Biarritz: The Pearl of France’s Basque Country

There are places that are semi-legendary in your mind.  And when you visit them, they live up to that vision.  And sometimes they don’t.  Biarritz, France is not a place I knew a lot about but I did have an impression that it was for the rich and famous.  Its location, in the southwestern corner of France abutting Spain (just 22 miles from the border!) facing the Bay of Biscay, seems ideal with warmer climate and perhaps not the throngs of partying tourists that the Mediterranean coasts can attract.  It sits in the Basque region of France and is home to 20-30-odd thousand residents.

So, as we went from San Sebastian, Spain to Lourdes, France this past September, we decided to stop along the way.  It was not a long drive but we wanted an easygoing day.  As I looked at the map, I realized there were several neat towns along the coast and inland (like Bayonne).  As I talked to my Mom, she shared how she, when she was a girl, would read a novel with her best friend that took place partly in Biarritz and how they always daydreamed about Biarritz.  That settled it for me:  Biarritz would be our stop!

Our visit was short.  A walk around the shopping district after a meandering drive into town. Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi

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Saint-Eugenie Church

 

Biarritz’ place on the coast certainly offers beautiful vistas and spots to take in the views – or get on a boat and see the city from the water (which I wish we could have done!).Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi

And then, we just picked a place on the beach (the ‘Grande Plage’ – or great beach) to have lunch -not because it had the look of a great establishment, but simply because of the view out and the fact that we would sit in open air enjoying the great weather that day.

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We ate at a cafe off to the right

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The Grande Plage (big beach) of Biarritz

Biarritz most distinctive or massively impressive structure is the Hotel du Palais (of which, unfortunately, I took the picture split by a lighting pole…) built in the mid-1800s by the wife of Napoleon III.

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Hotel du Palais – and the pole in the middle of the photo

So, I can’t share much about Biarritz, its history or all the ins-and-outs of what to do and see.  But, if like my Mom, you have wondered what Biarritz looks like, I hope this post checks that off your list!

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With my beautiful mom and sister!!

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My sister!!!

Biarritz, France, casino, Grand Plage, playa, beach,, travel, photo, francia, euskadi

The teenager in the Biarritz of her dreams! It was about my mom that day!!

Great Drives Series – Around Bordeaux

I have done a couple of trips into Bordeaux where I have explored the region by car.  There really is no better way to explore the diversity of the region (and its wines!), which may seem at first to be more homogenous than it actually is.  To venture inland, near where Bordeaux runs into the Dordogne is to see a totally different Bordeaux than you may see in the Médoc.  To drive around Sauternes is definitely different than going to Saint-Émilion.

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Beautiful countryside in Bordeaux

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Fields of sunflowers dot the landscape in parts of Bordeaux

Both times I went were in the pre-GPS era but that did not make it difficult to drive around.  A good map (and a good map reader somewhere in the vehicle) is all you need to be able to explore this area without too much trouble.

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Plenty of markers/signs help the visitor find their way around!

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With helpful markers like this one, you know you are in wine country!

One of our stops was the Château Ducru-Beaucaillou where we were taken on a private tour of this grand winemaker (through which I would run the next day when I ran in the Bordeaux marathon!).

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Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou (I would run right past this spot the next day!)

If you are somewhat interested in wine, there will be plenty for you to do and explore. The town of Saint-Émilion is one of the gems of the region.  Walk around but climb up to the top of the town.  There are cafés up there too and nowhere better to be when the sun sets, glass of wine in hand – of course!

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The way to Saint-Émilion!

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Always remember where you parked in a new town! In this case, a nice map at the town entrance helped!

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View from the upper part of Saint-Émilion down to its main square

We enjoyed some of the big (and seemingly more commercial) chateaux but we also loved to more “rural” areas on roads less traveled and discovering the smaller vineyards and winemakers.  Some of the information offices and hotels had displays full of cards of the many chateaux in the area such as the one below.

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It was one of these cards that led us to discover a gem of a château in SauternesChâteau Sahuc Les Tours.

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The beautiful Château Sahuc Les Tours

The owners even sat down with us to share a bottle of their Sauternes and spent a good hour chatting with us about every topic that could concern French and American alike (they spoke excellent English).  Sauternes (in the Graves area), if you are not familiar, produces a sweet white wine bearing the same name made from sémillon, sauvignon blanc, and muscadelle grapes that have Botrytis cinerea (or “noble rot”) which concentrates the sugars.  We got to see the grapes up front as they began to look like raisins.  But don’t let the thought of rot keep you from drinking this wine!

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Before and after…

That was such a good experience that I returned 7 years later to that chateau – and to my delight, one of the owners was there and, though she clearly could not remember me, realized I really had been there before as I recounted some of the things they had told us the first visit.  Connecting with locals in a real way is one of the rewards of venturing out and exploring this world!

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The friendly owner of Sahuc Les Tours with a delicious bottle in hand

So while this post is about great drives, let’s not forget that this drive is about wine!  Cheers!

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A beautiful wine in Bordeaux

 

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