12 days of Christmas: day 4

This is a photograph of the old fishing port in Saint Jean de Luz, in France’s Basque country. I chose this one because I love the reflection of the traditional Basque houses in the water and the way the puffy clouds are focused on the hill behind.

Today the port has a small-scale fishing operation undertaken in small boats with lines and hooks that concentrate on a qualitative rather than quantitative selection of fish; typically anchovy, tuna, sardine and hake. Of course, back in the 15th century, it was a much more active port with fishermen catching tons of cod, and even going whale hunting as far as Newfoundland.

Looking back on our trip to Saint Jean de Luz

Saint Jean de Luz is a fishing port on the Basque Atlantic coast and a famous resort, known for its architecture, sandy bay, the quality of the light and cuisine. The town is located south of Biarritz, on the right bank of the river Nivelle, opposite Ciboure. The port lies on the river estuary while the resort nestles in a sheltered bay, just a few kilometres from the Spanish border.

The town’s wealth stems from its port and its past, as a fishing town and a haven for Basque pirates. Indeed, English sailors used to call Saint Jean de Luz the “Viper’s Nest”. The town’s prosperity peaked during the 17th Century when it was the second largest town in the region, just behind Bayonne.

The town is renowned for its royal wedding connections as Louis XIV married Maria Theresa, the Infanta of Spain, on 9 June 1660 in its cathedral, the main door of which was subsequently bricked off allegedly so no other couple could walk in their footsteps.

We’d previously visited the town on earlier trips to the Basque country, and had ridden all along the coast in both directions, but had wanted to stay here again for a few days to better get to know the town and enjoy the facilities of its Thalassotherapy centre in our hotel.

It might seem odd that, living as we do on the Med, we head to the Atlantic coast for a vacation but it is quite different. Saint Jean de Luz has a real bucket and spade family holiday feel to it, largely because of its beautiful sandy beach, which our stoney beach at home really doesn’t invoke.

We spent our five days here just pottering about, enjoying the fine weather, the beach, our hotel, the market and the largely pedestrianised town. We ate breakfast each morning in one of its many excellent patisseries, enjoyed lunch either in the hotel or out at another restaurant while dinner was largely a glass of wine and some tapas while listening to/watching entertainment put on by the town. While we much enjoyed our stay, five – seven days here are sufficient to really get to know the place.

Holiday photos: day 17

Our stay here in the French Basque country is drawing to a close. We’ve had a wonderfully relaxing time on partly familiar territory but it’s time to move on. Five days in Saint Jean de Luz was enough. We’re now packing our buckets and spades for a few days inland in Spain, more specifically, the Spanish Basque country.

Again, it’s an area we know, love and never tire of visiting. Our first holiday in the region was largely thanks to the recommendations of one of my dear cycling friends, who’s a former professional cyclist. I wasn’t too sure whether it would be as fantastic as she claimed. But she was so right and we’ve been visiting regularly ever since.

It’s hard to put into words exactly why we both love the Basque country but it’s that intoxicating mix of culture, cuisine, architecture, scenery and the Basques themselves. Not forgetting, how fabulous a place it is to cycle around. Of course we’re not always wild about the weather, far too much rain. But it’s a small price to pay for the spectacular Basque landscape.

Rest, relaxation and thalassotherapy means that my leg is now as good as new. Sadly, the same cannot be said for my beloved’s which is still causing him (and me) gip. I suspect that this is because he has been overdoing it in the gym!

 

 

Holiday photos: day 15

Not quite sure how it happened, but I’m writing short posts two rather than one day in arears. My only excuse is that I am on holiday. After two weeks of lotus eating, I’m now seriously chilled. That is, of course, the advantage of a long vacation. When I worked full-time in the City (of London) by the time I’d relaxed, it was time to go back to work. Mind you, most of the time, it still feels like I’m working full-time!

My beloved has kept on top of his work by spending a few hours each day answering emails and telephone calls but even he has managed to relax, aided by a spot of Thalassotherapy. After yesterday’s squall, the sunshine and crowds have returned, plus we have sporting action with the Tour de France.

It’s rare we go on vacation without the bikes but we’ve both been suffering of late; my beloved with the after effects of his broken leg and me with my tweaked hamstring. We’re now staying in a place where we’ve previously cycled a lot so we look longingly at anyone and everyone on two wheels – if only! To be honest, wherever we go, we assess the place in terms of whether or not it would be a great spot to ride around.

 

Holiday photos: day 14

We were in the Basque country which I always say is green for a reason! The day after France’s triumph in the World Cup final, the heavens opened. It wasn’t cold, but it did pour down. We watched the rain battering the hotel, which is adjacent to the beach, from the warmth of the surprisingly quiet Thalasso Spa. Goodness knows where the other guests had gone.

On a day totally bereft of any sporting action, what were we to do? There’s only so long you can enjoy the Spa facilities before you wrinkle like a prune. Fortunately we were able to grab a few walks in between the showers for which we were fully prepared with umbrellas and anoraks. You can take the Brit out of Britain, but old habits die hard and all that………

Salvation came in the form of a report from Paris showing the incredible parade of the World Cup victors in their open top bus progressed along the Champs Elysees, before  a reception at the Elysee Palace with family, friends and M Le Pres. Wonderful scenes in the garden of the Palais as the players and Macron  mingled with hordes of children all eager for autographs and selfies. It’s been a wonderful three-day celebration for France.

Holiday photos: day 13

A veritable smoregasbord of sport on Sunday, but what to watch, when? Our dilemna was partly resolved when Rafa lost in the semi-final at Wimbledon. It was unlikely that the final would reach similar heights and we fully expected Djokovic to win his fourth title which he did.

We ate lunch at our hotel in Saint Jean de Luz before settling down to watch a mouth watering afternoon of sport starting with the German MotoGP from Sachsenring. Nine poles and nine victories for my chou chou Marc Marquez, who’s leading the World Championship. I was a happy bunny.

Next up the Tour de France’s cobbled stage finishing in Roubaix which started a bit earlier so as not to clash with the match. Sadly crashes and inopportune mechanicals either put paid to or severely dented the ambitions of a number of riders, but hey that’s cycling. You also had to feel for those nursing injuries from earlier stages, those cobbles must’ve been really painful. It was good to see former Paris-Roubaix winner John Degenkolb pick up his first win since recovering from a terrible accident.

Finally, the blue-riband event, the eagerly awaited World Cup final. The beach and streets emptied, as everyone tuned into the match. Finals are rarely great matches, although this one was exciting. Lady luck was wearing red, white and blue as pre-match favourites France showed flashes of both brilliance and stupidity to beat Croatia 4-2 and lift their second World Cup, twenty years after their last. I’ve become a huge fan of Kylian Mbappe who has enchanted everyone with his maturity and was rightly best young playet of the tournament.

Some of my favourite scenes were President Macron’s celebratory dance – don’t give up the day job! – and the mass huggging which followed the presentation of the trophy and medals. The hotel where we were staying broke out the bubbles to toast the team. It had been a great week-end for the French, though you had to feel for the Croats, and for anyone in France hoping for a good night’s sleep.

 

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.