Reflecting on our trip to Pornichet

We had gone to the start of this year’s Tour de France because it wasn’t far from La Baule, a place both of us had visited as teenagers. I’d enjoyed a delightful last holiday with my parents and sisters while my beloved had less pleasant memories, something to do with the sanitary arrangements! I booked a spa hotel in Pornichet in the bay of La Baule primarily because it directly overlooked the beach. I was after a few day’s rest and relaxation, particularly for my beloved.

I was interested in the history behind the original building and learnt that it had been built of granite in 1868 by a Belgian Viscount, in the gothic style, and christened Chateau des Tourelles by the locals on account of its circular towers. It was subsequently acquired in 1882 by a French arms manufacturer for 40,000 Francs. On his death in 1904, his son Louis Flornoy inherited the property but was forced to sell it, due to mismanagement of his fortune, to M Legrand, a local newspaper owner.

In 1938 the mayor of the 12th arrondissement in Paris acquired it to provide holidays for disadvantaged children. In 1940, without so much as a by your leave, the German army occupied the building. Post-war, it once more welcomed holidaymakers from Paris for the three months of summer but in the 90s it fell into disuse and was closed. A family company, which already owned a couple of spa hotels, thankfully rescued it some 15 years later.

The new extension has been grafted onto the original historic building in a wrap around style which doesn’t swamp its beachside facade. Its bedrooms are spacious with large balconies, most of which have a sea view. The hotel’s main attraction is its thalassotherapy spa which proved beneficial for both my recently injured hamstring and my beloved’s still recuperating leg. We whiled away many an hour in its salty, warm waters.

Our four days passed far too quickly and we merely dipped a toe into the Tour as opposed to slavishly following every stage. We pottered along the seafront and around the small town of Pornichet but there was little need to leave our cocoon, our haven of tranquility. The beach in La Baule was pretty much as I remembered it, wide, golden and sandy, but nothing else in the town struck a chord with either of us.

We had lunched at the hotel on arrival. It had vegan options on the menu and the food was excellent. No need to stray too far for sustenance though we did try out a couple of the patisseries in town. Well, it would’ve been rude not to! As soon as we learnt the hotel did Sunday Brunch, we booked a table. This turned out to be a very fortunate move as Brunch was extremely popular, and not just with residents. As you’d expect, it included plenty of fresh seafood including oysters.

It’s a hotel we’d happily visit again, though next time I’d fly to Nantes and hire a car. It’s really too far to drive. The trip confirmed my happy memories and dispelled my beloved’s less than memorable ones.

Holiday photos: day 7

Yesterday the Tour de France came to us with a stage start in La Baule, albeit at an out of town shopping centre. We arrived early to bag a car parking spot and watched the caravan go by. Was it my imagination, or was it really bigger than last year? Sadly Haribo weren’t distributing any of my favourite gummy bears though I did score a couple of shoppers – always handy.

The crowds were again a challenge as I fought my way into the Village for some water before picking my spot to photograph a few of the riders on their way to sign on. I found a much better spot than on Saturday, standing opposite a small group of boys who were clearly trying to collect as many rider autographs as possible, loudly hailing each of them by name as they rode past.

Obviously, on home turf, the crowd favours French riders but their biggest cheers were reserved for a certain Peter Sagan (pictured above) looking resplendent in the green points’ jersey. He happily signed plenty of autographs, including for the kids opposite, and posed for lots of selfies. Certain sections of the crowd were still booing Chris Froome but he too happily signed autographs.

I caught up with a few friends, including Rudy Molard who’d been felled at 60km/hr by a stray water bottle and had consequently cornered the market in bandages. I restrained myself from embracing him as he told me it hurt pretty much all over. However he was still smiling. Cyclists are a tough bunch.

All too soon the peloton was streaming out of town under a burning sky and I walked back to the car. Several days of rest and recuperation and my leg is feeling so much better. Time to head to our next destination, Bordeaux.

Holiday photos: day 6

It didn’t take either of us too long to relax enough to enjoy a spot of lotus eating. The hotel, and the beach, was much quieter on Monday and we had the Thalasso pool pretty much to ourselves. We spent the whole day pottering about, not doing too much, although we did tune into the Tour de France’s team time-trial from Cholet.

There were no big surprises and time lost on stage one by a handful of riders was largely recouped. The two previous race leaders found the going tough, or maybe they were just conserving their energies? Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet, a member of stage winning squad BMC, now graces the yellow jersey.

Tuesday’s stage starts in our base of La Baule, albeit from an out of town shopping centre. Ah, the glamour of cycle racing!

As soon as the peloton heads out of town in a northerly direction, we’ll be pointing our car bonnet south and heading to Bordeaux. Our lotus eating will be put on hold while we investigate  Bordeaux’s splendours for five days.

Holiday photos: day 5

We awoke late – well it was Sunday! After a quick dip in the Thalasso pool, we decided to watch today’s stage on the television. It was clearly going to be a scorcher and we had no desire to head away from the gentle Atlantic breezes. In addition, my beloved’s hip and my leg were feeling the efforts expended yesterday.

