Apr 17, 2012

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Flag of France  , Aquitaine,
Saturday, March 31, 2012

March 28, 2012, St. Jean de Luz, France

Nous Avons retourne a France. It feels good to be in a more familiar language again, especially after spending a couple of days in the Spanish Basque country with its indecipherable unique language. Of course people spoke Spanish in shops and things, but the road signs were all full of x's and strange phonemes.

Our route from the Bilbao area was the "corniche" road right along the coast… more twists and hills than a roller coaster, but very scenic, with stops in such little beach and port towns as Lekeitio and Ondarroa. We could have stopped in San Sebastian, but it is a large city, so we opted instead for the smaller town of St. Jean de la Cruz just across the French border.

We are camped in a free camping spot, a parking lot next to the train station, with spaces for about a dozen campers. When we arrived it was full except for one narrow little spot that we could squeeze into, but regular campers could not. Once again our little VW trumps the typical motorhomes. The drawback is that the trains come in right in front of us, and almost hourly… I could quite literally spit a pumpkin seed and hit the train… as I am typing a commuter train has pulled to a stop, and a freight train zoomed past the other way. The TGV also stops here. But as usual, this free spot is just so convenient… we are a ten minute walk or three minute bike ride to the beach. I just got back from riding in for a bottle of Bordeaux to go with our spaghetti. It took me less than ten minutes, and cost 3.80 Euro!

The town itself is charming and has a variety of attractions, not least of which is a long expanse of clean sandy beach in a nice bay sheltered by big breakwaters as well as natural bluffs. It has a nice little fishing port completely sheltered from the ocean by a manmade narrows at the river mouth, and then a few square blocks of shops, hotels and restaurant, with some particularly interesting churches and small palais. Amongst the historic buildings is the church in which Louis XIV married Maria-Therese, and a house where he stayed. I am lobbying for a bicycle ride along the other side of the river in the morning…it is the town that Maurice Ravel came from, and the road leads out to a castle on one of the bluffs.

March29: Capbreton

Vive la France! Do they ever know how to treat campers! We are in a gigantic free camping parking lot just on the inland side of a big, sheltering sand dune on the other side of which is a beautiful expanse of sandy beach as far as the eye can see in either direction. It is a bit of a steep beach with big crashing rollers that would make swimming a bit risky, but for sunbathing, magnifique! Yes indeed, we were sunbathing at  6:00pm on the beach. Eat yer heart out! This free camping spot can hold almost 200 camper units… I figure there are about 60 or 70 at the moment, and as far as I can see, we are the only van type of camper in the whole place. That is hard to figure, because we have seen a surprising number of pop-top type VWs and Mercedes campervans in the last couple of days, none as old as ours. But they don’t seem to be in these camping areas… maybe they come later in the year. Not only is this place free and huge, but it has services such as a self-cleaning toilet unit (one hole for over a hundred people, but they must all be using their built in facilities), water fill-up hose and dumpstation, and there are even electricity boxes for each space… they don’t work, but who’s complaining!

Before leaving  St. Jean de Luz this morning we bicycled across the river and over to the farther coast where there was another little port town complete with breakwaters and an old fort that appeared to be maybe 16th C. We watched groups of school kids arrive on busses, then load into skiffs which took them to anchored lines of little gray sabot sized boats. The skiff then dumped the kids in pairs into the little boats, little sails were hoisted, then the kids were towed, mother duck style, by the skiff out into the harbour. Eventually, after some coaching, the kids were set loose to practice some sailing.

After morning coffee, we set off northward through Biarritz to Bayonne where we parked across the river and bicycled into town. Bayonne is a pretty little town on the confluence of the Nive and Anjou rivers as they prepare themselves for emptying into the ocean. The town had some cobbled and narrow pedestrian streets leading through ancient streets, with some fortifications of different eras and another great Gothic cathedral. This one was remarkable for its plenty of light filtered in through stained glass windows, amazing for a 14the C edifice!

Just a little closure on the earlier comments about this camping spot… by evening there were 3 or 4 smaller and older campers including a couple of “ VW Eurovan” based models. We chatted with one fellow from Derbyshire, England who had kitted his VW himself… a very nice little rig. We also got ourselves invited into the biggest rig on the site, a huge campercar by Euro standards, fitted on a MAN truck cab and chassis. They were a Netherlands couple, so they had approached us thinking we were Nederlanders. They invited us in for wine and cheese after dinner… very friendly folks. They now live very near Capbreton, and were on their return from a ski holiday in the high Pyrenees. They also had two big, beautiful Bouvier dogs who it was nice to get to know.

March 30, 2012:

We stuck to secondary roads near the “cote d’Argent”, or silver coast on the Bay of Biscay, which meant dozens of traffic circles and small towns… tiring driving with this van and its long throw gearshift and no power steering, so we have stopped early afternoon at a lovely campground near Archacon.

The only other significant stop today was Levignac, a small village in the middle of “Les Landes” which is the broad expanse of once marshland, now pine forest on sandy soil in this part of France. It is a very small and sleepy village, but is composed of some remarkable half-timbered houses, with a 14th C church famed for its characteristic painted wood ceiling and na´ve style paintings on the walls. There was also a 50 minute bicycle tour out through the pine woods and past an old mill and ancient shepherd’s cabin which was a nice break from touring towns and cities.

We will be continuing up the coast for a little further, then inland through Saintes, Angers and Le Mans. We’re nor sure about Paris again, if we do it will be our 4th visit in 44 months, but so worth it!

After a cup of tea and washing some clothes we had enough energy to bicycle down to Arcachon, about a 15 minute ride through to a park terrace then down an outdoor elevator to the town. We found it to be a rather nice and modern resort town, with a few blocks of pedestrian shopping streets, and then a long and sandy beach with the usual promenade lined with cafes and a couple of small piers. The beach was quite lively with sunbathers, windsurfers and kite surfers, tour boats coming and going… similar to a June White Rock kind of vibe.
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Jay Holiday on

Years ago I was on a road trip and ended up surfing San Sebastian and a place called Mundaka.

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