Day 13: Biarritz. Rest day.

Day 13: Biarritz. Rest day.

Me: We should learn to surf.
Keith: I don’t want to.
Me: Why?
Keith: Because its completely bloody pointless.

Hard to argue with that, but I so want to be cool. Just for once.

Photograph of Biarritz beach and bay taken from top of cliff looking south.

 

It seems like everyone surfs here. Or pretends to. Unless you are an elderly lady who’s had ‘some work done’ who can’t surf because she has to look after her ridiculously small dog and her extensive collection of leopard print garments. Or one of the many gentlemen getting away with a specific shade of salmon pink trouser that would not be tolerated in Britain without homophobic comment being passed.

Photograph of surfers at dusk, Biarritz, France.

Today we had ice cream made by a ‘Champion du Monde’ in the ice cream field. As an ice cream maker myself, I was keen to see if his claims had any merit and if perhaps living in Biarritz could be achieved after all if I could open an ice cream shop to rival his (yet another use for Keith’s redundancy money). Suffice to say it’s back to the drawing board. We both had to concede that this could well be the best ice cream in the world. Rare and high praise not lightly given.

Photograph of two pots of Thierry Bamas ice cream on a Biarritz pavement.

 

The number of flavours were limited to about 14 – none of your messing about with fancy shit – and were just sublime. Keith had vanilla and blackcurrant and violet. I had raspberry sorbet and salted caramel. Divine. Biarritz is very much a French holiday resort as its not too easy to get to. Ryanair fly there from the UK. That would be worth suffering for a Thierry Bamas ice cream.

The other thing that feels nice about Biarritz is that alongside all the hoards of tourists, it’s a real town with real residents, even if they are a bit bonkers. It’s a bit like Brighton with sand. The market was packed on a Sunday morning. As not very brave travellers, we are frequently beaten by markets and other local establishments that have rules that we don’t know. We often queue for ages and appear to be overlooked only to discover that their was a ‘system’, despite the fact that it looked like the last thing that could ever possibly be in existence was a ‘system’. More often than not, we give up and scuttle off to a supermarket where we can pick up what we need without having to speak to anyone or get it wrong, but feeling like complete failures for our ineptitude at basic level intrepidness and bad about not supporting local tradespeople. If they would only form an orderly queue like civilised people, this wouldn’t have to happen. Perhaps we should move here and teach them a thing or two. Moving to warm, sunny places is a bit of theme in our lives.

Photograph of interior of Biarritz market with stalls and lots of people.

Photograph of vegetables on market stall in Biarritz Market, France.

But today wasn’t one of those days that we would be beaten by locally grown agricultural products. Today I win at markets. And it feels good. Small victories are claimed by cowards.

Today we also win at Basque cake. They come in three flavours: custard, chocolate and cherry, so we had all three. As Keith says in times of such deliberation: ‘It’s not an ‘or’ situation; it’s an ‘and’.’

Photograph of three Gateaux Basques cakes on a plate.

The cakes are ground almond based so super squidgy and moist. All were good, but custard just too sweet.

Biarritz being on the Atlantic is therefore tidal, so at certain times of the day,the beautiful golden sand beach of the main bay disappears.

Photograph of Biarritz surf beach on a sunny day with swimmers and surfers in the sea.
And all of the thousands of people have to find somewhere to tan their beautiful selves, so they pop round the corner to the town beach which doesn’t all get swallowed in sea. This was all a bit much for us (me, mainly). Too busy, too noisy, too visually overwhelming. Some of these people must have been before and know what it’s like, and come back for more year after year. This is puzzling. We do not comprehend such behaviour. We conclude that some people like to sit this close to other people and don’t get stressed about stepping on other people’s towels or losing their kids. They actually find it relaxing and fun. We are not those people. We have to live in a world populated by these people. This is harder than you may think. I am in awe of those people and wish I was that laid back.

Photograph of a packed beach in Biarritz, France.

We spent our final evening here watching CSI on telly and wishing we didn’t have to get back on the road tomorrow. Tomorrow means Spain, which means poor maps, poor planning, mountains and horror stories about how hard it is to get into San Sebastian on a bicycle.

Day 12: Hossegor – Biarritz. 49km.

