South West France- a Default Destination

Not everyone enjoys travel. But those who do like it for a plethora of reasons, not least because there is so much pleasure to be had from exploring a new destination. I believe this is due to our innate thirst to learn, which does not [as far as I’m concerned] become less with age.

Having said this, there are favourite places for all travellers that they love and return to repeatedly. Call these places ‘default’ destinations. For some it’s the theme parks of Florida, others love the Canary Islands or the Costas, or Scotland.

For us, the default is France, and more specifically, south west France, everywhere from south of Bretagne down to below Bayonne and around the corner to the Spanish border has been visited, stopped at, tried and tested. Some places have become regular stops over the years, like the unappealingly named, ‘Le Gurp’ in the Gironde, a municipal camp site, pine woods stretching out into dunes, a few minutes walk up over a hummock to a minimal row of shops and bars and then the vast expanse of creamy white beach. The Atlantic Ocean rolls huge, frothy waves onto the sand. To the left are concrete remnants of old military bunkers, liberally graffitied. To the right the beach romps away into the distance. Walk far enough and you’ll be right in among the naturists!

In the beginning we travelled with a tent- or rather a series of tents, then later with our first, small van [A VW pop-top, much beloved by Husband], later still, newer vans with enhanced facilities, and while we’ve explored much further afield and completed vastly longer trips, we continue [when possible] to revisit SW France.

The few bars offer just enough in terms of evening entertainment, a couple of beers and a meal seated out on the decking to watch the beach world pass by. We’ve been visiting Le Gurp since our tent travels of the 90s and I’ve no doubt we’ll return.

On the coast near Bordeaux, Le Porge is another favourite, recommended by an American we met at Bordeaux’s own site [a convenient, easy cycle from the centre] it also has a handful of beach bars and a wide, wild beach.

Further south, in Les Landes, we’ve enjoyed some wonderful times at camping St Martin, which again has direct access to an outrageously gorgeous beach plus a range of restaurants, bars and shops. From here, beautiful, paved cycle routes extend along the coast both ways, even and into miles of pine forests. The site provides pristine facilities and has become a firm favourite that we’ve returned to many times over the years.

Further north there are beautiful islands: Isle de Re, Isle de Noirmoutier and Isle d’Oleron, accessed via arching bridges and each with their own character; they are marvels for those who enjoy seafood and especially oysters [a pleasure I came late to but have embraced!].

There are countless, tiny places up and down the long Atlantic coast that we’ve stayed in; Conti Plage, Moliets, Arcachon- too many for me to recall. There are many cycle routes we’ve repeated, cafes and bars we’ve revisited, stores we’ve returned to.

On occasions we’ve left if the weather hasn’t been good, perhaps to dash south or drop around the corner and across to Portugal. But we know we’ll be back again, parking the van up in old haunts that feel like coming home.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Mangez comme les Francais!

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One aspect of life the French have perfected is the art of dining out. And anyone who wishes to observe the French at this only needs to visit a restaurant on a Sunday afternoon to understand how seriously mealtimes are treated. Every bistro, brasserie and café is packed.

But restaurants are not the sole venues for the French penchant for large, family gatherings to share food and company. Any park, aire, picnic area, seaside bench, canal side or car park will be packed with groups of friends or family sharing a meal.

And this Sunday meal will not be some hastily wrapped cheese and pickle sandwich, a packet of Golden Wonder crisps and bottle of coke. Oh no. This will be a proper full-on, sit-at-a-table, cloth, knife and fork, wine and glasses, side salad, napkins, several courses kind of meal. During a cycle ride from Jard sur Mer to La Tranche sur Mer we passed a large family party seated at two tables [one for adults, one for children] made up of all manner of picnic tables. Everyone had a seat and a laid-up place-and all under the trees in the woods by the beach.

So how, then did the French acquire their reputation for sylph-like, uber-cool, modelly bodies? It is my theory that they [the women, especially] chain-smoked their way to skeletal skinny-ness. In any case the same cannot be said these days, for the French are no longer slender wraiths like Coco Chanel and Francoise Hardy but have become as chubby as every other nation.

Their haughty, sniffy attitudes to cuisine have taken a slight tumble, too since they embraced MacDonalds and took to fast food. Yes-you’d still be hard-pushed to find a better cooked steak than in France, but along every street there is a pizza joint, a burger bar, a kebab shop, ice creams galore and the inevitable chi-chis, galettes, crepes and doughnuts.
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And what is more-the French are not averse to strolling along with a bag of chi-chis [for the uninitiated these are strips of fried dough rolled in sugar-sometimes dipped in melted chocolate] munching as they go.

Pockets of resistance do exist, though. A mayor on Isle d’Oleron, Gregory Gendre is fighting to keep MacDonalds off the island [https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/24/choose-a-side-fight-keep-france-ile-doleron-mcdonalds-free ]

Most days we endeavour to choose and buy fresh produce and prepare meals in the van, [see last week’s post for the shopping experience]. We like to make the most of such delicious items as the huge, luscious tomatoes, sweet, juicy melons, smooth, creamy cheeses and salty Toulouse sausages, sometimes using the deli counter to buy slices of thick quiche or pork cutlets.

But when in France it would be sacrilege not to dine out on occasion so every few days we do. I indulge in my very favourite French menu: oysters/steak/crème brulee, and very delicious it almost always is.