After our bad experience in Paris I was feeling a little bit of French-fatigue. Never-the-less, one last attempt couldn’t do any harm. So, we flew to La Rochelle with a cheap and cheerful flight and landed in their little tin-can like airport and snapped up a rental car. The 2 hour drive south to Bordeaux was pleasant and comfortable (that said I wasn’t driving). If I could get the bad stuff out of the way, we were met by a very unstable weather forecast, quickly moving from rain to blistering heat. I was drenched with rain and managed to get sunburnt in the same weekend. That complaint was the only one I had. Bordeaux, completely redeemed France for me in just 2 short days.
We arrived in the city to be met with bright floral baskets and vibrant architecture. Expensive cruise ships adorned the port along a plethora of restaurants serving seafood al fresco. We only had one day to explore the city, so we rambled along taking in the sights of gothic churches and expensive designer shops. It was cold and raining so we had had to stop a number of times to take shelter in the pub (Of course). However the city was quite compact and we managed to cover a lot of ground in one day.
We walked out to Place de la Bourse which was one of the coolest sights in Bordeaux. Built in the 1700’s it’s symmetry lends perfectly to the effect of the Miroir d’eau (or water Mirror) that was placed in front of it in 2006. I was really intrigued by this, the World’s largest reflecting pool, as the 2cm of water drains every 15 minutes in Summer allowing you to wander in and see your own reflection.
We wandered around taking in the other main sights including the Column of the Girondins, and a stroll down the shopping street of Rue Sainte-Catherine.
We began to wind up our day by stopping for a bite to eat in one of the many restaurants facing the port and of course had the mandatory icecream. I went for the lavender ice cream which was sweet smelling and above all, so pretty!
We returned to the Place de la Bourse at night, to see the spectacular reflection of light in the water. I was completely fascinated by the engineering of the water mirror and the beauty of the buildings and felt it was a perfect example of how to blend two elements built 300 years apart.
On Sunday we woke early, ready for a completely jam-packed day. It helped that the sun was splitting the stones so a little summer dress and sandals were the order of the day. Just the day before I had been covered up in jeans and a coat, so sunshine was a novelty. We set out to visit the seaside town of Arcachon an hours’ drive from Bordeaux. As we arrived into the city, we were immediately met with that French seaside feel as we wandered in along Sunday markets down towards the beach. It was reasonably quiet and we took a leisurely stroll out towards the beach.
In the distance you could just about make out what we had come here for, the small outline of Europe’s biggest sand dune.
Dune du Pyla (or the dune of Pilat) measures 2.7km in length and sits 110 meters in height above sea level. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions at la Teste de Buche beach. Visitors can climb to the top of the sand dune to witness the incredible views from the top. There are two ways of climbing, one being the conveniently placed steps right up the centre of the dune, or, if you are really brave, you can climb up the side of the dune in the sand. I decided that using the steps was cheating, and so made the decision to battle up through the sand. This is a lot easier said, than done, since each step forward results in a gentle slide back down the sand. I would liken the experience to walking up a downward moving escalator…. in a sauna. However, the satisfaction of eventually making it, combined with the sweet views from above made it worth all of the effort.
The second stop on our road trip today was the famous wine producing town of St Émilion. We drove an hour and a half back past Bordeaux until the views suddenly changed and the atmosphere slowed down. Suddenly we were there in the picturesque, stereotypical wine country. Bountiful vineyards and vast chateaux surrounded us. We parked up and walked up the cobbled streets past rustic stores selling wine and cheese.
The village was romantic and full of charm. It was well into the afternoon and we arrived just in time to climb up the king’s tower for a breath taking view of the UNESCO town and surrounding vineyards.
Following this we rambled up towards the monolithic church as we were offered wine to taste at every turn. Prices of wine ranged from €6 to €60,000 so there was certainly something for every budget. At the top of the town we stopped to have dinner and I indulged in a lovely glass of Sauvignon Blanc. When in St Émilion eh?
This topped off a fantastic weekend and I can honestly say that I could definitely have stayed for more. The Bordeaux region certainly redeemed itself and I think I can give France another try again.