Day 12: Hossegor – Biarritz. 49km.

Even I hate me right now. I’m writing this on the beach at Biarritz. Which, much to my surprise is quite reminiscent of Newquay.

We saw our first sight of the Pyrenees today. That’s where we’re heading after a week of being spoiled with virtually zero altitude.

Day 12 Hossegor – Biarritz - 01

The ride into Biarritz wasn’t all great due to big, noisy roads through Bayonne, but it was a short day for us so felt good to get there not too shattered. Learned a lot on this trip about how far is enough to cycle in a day. Busy road through Bayonne but pretty flat and warm.

Lovely apartment (budget blown, it was all we could find), so lovely we decided to stay an extra day and commit to eating sand for a week. It was the fridge that did it. So, Le Grand Large becomes home for two days. They even have a clothes airer so no need for the washing line strangling you in the night when you go for a wee.

Day 12 Hossegor – Biarritz - 02The view from our balcony. We are so happy. We would like to live here forever. Having done my customary search of estate agents (major interest and subject of expertise of mine. Just call me Jasmine), buying anything more substantial than a doormat for our nonexistent home is not going to be possible in Biarritz.
Day 12 Hossegor – Biarritz - 03

As usual I have one leg covered in bike grease. No amount of swanky French seaside resort will change that. This means that I’m not finding a particularly warm welcome from hotel receptionists. Sweat, grease and an eternal bad hair day (no French woman would ever been seen in such disarray) probably explain it. Sometimes I send Keith in as they seem kinder to him. Sweat being manly and all that maybe. Keith is delighted for any opportunity to appear manly as, by his own admission, it is not an adjective that frequently features in any description of him. I’m considering having a tattoo if bike grease on my leg as memento, but then I would just look like I had a dirty leg forever.

Day 12 Hossegor – Biarritz - 04

Spent the afternoon and evening wandering around Biarritz. Its an odd, ramshackle little town, smaller than I expected and more messy – alleys, tiny beaches and rocks sticking out the sea rather than a pristine, glamorous promenade. It is reminiscent of Newquay, as I said, or Ilfracombe, apart from the sun, house prices and leathery elderly ladies.

Day 12 Hossegor – Biarritz - 05

 

We had a luxury dinner on our balcony complete with €2 fizzy wine (its usually €1 but this is Biarritz, dahling). We mostly picnic because it’s cheaper and doesn’t involve communicating with anyone. Our mutual list of food choices is fairly limited: Keith has a whole bunch of stuff that he won’t eat through preference – fish, anything with anything which may have come into any kind of contact with vinegar – and I am affected negatively by a load of foods – namely, caffeine, sugar, sweeteners, sugar/carbs of all kinds. You will see that I often ignore my issues with sugar and stuff my face with it, which causes several subsequent hours of mental and physical discomfort. Luckily for us, not only are we both perfectly happy to eat the same foods for weeks at a time, the few mutually available foods we have are all things that we love.

Day 12 Hossegor – Biarritz - 06

 

We spent the evening wandering round town. It’s packed. So many people everywhere. Nice to be somewhere with a bit of life after roadside motels and rural houses. Getting our bearings and starting to like this place. Its has a bit of the feel of Brighton to it. Bit quirky, lots of crazy characters but small enough to feel at home in.

Day 12 Hossegor – Biarritz - 07

Day 12 Hossegor – Biarritz - 08

Our night ended watching a spectacular electrical storm over the Bay of Biscay with lightning flashes literally every few seconds. Delighted to be here. Feels like a proper holiday today.

Day 11: Mimizan – Hossegor. 81km.

Day 11: Mimizan – Hossegor. 81km.

Every morning, Keith starts his day by lifting each bike to check that he is carrying more weight than me. This seems to make him happy. I have convinced him that the weight of the responsibility of organising our route and food is equal to him lugging around an extra few kilos. He appears to have bought this.

We’re definitely in the Basque region now. There are places names that don’t belong in France: Kometeykoborda, Xapatainbaita, Larrerxeberria. Not a clue. My paltry French surrenders.

Day 11 Mimizan – Hossegor - 01
Buildings and churches are more Spanish, more Alpine (or Pyrenean) rather than southern French.

