Back and forth, hither and yon – whether on my habitual trajectory between Touraine and Paris or further afield… destinations, encounters, events and observations I can’t resist sharing.

HENDAYE – last stop on the Côte Basque

February 6, 2012
Fontarabie port & resto Ostalamer

The French Atlantic coast trends to melancholy midwinter, but Hendaye on the Spanish border is an exception. You know you’ve landed in a surfing mecca if it’s January, barely above freezing and pelting rain, yet dozens of neoprene-hooded heads are bobbing in the breakers.  Seafront parking is jammed until sunset, when the diehards reluctantly emerge from the waves, and peel off wetsuits right on the street in their haste to get into something warm and dry.

Hendaye has a health-conscious, sporty vibe – with a steady passage of cyclists, runners and hikers rounding the harbor, beachfront and vertiginous corniche road tracing the coast up to St Lean de Luz.  People are out and about at all hours, even if it’s just walking a dog along the waterfront.

Hikers know it as the Atlantic departure point for the ambitious G-10 trail, which crosses the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean along the Franco-Spanish border.  Thalasso-spa Serge Blanco, which was closed for renovation, is also a popular draw.

Hendaye lies on the north bank of the Bidossoa River, where it meets the sea at the Bay of Chingoudy.  The Spanish town of Fontarabie is across the bay to the South, and the massive Deux Jumeaux (Two Twins) rocks rise up from the sea below the cliffline to the north.

The well-protected harbor permits pleasure boats to dock year round. There’s also an active fishing community of open sea vessels and anglers off the jetty.  Didn’t see any sailboats in action but a club of rowers showed up at dusk to practice off the fishing dock, while kayakers meandered around the bay.

A mere trace remains of historic L’Isle de Faisons, rendezvous point for royal and diplomatic exchanges over the centuries between Spain and France because of it’s strategic, face-saving location off the mainland.  In 1526, Francois I was traded for two of his sons after being captured at the siege of Parvis, Anne of Austria, bride of Louis XIII, entered her new country here in 1615, and in 1660, the marriage contract of Louis XIV with the Infanta of Spain was signed in a pavilion designed for the occasion by Velasquez, as a term of the treaty which concluded 30 years of warfare between the rival nations.

The town is divided between Hendaye-ville (train station, town hall, businesses and principal shopping district) and leisure-centric Hendaye-plage (beach, port de peche, port de plaisance, thalasso, hotels and casino).

We stayed at Villa Goxoa, a pleasant family run micro hotel on a magnolia-lined residential street, equidistant between the beach and harbor.  Owners Nathalie and Marc Applagnat inherited the house and gutted the interior three years ago to create a minimalist contemporary nine-room hotel.  Rooms are small and lack a bit of character, but impeccable, with comfortable beds, good sheets and pillows.  Several have a small balcony or terrace. Bathrooms proportionately bigger and well appointed, though only one double is equipped with a bath.  Satisfying breakfast of OJ, yogurt, fresh fruit salad, croissants, baguette, whole grain bread and a pot of strong coffee.  Off-season, a double runs €85-95 euros, plus €10 for breakfast. Read More »

Quercy Blanc

September 15, 2010
Quercy Blanc

Visiting old friends in Tarn et Garonne, a southern department  even the French have difficulty locating. Quercy Blanc is the historic name for this midsection of the Midi-Pyrénées between Cahors and  Toulouse.  It’s the Tuscany of France, with an undulating landscape of sheep and cattle pasture, sunflower fields, chasselas vineyards and tidy industrial orchards of apricots, plum, cherry and walnut trees.  A succession of  gorgeous views are revealed at every twist along the sinuous road.  The round, green-gold chasselas grape, which is eaten rather than fermented for wine, is the principal crop.

After honing country French renovation skills on a home in the Loire valley, our Australian friends were ready to tackle a seriously daunting project.  They fell for an ancient fortified chateau on the plateau of a hill, whose stocky central tower was first ransacked in the 13th century.  Successive building campaigns in the 16th, 18th and 19th centuries failed to sustain momentum, and it had declined to a forlorn state  of decrepitude.  A tailor made challenge for two artists with vision and a history of savvy real estate investments in Sydney, London and Paris to bolster their courage. Read More »

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