Published: October 1st 2009October 1st 2009
Le Rocher de la Vierge
The most photographed location in Biarritz, taken from the dining room of the Beaulieu Hotel, with some distinguished American engineering in the foreground
Blogday 14 Tuesday 29th September en route to Biarritz
Up quite early as a long drive was facing us. Helpfully the Chev was parked very close to the hotel so loading the baggage didn’t take too long. Then out of Nimes with a brief diversion to top up the fuel, and so avoid the iniquitous prices at the autoroute fuel stops, and we were heading west towards Toulouse. The traffic was quite heavy up to the point where the A9 autoroute divides at Narbonne, with the A9 continuing south towards Perpignan and Spain while we swung west towards Carcassonne and Toulouse on the A61. All the trucks and white vans that had been so conspicuously absent on our journeys down the west coast of France were out in force here. Anyway, the Chev was rumbling along happily and very comfortably at the maximum speed limit of 130kph (80mph) at just 2500 revs, eating up the kilometres and getting its usual quota of admiring glances from passing motorists, and sipping petrol at the rate of 27mpg (that’s correct: 27mpg. I double checked the figures. From fill-up to fill-up we travelled 381kms (237 miles), and I put in 40 litres (8.8 gallons)
to top up. So join me in a standing ovation for General Motors’ wonderful 5.7 litre engine; first developed decades ago and still performing brilliantly. I should add that on an earlier journey the fuel consumption was just below 20 mpg, but then we were in the very hilly Dordogne countryside whereas the A61 is flat and billiard smooth. - enough already. Ed).
We stopped near Carcassonne for coffee and continued cruising west past Toulouse, then swinging south west towards the Pyrénées: Pau, Lourdes and Biarritz. An interesting incident occurred at a toll booth just outside Toulouse. I had been intending to pay the toll by credit card as it’s usually much quicker than queuing up to pay cash. However, this time the toll booth was manned so I grabbed some coins, about 3 Euros worth, from the console and handed them to the toll booth operator expecting him keep the required amount of €1.60 and return the surplus cash to me. However, he just smiled said “Merci monsieur, bonne journée.” and raised the barrier, obliging me to move on. Ripped off: just like that; and me taking it so cravenly! He must have thought that I was a rich
American, judging me by the motor, and not recognising a graduate of the Cardiganshire College of Financial Control. I’ll have to keep this quiet otherwise I won’t be allowed back into Cardiganshire.
We stopped for lunch near Tarbes at what looked like a very pleasant rest area with a view of the Pyrénées, and then had the worst meal of the tour. I wanted something light and opted for the vegetarian meal of the day, ratatouille and mixed veg, while Jane had fish. Both meals were bland and reminiscent of the worst of British motorway meals of yesteryear. Still, we needed the fuel. Then on for the last leg to Biarritz where some major roadworks are in progress outside of Bayonne, which adjoins Biarritz. We were in a traffic jam for 15/20 minutes before continuing the last few miles to Biarritz. The oncoming traffic, much of it heavy goods vehicles form Spain, was stationary for miles.
We found our way to our hotel, the Beaulieu, without trouble: arriving at 6pm not all tired or stiff after the long drive. What a great location: on an esplanade overlooking a small beach with Biarritz’s most famous landmark, Le Rocher de la Vierge
Biarritz Vieux Port
Beaulieu Hotel on the right.
(Rock of the Virgin [Mary]), on the nearby headland - see photos. However, the room they had reserved for us at the back of the hotel, was very cramped and gloomy so we negotiated for a better, bigger room with a view: at a suitably adjusted additional cost.
We had begun the day near the Mediteranean coast at Nimes 590 kms (360 miles) away: traversed across southern France and seen the geography change from a flat and arid landscape, through rolling countryside to the flanks of the Pyrénées and finally to the Atlantic shore close to the Spanish border. In all it took us seven hours. The Chev had performed brilliantly as usual, giving us a fast very comfortable and enjoyable ride.
Quick shower and then out for dinner at a restaurant in Le Port des Pecheurs, which is the old part of Biarritz, recommended by Jane’s daughter’s boyfriend who had also put us on to the hotel. We had a most enjoyable Basque paella; which is similar to the normal Spanish version with added saucissonne (that’s dried spicy sausage to the uninitiated). Really excellent and too much for us to finish. Then back to the hotel. And so to
Jenks the Easy Driver.
Blogday 15 Wednesday 30th September Biarritz
Despite the idyllic location overlooking a beach and being able to hear the waves washing up on to the shore, sleep wasn’t so idyllic. In fact it was frequently interrupted by what sounded like large trucks roaring past during the small hours just outside the open window of the bedroom. At some ungodly hour in the morning, well before the sun came up, the garbage trucks along came and joined the party, adding their distinctive cacophony of revving and crashing of emptying wheely bins. What joy.
By 7.45 when I got up the noises had subsided and it was quite tranquil when I went down for breakfast. Later Jane and I went for a walk around the town. Biarritz became the favoured seaside resort of Napoleon III in the mid nineteenth century and is still very belle époque. Also, because of its good and consistent surf, reckoned to be the best in Europe, there are many young surfer dudes in the area. In fact, the previous evening we had seen dozens of them out in the surf, waiting for the next big wave, even though the
light was fading fast. Anyway, back at the stroll around town, I mentioned to Jane that I would like to visit the Galleries Lafayette store that we’d seen on the way in as I’d never got around to visiting their flagship store in Paris and thought that they were a sort of Harrods type operation. My problem was that I couldn’t remember where I’d seen the store. Jane then helpfully pointed out that we were in fact directly outside the store; literally 3 feet from one of their window displays. I can only put down this amazing coincidence to the uncanny Jenkins’ Sense of Direction that I’ve mentioned earlier. The store was quite a disappointment: the clothing was astronomically priced, the staff were snooty, and the “fresh” produce in the food hall, “Lafayette Gourmet”, wasn’t very fresh.
So we went for lunch at a seaside bar/restaurant on the side of the beach in front of our hotel. Quite superb omelettes. After lunch Jane decided to take in some sun on the beach while I went for a wander along the seafront to take some photos. After returning to the hotel and preparing some of this blog I was joined by Jane and we strolled along the esplanade to the Grand Plage where the art deco casino is located. There were still a few surfers out at sea at 8.15pm: such dedication.
This was the only day of the Tour when the Chev was not used.
Finally, a picnic dinner in the room again. And so to bed.