Day 11 Mimizan – Hossegor - 02

Today we got rained on heavily, saw plenty of lightning and got roasted on the beach at Vieux-Bocau, one of the many dune-backed Atlantic surf beaches along this coast.

Day 11 Mimizan – Hossegor - 03

Finally managed to get Keith to come swimming today (Keith 1 – Sarah 4). He’s only went in the sea for the first time about 7 years ago (he hated the idea of it as a child) and forgets every time how much he loves it. Properly forgets and gets all uppity when I try to remind him. My Dad was a big sea swimmer (my Mum never went in) and I grew up mostly in the water on holidays. I try and persuade Keith over and over again, he eventually he gives in (although on the previous 3 swims I had on this trip, he didn’t) with a ‘do I have to say yes to everything you say?’ then spends the rest of the time laughing his head off and saying how lovely it is. I need to video him so he can remember.

Day 11 Mimizan – Hossegor - 04

Day 11 Mimizan – Hossegor - 05

Had another food blog fail. Bought local Landais brioche which is traditionally flavoured with rum, vanilla and orange flowers and ate half of it before remembering we’re supposed to be documenting these adventures.

Day 11 Mimizan – Hossegor - 06

Day 11 Mimizan – Hossegor - 07

Rest assured it was incredibly good, despite a serving suggestion of having it with custard, sand seemed to be more than an adequate accompaniment. On the subject of beach food, I resurrected a melted bar of chocolate by taking it into the sea to cool it hard again. This worked a treat despite water getting through the wrapper and leaving an undeniably salty taste to the chocolate. Not enough to stop us eating it though.

Day 11 Mimizan – Hossegor - 08

More storms predicted and looming this evening. We’re in a motel. Campsites and most hotels completely full. Luckily this room has space for 2 bicycles (and a washing line).

Day 11 Mimizan – Hossegor - 09

Tomorrow to Biarritz, to hang our pants with the glitterati.

Day 10: Arcachon – Mimizan. 65km.

Day 10: Arcachon – Mimizan. 65km.

Jess asked if I was enjoying myself and I found it hard to answer conclusively one way or the other. It varies literally from moment to moment. Some moments every rotation of my legs feels like too much effort and I just want to stop, cry and go home. A few seconds later, the sun comes out, we go past a pretty house, buy a cake, pick up speed down a hill and I feel like I could do this forever. And back and forth it goes minute by minute. Keith feels the same at different moments.

Today started as a bit more of a ‘please can I go home now?’ day. We were sluggish and took ages to leave the ‘non-smoking’ design hotel with ashtrays on the balconies so you can puff your fag smoke into your neighbour’s bedroom. Grumpy? Never. It was wet, grey and the joy of flat, straight roads turned into utter tedium a couple of days ago.

We ended up in Gastes, which is on the Santiago de Compostella pilgrimage route and seemed a popular place to pass through. We had lunch in the rain under a tree by the lake.

Photograph of lake beach at Hourtin, France.

Photograph of Sarah sitting under a tree next to a lake and two bicycles in France.

This lake had the two most bored looking, female lifeguards I have ever seen. Someone must have sold them the idea of California, surfers, Baywatch, and they got the short straw of an empty, rainy lake in France. Although, the dead-looking woman having a nap could have given then something to do. I am at least tidy when I sleep.

Photograph of Sarah lying asleep on the ground next to a lake and bicycles.

We headed to Mimizan and ate cake. Realised we are rubbish food bloggers as we keep eating things before we photograph them. Not today. Ta dah! Cake:

Photograph of two French patisserie cakes in a box

They were so good. I once tried to blag my way on to a Level 4 Patisserie course at college as I just wanted to know how to make this kind of thing without learning the boring cooking stuff. Surprisingly, my claim that I had had a student vegetarian cookery book published (true – check link) didn’t cut it. Another scheme bites the dust and I have to pay for cakes like everyone else. Bugger.

Photograph of Sarah eating cake with a plastic spoon.

We stopped after 65km today which was weird because we could still walk and function, unlike every previous day. Stayed at a chambres d’hotes, La Renardiere, run by an Irish family. Gorgeous place in the countryside. The style of the house shows that we are now in Basque country, where the roofs are flatter and the buildings timbered.

