Iceland Air offers cheap flights to Europe in the hope of getting visitors to stop over in Iceland on the way to or from a person’s major destination. Steve and I decided to do exactly that and made a ten-day visit to the south of France in parts of Aquitane and the Midi-Pyrenees and then head over to Iceland. Not a bad vacation! Not at all.
Our travels began in Bordeaux where many of the people we met assumed we were British, for some reason. Little did they know… one Canadian and one American in their presence. Steve spent the first day taking photographs of bunkers north of Bordeaux at Saint-Palais-Sur-Mer.
I used the day to explore the city without camera in hand: I wound in and out of the streets in the centre of Bordeaux; walked to the Gare de Bordeaux Saint Jean – a station constructed of three sections with railroad tracks that go through and out of the station; saw the Palais du Justice, a contemporary work of architecture located in the heart of and juxtaposed with the medieval city; and visited the CAPC (Centre of Contemporary Visual Arts) where the work of Yonah Friedman was on exhibition.
My impression: Bordeaux is an odd mix of neighbourhoods filled with Middle Age architecture side by side with razed buildings that have been replaced with contemporary architecture. The streets in the old part of the city are narrow and one has to keep an eye on the sidewalk in order to avoid the dog excrement that litters the ground! It is, however, a very easy city to get around in, by both foot and bus. Driving is another matter – the city is not easily navigable and we got lost a few time trying to get in and out of it.
The next few days were spent to the west of Bordeaux, along the French coast, exploring yet more bunkers at: Soulac-sur-Mer, Le Gurp, Le Pin Sec, Cap Breton, Labenne and Pilat Plage.
We ate at three excellent restaurants – one of which was an informal brasserie called Le Xaintrailles that made magnificent duck confit and served a very drinkable wine from Listrac Medoc; the place was comfortable, casual, reasonably priced, and (most importantly) the food was good, so that we returned there on our last night in France before heading off to Iceland. We ate extremely well at Restaurant du Loup (it is a quiet restaurant, walls awash with deep, warm colours, tables covered with white linens and with candles alit). The food here is typical of the area and the foie gras was the absolute highlight. And then there was La Tupina – the service was excellent and the staff gave us lots of time to relax, eat, and enjoy ourselves. Everything we ate was utterly delicious: a different bottle of Listrac Medoc from when we were at Le Xaintrailles, sauteed foie gras, wild pork (fatty and delicious), seven-hour lamb, and finally espressos and a glass each of Armagnac to finish off the meal. All three restos are highly recommended to anyone visiting Bordeaux and wanting to eat representative food of the region. All three are still in business as I write this post in 2013.
Our final five days in Southern France were a whirlwind of driving on unmarked back roads in the countryside. We stayed at various gites (B&Bs) outside of the villages and treated ourselves to a hotel in the centre of Cahors. Recommended restos helped define the route; but it seems that all we did, despite some excellent eating, was drive and drive and drive and drive and drive and drive and drive. In fact, once we nearly ran entirely out of gas on a windy, hilly, undefined road where not a car passed us. We were uncertain if we’d make it to our destination (a small town that we hoped had diesel for us at the ready!) since the fuel gauge indicated the tank was on its 40 km. reserve. Fortuitously we made it with just under 20 km. left to the choking end!!!
However, with all of this driving we experienced varied landscape: ridge-lined mountains and low-lying valleys, farmland, vineyards, grottoes, forests, arid, desert-like red iron-filled and rocky landscapes, and little villages. The food and markets along the way were always a pleasure. We drove mostly fast, straight roads back to Bordeaux so that we could begin the second part of our overseas trip in Iceland before heading home to the U.S.