We had a short potter along the beach before retiring to the blessed air-conditioned dining room for brunch. Now, you know how much we both enjoy brunch and this was excellent. We watched another nervous crash-marred stage this time won by world champion Peter Sagan. He pulled on the race leader’s and the green points’ jersey. He’ll lose the former in tomorrow’s team time-trial but may not relinquish the latter, instead wearing it all the way to Paris.

 

 

Holiday photos: day 4

My beloved and I were in the Vendee for the start of the Tour de France. We had based ourselves just over the border in La Baule, well placed for the first four stages. Saturday’s opener kicked off in Noirmoutier-en-L’Ile which is attached to the mainland by the oft underwater, UNESCO protected, Passage du Gois. Luckily, there’s also a rather spectacular bridge which was used by both us and the peloton.

Proceedings got underway early so that everyone could watch THE match. Today’s photo is artwork from my dear friend Greig Leach who faithfully records the key moments of every stage. This is of the stage winner Colombian Fernando Gaviria who took the race lead, points’ jersey and that of best young rider on his maiden stage, in his debut Tour. I would’ve used one of my own photos from the stage start but the place was rammed and every photo contained bits of spectators. If only I were much taller!

Holiday photos: day 3

We’ve arrived in La Baule for the start of the 2018 Tour de France from where we’ll watch the first few stages, concluding with stage four which starts in La Baule. This year I arrived too late to see the team presentation or attend any of the team press conferences.

I mentioned in a previous post, that this was a trip down memory lane for both of us after holidaying here as adolescents many, many years ago. About the only thing that appears at all familiar is the lovely, wide sandy beach!

Holiday!

We’re off on vacation tomorrow – hurrah. Over the following two days we’re driving to the start of the Tour de France in the Vendee by way of Maçon and Saint-Etienne-de Chigny. We’ve stayed in the former a number of times already and have a favourite restaurant which we’ll be patronising once again. The latter is relatively new territory for us though it’s in the Loire Valley, not far from Tours and Chateau de Villandry an area we visited back in 2016.

We drive in short stages so that my beloved doesn’t drive more than about 4 hours each day. Our initial destination will be yet another trip down memory lane as we’re staying in La Baule, a place my beloved and I last visited in our teens. It will have changed out of all recognition but I have vivid recollections of our holiday.

I was just sixteen on what was to be my last family holiday with my parents and sisters. I’d really only agreed to go with them because I was still recovering from a bout in hospital. Unusually, my parents didn’t book anywhere to stay in La Baule before leaving to drive down there assuming, as it was July rather than August, we’d be fine.

The ferry trip followed a similar pattern. My father and I enjoyed lunch on board while my mother and two sisters stayed up top to stave off seasickness. They had more company than us. We stopped overnight on the way to La Baule, arriving at our destination the following day at lunchtime. We ate at a lovely Brasserie and then my father did the rounds of the hotels, and tourist office. No room at the inn, anywhere!

Sheree to the rescue. Armed with my better-than-average school girl French, I managed to find us a two-week rental in a lovely 3-bedroomed apartment just a stone’s throw from the seafront. The only fly in the ointment was that said rental didn’t start until the following day. We all spent an uncomfortable night in the car before heading for heavenly coffee and croissants at the same Brasserie.

Of course, my mother was none too pleased to be staying in a flat because it wasn’t really a holiday for her. Just same old, same old but in a different location. My father ensured we ate out most of the time and, if we ate in, we enjoyed the produce from the local traiteur. Needless to say my father never ever went anywhere again without making a booking beforehand.

I have fond memories of the place, its wonderful restaurants and beach and me having to order everything for everyone in French. I have no idea what my beloved’s vacation was like but he too seems to have enjoyed his family holiday there.

My beloved rather enjoys Thalassotherapy treatments, particularly since he broke his leg last year. Although we’ll be watching the first four stages of the Tour de France, I’m sure we’ll find time to visit the hotel spa. Thereafter, the Tour heads north and we head south. Our next stop is Bordeaux, a town we’ve previously merely passed through. This time we’ll be spending five days in town but I’m sure we’ll also find time to head to the coast at Arcachon.

Then we’re driving to my beloved Basque country. Most years we have at least one, if not two trips there but, the last couple of years, I’ve had to settle for a single trip. We’ll firstly spend five nights in Saint Jean de Luz, an old favourite of ours, where we’ll be staying at another hotel with Thalassotherapy facilities which is right on the beach.

Our trip ends with a two-week rental in an apartment in San Sebastian which overlooks Concha beach and has a much prized car parking spot. In between, we’ll be enjoying two days in Rioja where we’ll be sampling and purchasing a few bottles to bring back with us.

No holiday is complete without my beloved flying off somewhere for a business meeting/exhibition. This holiday is no exception. He’ll be spending four days of our first week in San Sebastian back in London at a Dental meeting! But I’ll hardly notice he’s not there as I’ll be on familiar territory  – I know San Sebastian like the back of my hand – and able to do exactly what I want, when I want. Now, let’s get packing.