Photograph of Aquitaine France country house

Photograph of French country house in Aquitaine France

It was nice to have a whole evening to just sit, even if it was spent, like so many others, in the frantic and frustrating search for mobile data signal and then accommodation for the next few days. Both are proving time consuming and difficult to find.

The business of life takes up a lot of time when everything has to be carried and there are no cookers, fridge or spare clothes. We have settled into a daily evening routine where I sort the food and plan the next day’s route and bed, whilst Keith has taken on the clothes washing with gusto, fashioning a washing line in every place we stay like some kind of industrial laundry. Makes you realise how little stuff you need. But then everyone knows that. It’s been a least a week since I’ve used my waffle maker, and I’m surviving. Sometimes you just have to be brave.

We steal soap, sugar and washing-up liquid to fill our little pots. In only 10 days this is what we have turned into. Come Armageddon, we will be ready. Keith will be a non-anti semetic Mel Gibson. I will be Tina Turner. I shall paint my bike matt black in preparation. Oh… my bike is already matt black. I am ready… I have washing-up liquid. Let the games begin.

 

Day 9: Arcachon. Rest day.

Day 9: Arcachon. Rest day.

Photograph of sand dune and blue sea beyond

This is the Dune de Pyla. Its just fantastic. About 117m high and almost as long. A great slab of sand on the Atlantic coast of France. It shifts inland every year. I know someone who came on holiday here as a kid and stayed in one of the campsites which back on to the dune. He remembers swimming pools which are no longer there having been swallowed by the sand. I’ve been on holiday here a couple of times and both my kids have had birthdays here. Jess got to leap off the top strapped to a complete stranger with a parachute canopy. Its a thing here.

Photograph of Sarah standing on Dune de Pyla with trees in the background.

The dune is extraordinarily steep on one side and brings out that innate human instinct to run headlong down things knowing that its only sand and won’t hurt. It has to be done and is worth every moment of looking like a squealing idiot. Rare moments of freedom of movement for the physically cronky and unadventurous are to be snatched without hesitation.

Photograph taken from top of sand dune at Pyla looking out to Arcachon Bay.

 

Keith being artistic with his sandals. I said artistic.

Photograph of brown leather sandals on top of sand dune.
The dune is on the edge of the Bassin d’Arcachon, a huge natural bay famous for its oysters. These photos don’t do the place justice for its scale and general stunningness.

Photograph of Pyla sand dune with the sea in the background.

Photograph of Pyla huge sand dune with people climbing up it.

Apart from climbing up and running down an enormous sand dune, we happily filled our fridge with food that has to be in a fridge because we haven’t had one for a week. Small pleasures are appreciated when they have been absent. Cheese that’s not sweating more than I am, for one.

We also took a trip to Decathlon for more inner tubes as I keep getting punctures. I’d like to say that Decathlons in France are one of my favourite shops. Where else can you buy a 14′ canoe, full horse riding kit and a fishing rod all in one place? English Decathlons are rubbish as we don’t have the environment to do all these brilliant outdoor activities just as a matter of normal existence. Loads of people in France have 14′ canoes. Why not? Plenty of rivers.

Photograph of Keith eating yogurt on hotel balcony in Arcachon, France.

And like the classy hotel clientele we are, we have dinner, hang up washing and change tyres (and explode tyres as Keith pumped this one up too far) on our 4 star ‘design’ balcony. Note the juxtaposition of the urban industrial metal with the organically arranged bamboo and the plastic washing line.

Day 8: Hourtin- Arcachon. 116km.

Day 8: Hourtin- Arcachon. 116km.

So, it turns out that I really can’t count distances on maps. Way too far today, we were wrecked.

Started the day with a measly breakfast of peanut butter and jam bread. We’d never had both together before, but today, in the spirit of adventure, we gave it a go. It was better than expected but I won’t bother again. How many times have I said that in my life?

Photograph of canal entering Lake Hourtin with small motor boats lining each side.

Pretty much all cycle path today. Most of it through pine forests.

Photograph of a long straight cycle path through a forest with a signpost to various villages.

Some crazy stretches barely wide enough for a bike and so rough we were bouncing about trying not to come off into the sand.

The paths are busy near civilisation but are virtually empty in between.

