Last Updated Tuesday, 06 December :33

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1 Relax on the Aquitaine coast Follow me to The Aquitaine coast Follow Bill and his wife Helen on the French roads visiting France with their France Rail Pass. The Aquitaine coast from Bordeaux to Biarritz is washed by the Atlantic Ocean, which gives it beaches a - PARIS MONTPARNASSE - BORDEAUX - BORDEAUX - ARCACHON - ARCACHON - BIARRITZ 1 / 10

2 PARIS MONTPARNASSE - BORDEAUX 3H00 by TGV 23 trains per day* 2 / 10

3 Bordeaux was the first French town I set foot in, on a business trip years ago. A Swedish guy I met there gave me advice I have followed ever since: When you go to a new country, it s best to go first to a café and take the time to absorb the atmosphere. Bordeaux wasn t new, but in souvenir of Tege s advice, Helen and I had a coffee in the Gare de Bordeaux Saint-Jean after our three hour TGV trip from Paris. The station has the biggest glass ceiling of any station in Europe, engineered by Gustave Eiffel, better known for his Paris Tower. The coffee break fit the tone of this vacation voyage. I have read that Bordeaux wants to become one of the Top 10 tourist towns in France. I m surprised it isn t already. It is the wine capital of France and has been for ages. We had considered booking a hotel out of town where they offer vinotherapy, using wine instead of sea water to make you beautiful, but Helen prefers her wine an a glass and decided to hold off on a spa until our last stop at Biarritz. We stayed in a small hotel near the station and decided to burn some energy here. Neither of us is athletic, but neither are we couch potatoes. The city is bicycle friendly, with over 200 km of green painted bicycle paths, and in the Gironde department there are another 1,300 km of bike paths leading to beaches, villages, and vineyards. We rented two bikes, run by the tram and bus company, and rode around the city. The Musée de Beaux Arts was closed for renovations, but we stopped at the Aquitaine history museum, which had a sad reminder of how the slave trade enriched Bordeaux and other Atlantic ports. The Tourist Office near the Esplanade des Quinconces changed our ideas for the next day. They had 250 excursions, tastings and visits to propose, from a study of local bridges to cooking classes. Our plans to rent bikes and ride to vineyards ourselves were replaced by a five-hour Tourist Office trip to St. Emilion, visiting the medieval city and a chateau. At the tasting, I liked the fruitiness of the vintage 2007, a rainy year. Others on the trip were like us, happy and talkative, and we dined that night with a British couple we befriended at Chez Julio, not far from the tourist office. 3 / 10

4 NOT TO BE MISSED - Museum of Aquitaine - Museum of Beaux Arts - Museum of Decorative Art - Centre for Contemporary Plastic Art The quaysides, with fantastic walks along the banks of the Garonne Rive r - Place de la Bourse France Rail Pass partner: - Tourist Office: Bordeaux Tourist Office - Wine cellar and tasting session: La cure gourmande - Restaurants: La Winery (The WY restaurant), Le Pavillon des boulevards - Accommodation: My suite village (Saint Jean d Illac), Citadines 4 / 10

5 + ALL OUR PARTNERS Last Updated Tuesday, 06 BORDEAUX - ARCACHON 00H52 by regional train 21 trains per day* We left the Gare Saint-Jean the next morning for Arcachon, less than an hour away. I grew up with Michigan s forests and lakes, and Arcachon felt like home. Its bay is protected by the biggest dune in Europe, it is known for great fishing and seafood and mineral water from the Sainte-Anne des Abatilles hot spring discovered in Since the railroad arrived it has been a playpen for Bordeaux people, with a well-known casino, spas and exceptional natural advantages. A tourist bus tour showed us the town, and Helen and I spent the rest of the day on or near Pereire beach, named for two brothers who pushed tourism in the 19 th Century. The sand was clean and warm, and the water of the bay lapped up against it. Helen and I swam and shared the promenades with mothers pushing baby buggies and families out for a stroll. A seafood dinner at the Cap Pereire restaurant was followed by a fine sunset. 5 / 10

6 The next day, we split up. Helen decided not to wait for Biarritz and chose to do a half day cure at the spa. I pulled a cap down around my ears and went out in an oysterman s boat. While he worked, I took pictures. I learned that Rabelais, a renaissance priest, had written kindly about the local oysters, and that the oyster park was established in More important, I learned how good an oyster can be when it has been shucked seconds after being plucked from the sea. We celebrated our satisfying days with another seafood dinner at the Royal Moulleau. Helen and I split a dozen oysters. The French couple at the next table ate a dozen each. NOT TO BE MISSED - The Port of Arcachon and its fish market - Péreire beach - Chateau Deganne - La Chapelle des Marins - Le Belvédère France Rail Pass partner: - Spas - Le Biarritz 3* - Hotel du Palais (Imperial Resort and SPA) 6 / 10

7 + ALL OUR PARTNERS ARCACHON - BIARRITZ 2H54 by regional train + TGV via Bordeaux 7 trains per day* From the local station you get to Biarritz 3 or 3½ hours later, depending on whether you take local trains or go back to Bordeaux for the TGV. We opted for local trains and the countryside views. Here in the bottom left corner of France we were in Basque country, an area with an independent history and language that developed in the Pyrenee Mountains. The berets people associate with France are Basque, as well as some great foods like Jambon de Bayonne, a dry ham. But a gateau Basque leaves no doubt of its origin, and it is so delicious that people from here living in Paris will order them sent by mail. Tourism helped overlay Basque culture with French. Napoleon III s wife, the Empress Eugenie, liked to come here in the 1860s to relax, and the Chapelle Impériale was built for her. 7 / 10

8 We crossed a walkway built by our pal Eiffel to the Rocher de la Vierge, with its crosses and statue of the Virgin Mary, erected by sailors who didn t drown. Some surfers in wet suits swam to a hole in the rocks as we watched a spectacle rarer than the gulls overhead. It rained the next day, perfect for Helen s spa plans. The town has made a specialty of thalasso therapy and spa life, and she chose one in our hotel so she could spend the day inside. If it had been nice I might have rented clubs at one of the golf courses, but my inside choices were the Cité de l Océan et du Surf museum in the morning, and the Plan ète Musée du Chocolat for the afternoon. I have a sweet tooth. For our last day we toured La Chapelle Impériale together and visited art galleries, and the next day read and napped on the 6 hour TGV back to Paris. NOT TO BE MISSED - Fishing port - The Basque coastline - Museum of the Sea - Chocolate museum - Chapelle Impériale (built for Empress Eugenie) 8 / 10

9 - Rocher de la Vierge Last Updated Tuesday, 06 - Typical Basque dishes (gâteau basque, jambon de Bayonne,...) France Rail Pass partner: - Spa - Thalazur - Tours - Jet Systems Hélicopoteres + ALL OUR PARTNERS BIARRITZ - PARIS MONTPARNASSE 5H20 by TGV / 4 trains per day* + ALL OUR PARTNERS 9 / 10

10 * (2011 frequency) 10 / 10

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