With salt running through my vines it’s too damn easy to be drawn towards the ocean. This time round we (my mother and I) have traveled from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean Sea, and stopped along the Pyrenees in between for a little mountain-change time. This tangent brings our French getaway to an end as we have just made our way to Italy for a friends wedding in Positano – o, what a coastal location!
And due to the great feedback we received from our last travel update I thought I’d do another tangent – o, what an excuse! Plus, since I have finished my book, our new Irish friend has got off the train and we are experiencing a 12hour train affair, I’ve got to keep my own affairs interesting.
After our London to Paris shenanigans, we headed south to Bordeaux on a TGV (fast train) with the mission to check out Pyla Dune. First up, we had a plus with a smooth check in for a very small room. The ladies at the hotel were very helpful about how to organise a rental car for the next day to travel to Arachon Bay, and the breakfast lady was even more helpful with her repetitive spiel. Though, it was too bad that our first meal away from the glorious cuisine we experienced in Paris wasn’t up to the ‘French’ standard we are yet to be assured about. Nevertheless, it was uphill after this – and literally.
Pyla Dune: We decided to hire a car to give us the flexibility to check out the Arachon Bay region. For those who don’t know where it is, it’s an hour or so from Bordeaux, which is southwest of Paris along the Atlantic coast. The guy from Enterprise car hire must have read us like a book and organised a cute, blue Renault. Looking chic as the car and a mud map in hand we were ready to hit the road, drive on the opposite side and deal with European summer traffic on the freeway. The super sunshine definitely drew the crowds being a Sunday and in peak holiday season, however, we did manage to follow our seaside compass and ended up in Arachon Bay for a lovely bite to eat, a little bit of shopping and an ocean swim! Amazing! After sitting in the sun for too long, we challenged another bad coffee and then faced another traffic jam to get to Pyla Dune.
Being Europe’s biggest dune, we obviously expected a big dune. Though, not the thousands of people, ice-cream parlours, tour buses, tourist shops, and cafes, etc. The French have taken dune tourism to their own level, just how they like to do most things. We made it up the dune and then I went kind of ballistic with taking photos. I lost mum (that was hectic due to the crowds and being on top of a huge dune) and then found her. So, we parked for a bit to enjoy the view out across the Bay of Biscay, where I gave mum a dune geography lesson. I then disappeared for a while to take some more photos, and walk and run up and down the dune. It was an incredible experience that is pretty much up there with seeing Mt Everest, hiking through the Rhododendron forest along Annapurna and the cloud forest of Mt Gambier or even diving at Lord Howe Island. I’ve already blogged about the dune (twice), so I won’t go into too much more detail, other than getting badly sunburnt!
The next day involved making our way to Lourdes for another pilgrimage as my mother being a devoted Christian we couldn’t miss the sites of Lourdes. We arrived just after lunchtime, so the peak of the heat was setting in. Unfortunately I doubted my sense of direction and we ended up getting lost and ‘trekking’ up and down the lanes. Being from a flat, vast nation, I tend to forget the potential terrain we could be challenged with. Though, being almost there around each corner, we finally made it to our hotel with our first impression on a high (every bit of the reception was all so very French). Being ones to not hold our breath when checking in, the first room wasn’t cleaned, so they gave us another room that blew every little once of French out the window. The very small room came with very small beds and even smaller pillows. We honestly felt as if we were in a 1940s convent, especially with a crucifix above the bed. O well, we didn’t go to Lourdes to experience the hotel, we went to experience the ‘Theme Park for Catholics’ – done, in three words that is exactly what the rest of the day entailed. Exploring the castle (my mum concurring her fears of stairs by climbing one of the towers), in and out of Saint Bernadette’s house, from the cathedral to churches to chapels, filling up our bottles with holy water, to even my mum touching one of the sacred rocks that supposedly has healing powers. We really couldn’t believe it, a complete experience everyone should do regardless of your values and beliefs. We finished our Lourdes experience with watching the candle parade and a cup of Chamomile tea in our hotel’s very French reception room.
Next, we were off to Pomerol to see some former neighbours who migrated to France about 15months ago. It was a fantastic reunion and it was just like old times straight away. Good food, good wine and good times! They organised a fantastic BnB for us, which came with all the trimmings and smells one should have. A home away from home sums it up and as a result we extended our stay another night and day. We hadn’t done any research about Pomerol (besides searching this amazing travel app we are using), and it just happens to be France’s largest wine producing district, has sandy beaches, mountains to climbs and endless alleyways of shops, cafes and cute flower dressed windows. First up was lunch to catch up, and then we freshened up for a sunset catamaran cruise, pizza and Orangina! The next day was spent experiencing the best crepes ever, some shopping, a beach swim, dune gazing and a homely made dinner (yay for a real salad) before heading to the village party. With wine at the price of 1.25euros a liter, which is cheaper than petrol and water, self-control was put to the test. We got home pretty late; yet, I stayed up to do a bit of drunken Facebook messaging and book an amazing beachfront suite for Nice (let’s just say #americanexpress). Considering above, you’d imagine the next day would have been slow, only to leave Paula and my mum to check out an old village, while Alex and I hiked above the dolomites in the heat of the day! That’s one way to burn off some wine calories and it came with the most amazing views! To end the day and pretty much our experience of Pomerol, we had a lovely bite to eat that we ended up being a bit food drunk that Paula and mum went in the street foam party! Seeing part of France from a local perspective will definitely be a highlight of the trip, and spending it with Alex, Paula and their Australia pets, Rolley, Pepper and Oscar all added to the experience. Thanks Alex and Paula!
Nice was next! Yep, a coastal destination that I’ve dreaming to experience for sometime now! We definitely did it in style from ending up in a first class carriage for the 3hours of the 5hour journey (being naïve Australians has it’s advantages sometimes). Though, our hotel was even more classier with having a sea view executive suite with four balconies, spa, king bed, two rooms and a coffee machine. Sometimes it is nice (a necessary) to treat yourself to a little glamour, as every penny we have both saved has been passionately well earned. The next day and bit was really spent relaxing along the French Rivera – which was just like a Frenched up version of Bondi Beach, minus the sand. Yes, Nice has pebble beaches and I have no idea how the French make walking to the water so glamorous. Even the short 10m walk through the crowd to get to the water was hard on the feet. Though with the end goal of swimming in the Mediterranean Sea made it all worth it! In between all that we did a little shopping (eek!) and we lost each other for over an hour in one of the parks (now that was scary as my mum has low vision and goodness knows where she could have ended up). We shed a little tear when we united – as we were both sitting ducks waiting for each other! Minus the bad coffees once away, Nice was another amazing experience we will most certainly remember and are glad to have gone all out on the hotel to really experience a nice ‘Nice’ time.
That takes us to the Italy with Rome being our first stop – here we come!