Sarah cycling along a narrow cycle path in Aquitaine, France.

Two punctures for me today. Mid-forest repairs by the resident mechanic. My job is to feed him biscuits while he works.

Photograph of Keith fixing a bicycle puncture in a forest in France.

 

Photograph of Keith fixing a puncture in a shaded forest in France.The route south ran along the edge of this inland lake (its not the sea) near Hourtin.

Photograph of Lake Hourtin river beach and lake in background.
It also runs parallel to one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline with some well known surfing beaches, such as Lacanau where we had chorizo and cheese sandwiches for lunch as a variation from ham and cheese coz we’re just crazy like that.

Photograph of Arcachon seafront with promenade.

The last part of today’s ride was horrible. We had blown the budget by booking into the last room in the whole of Arcachon, which was a 4 star nonsense affair on an industrial estate outside of town on the other side of a dual carriageway. Not fun. Arrived at 7.30pm after 10 and half hours on the road. Never have I been so happy to see a weird plastic moulded wall in my life.

Interior photograph of Best Western Arcachon hotel room wall which is white moulded plastic.

Don’t ask. The rest of the room is purple. We’re at the Best Western Design and Spa Hotel. I am always suspicious of anywhere that states so definitively that it is a ‘design’ establishment. It means its going to be tacky and have tried too hard. This place is no exception. Someone has written a review on Tripadvisor wondering if the owner had a plastic moulding factory that was low on business as the place is full of Gaudi-like wobbly walls. My first thought was what a nightmare they’d be to dust. I don’t know why, its not as if I ever dust.

Most excitingly, our new home has a fridge. As of this moment, we have nothing to put in it.

Day 7: Rochefort – Hourtin. 94km.

Day 7: Rochefort – Hourtin. 94km.

Photograph of the sea at Royan, France with boats in the distance.

Today we crossed the Gironde estuary into Aquataine – after a very late start due to Keith having to go and find a new bike chain following his off-road antics and fit it in the hotel car park.

The ferry departs from Royan, which is a sizeable city and port on the west coast. We didn’t have a chance to visit its striking and interesting church, the Notre Dame de Royan, which is made from rough concrete and was built in the 1950s after Royan had been razed to the ground by German bombs during the Second World War. The concrete has degraded badly over the years (I’m sure I read somewhere that this was due to the salty sea air affecting the steel reinforcing, but that might be wrong) and the place is currently being restored. The inside, which I’ve visited previously, is equally stark and bare, but huge in scale and presence.

Photograph of Royan Cathedral

 

Weather was blisteringly hot and we biked too far. Turns out I’m not very good at adding up distances on maps and we had to cycle farther than expected.

Photograph of ferry docking at Royan ferryport

The ferry trip from Royan only takes about half an hour and cost less than €10 euros for 2 people and 2 bikes but its like entering another country. The deciduous trees are replaced with pines and the earth turns to sand. It feels like the beginning of the south of France. The coast is Atlantic, the sea is rough, turquoise and full of surfers. Its a wild stretch of coast extremely popular with tourists at this time of year, and for good reason. It is stunning.

 

Photograph of Sarah on the Royan ferry looking out to sea across the estuary.

Cycling wise, there are many forested cycle paths, all well kept and well signposted. The roads are flat and very straight. We were doing stretches of 20+km with no bend it roundabout to break it up. At the end of a 94km day, the monotony of a long, straight empty road disappearing into the distance is like some kind of torture.

We booked into a campsite in Hourtin, called Les Ourmes, which was big but well run and had a good feel to it. It was late, we were exhausted. We ate good pizza and drank wine while watching the evening’s entertainment at the bar, which was zumba. Keith are I are not your natural audience participation types, but we love to people watch and ponder what in earth makes a bunch of people decide that demonstrating your special brand of Northern European lack of Latin American coordination in front of an audience is the thing to do. But we’re mighty glad you did. Half a litre of wine and I was beginning to think it was a ‘good idea’ myself.

Photograph of an outdoor bar with tables and chairs and a small stage with some people dancing.

Today’s achievement was reaching 500km. We burned over 5000 calories cycling. Why aren’t I thin yet? Zumba, anyone?

Photograph of Sarah holding a cycle speedometer. It says '500km' as the distance travelled.