Sunday, 5 August 2007

Bordeaux, Arcachon and the Cote D’Argent

This post covers our journey across to the west coast of France and down the Cote D'Argent in search of sunny weather, beaches, AquaKem, a camera store and WiFi.

Left: Sarah and I on the beach at Mimizan Plage just after sunset (glad I remembered the tripod and flashgun this time...)

Below left: Dune du Pilat, near Arcachon

As we entered the departement of Gironde, the vineyards started appearing. As we drove further along the road to Bordeaux we were surrounded by them everywhere! We chose one from our France Passion book and headed there for the night. We drove along a single track road and arrived at La Domaine de la Grave. The family house, office, cave and museum were all attached together around a courtyard. I spoke to the wife of the owner, Marie-Laure, who told us where to park. “We have a museum here if you would like to have a look after you get settled” she added. We spent the next 10 minutes trying to get the van relatively level on the sloping grass, a hopeless task, but eventually we were happy and wandered back to the courtyard area. Marie-Laure was on the phone but another worker at the vineyard came out and talked to us. She looked at her watch (it was just before 7pm) and asked if we would be round in the morning for the tour, I said we probably wouldn’t be, so she took us in to the museum. Unlike Marie-Laure, she spoke English and said she would try to give the tour in our language. Her modesty was misleading as she spoke very well, giving us a run down of how they used to make wine in the old days and today. She took us into the cellar and showed us the oak barrels, telling us that their wines are aged a year but then they must be drunk more or less straight away as they don’t age well.

We went back to the cave for a degustation, we tried 2 whites, 3 reds and a rosé! As I am no wine expert, I try and blag my way through these tastings by saying as little as possible, always stuffing my nose in the glass first to sniff the bouquet before swilling the wine around in my mouth to taste it. Sarah on the other hand has developed an interesting vocabulary which baffles most vineyard workers. Sweet (still) wine is described as “fizzy” and red wines “taste like perfume”.
Above: Cellar at Domaine de la Grave
Below: Sarah in her role as the new wine master!

The rosé was made from Merlot so had quite a red wine aftertaste to it. The reds weren’t really to our liking, neither of us are big on red wine. We did however like the dry white and so we bought 2 bottles of that. This lady had been very charming and informative on the tour but as we went to pay for the wine, she tried to charge us €6 for the tour, but seeing I had the correct money for the 2 bottles, she told me not to worry and quickly ushered us out of the cave. Sarah and I found this a bit strange… we would’ve gladly paid for the tour had we been told there was a charge, but we weren’t! We wondered if she’d expected us to buy a crate of wine or maybe a barrel? After all it was possible to buy a 250 litre barrel of their wine here! The next morning we thanked Marie-Laure for her hospitality and had a quick chat about our travels before heading off.

We navigated our way to a motorhome sales centre as we were desperate for AquaKem Green, the chemical we add into our chemical toilet. (Still no number 2s in Ace by the way just in case you’re wondering…) We then drove into Bordeaux and parked in a street which looked a bit dodgy at first, but as it turns out it was fine. We bundled up our washing yet again (had it really been 2 weeks since we’d done it?) and headed to the laundry and then on to an internet café. As we waited for the laundry to complete it’s cycle (35 minutes ? more like an hour!) I went and grabbed lunch from McDonalds.

After the washing was safely back in Ace we wandered about a kilometre down Rue Saint Catherine searching for a camera store. We were told where one was and asked the guy in an electrical store to put the address into our GPS. We set off to the store to try and get the dust out of my camera. On the advice of the guy there, I bought some wet / dry swabs to clean the filter above the sensor (€20) and this mini-vacuum looking thing which sucks dust out (€50). He told us to come back later and someone would show us how it was done. We went back and a Chinese guy was there, he quickly switched to English and gave us a demo of the cleaning process. To cut a long story short, an hour later he’d managed to get the dust out but one of the dust particles has smudged slightly on the filter. This was industrial strength gunk inside my poor camera! You can only notice this on certain photos, for example when the sky is really light. I will have to send my baby to Nikon to get cleaned when I get back to the UK. Photography is an expensive hobby sometimes!
Above and below: Beach at Arcachon

We had a nice walk around the centre of Bordeaux, there are many impressive looking buildings housing the opera and other facilities. Like Clermont-Ferrrand, there is also a brand new tram system through the city.

We left Bordeaux around 4pm and headed to the town of Arcachon. There were lots of campsites nearby (no aire de service) but they were far away from the beach and were charging €35 / night. We would’ve paid had they been close to the town or beach but gave it a miss and headed to the beach for a walk. We got back to a rather uneven Ace (the road was quite hilly) where Sarah spent an hour trying to cook pasta. Because Ace was uneven, the gas hob would only come on at a very low heat. We gave up in the end and went and ordered pizza and looked around the night markets as we waited for it.

We headed back to our beach car park where 4 other motorhomes had parked up for the night. We went down to the beach again and took photos while eating our pizza. We decided to stay here the night, even though it wasn’t an aire de service. Sarah was scared stiff the gendarmes would arrive and tell us to move on, but we had a relatively peaceful nights sleep.

On Friday morning we had yet another walk on the beach and then drove a few kilometres south to the Dune du Pilat – Europe’s largest sand dune. It’s 3 kilometres long and the top – accessed via a set of plastic stairs – is 114 metres above the sea below. The dune is increasing in size by about 5 metres a year, it has already swallowed up trees, a road and even a hotel!
Left: Dune du Pilat

The view from the top was fantastic, luckily we’d arrived before the 11am rush. You descend from the dune via the sand, the stairs are reserved for those going up. Finally back on terra firma, we plodded along in our shoes, full of sand, walking along like Herman Munster! We then proceeded to tip out of our shoes what seemed like half of the sand dune… why hadn’t we worn flip-flops?

We drove south and arrived at Mimizan Plage on the Cote D’Argent just after midday. The aire de service here is huge with about 100 places. Luckily, we found a place between 2 huge American style motorhomes. Ace is based on a Fiat Ducato chassis (3.5 ton), these big boys are based on a 12 ton truck chassis! Our neighbours, a German couple in their late 60s, are very friendly and have chatted to us a lot since our arrival. Their colossal vehicle is 9.5 metres long, 3.7 metres high, cost €221,000 and even has a Smart car in the boot, it’s that big!
Above and below: Mimizan Plage at sunset, Cote D'Argent

The aire de service is in a great location about 100 metres from the sea. The beach is beautiful with lots of golden sand (similar to the Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast) although the sea currents are quite strong. The local police operate the aire, the cost between June and September is €10.20 a night including electric, a pretty good deal.

We’ve spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday reading, going to the beach, paddling in the sea and jumping over the waves, brushing off sand and enjoying the sunshine. I only sit outside after 4pm, Sarah sits in the sun most of the day!

Tomorrow (Monday 6 August) we head to Spain, no idea when the next update will be, but stay tuned and keep the blog comments coming!

1 comment:

Big sis said...

Sarah you have a tan!!!
You cant tell your baby has a smudge matt! Photos are as beautiful as ever. The washing once a fortnight is reminiscent of when sarah was less domesticated only a couple of years ago!! Take care cant wait to hear all about spain next its like history and geography lessons all rolled into one! Love you both xx Rach xx