France’s Independence Day is July 14 and is known as Bastille Day. Since this happens to be our littlest man’s birthday and a 4-day weekend this year, we decided to head to the southwestern corner of France, to a coastal town known as Biarritz. We were ready for some beach time!
We left late Thursday night after Chuck got off work and drove into the night. We had purchased our car a few weeks prior, so it was our first time taking our own car on a trip here and though we do not love our car (more on our car later), it has a huge moon roof out of which we could watch the sunset as we drove into the night. We were still wearing sunglasses at 9:45pm! It was super strange.
Since it was a 5-6 hour drive to Biarritz, we decided to drive a few hours and stop in Bordeaux overnight to sleep. While I was excited about the thought of being in Bordeaux and that close to some of the best wine in the world, we decided we would come back later to really explore it. So, other than the McDonald’s across from the hotel, that was all we saw of Bordeaux in daylight. We stayed at an Ibis hotel, a hotel chain here in Europe- probably equivalent to a Hampton Inn and, though kinda random (think: red leather lounge chairs in the bathroom), it was great. There is some kind of law here in Europe that only permits 4 people to a room, so when you are a family of 5, you sneak one person in:) We thought we had successfully done so, until the very nice gentleman at the front desk smiled and handed Chuck 3 little knapsacks for the kids filled with activity books, coloured pencils, an inflatable pillow and gummies. The boys were thrilled! There was only bed space for 4 people, so luckily 1)Wells still fit in the random pack-n-play that was in the room and 2) he was so tired he fell asleep immediately.
The next morning, Wells was excited to visit the 50’s- themed McDonalds with jukeboxes, old cars, etc. and eat an egg McMuffin. Since he had also requested one of his favorite chocolate croissants from our bakery in Clermont (which I picked up the day before), we had the perfect Franco-American birthday breakfast.
We got to Biarritz around lunch time and grabbed lunch at a spot right near the boardwalk with amazing views. It was a beautiful day and we were thrilled to see the ocean.
We checked into our hotel- a cute, charming little inn on Rue Gambetta called Hotel Anjou, very close to many cute restaurants, a few blocks from the main shopping area and a 5 min walk to the beach.
We spent the afternoon walking around, and after dropping the boys by the hotel for some iPad time, Chuck and I headed out to scope out a dinner spot.
Biarritz is located in the Basque region of Southwest France and sits on the Atlantic Ocean just 22 km from the border of Spain, so there is a really cool fusion of both Spanish and French cultures here mixed with both a ritzy and laid back surf-town vibe and we just loved it. There were many restaurants serving Spanish cuisine which is, overall, a lighter fare– i.e.: grilled meats and seafoods, Basque tapas known as “pintxos” (small skewers with fish, potatoes, meats, etc. that are ordered individually and often as an appetizer), along with other small bites. We were so excited to have a little respite from all the heavier French food we’d eaten during our first 3 weeks- croissants, cheese, meat in some type of sauce, etc. etc. etc.
We were so excited to finally have some good seafood, so the boys had the most insanely delicious fish and chips ever and we even talked them into trying our mussels and octopus, which they (Charlie) actually liked!?!
Wells was more concerned about his birthday dessert, so chocolate gelato it was from a cute little tea room serving pastries and gelato called Maison Dezamy. This, was of course, followed by an hour of energy burn through the streets of Biarritz.
As the sun started to set, we headed to the beach to grab a good spot for viewing the big fireworks celebration that night.
The French really don’t play when it comes to fireworks! Back in Clermont, we had heard about several fireworks displays and how elaborate they were, but we hadn’t seen any yet, so having our first on Bastille Day was such a treat! Especially for the birthday boy.
As was typical for us as foreigners in this new city, we missed the memo that the fireworks were actually going to be shot off from a totally different location; that these initial ones perfectly viewable from our spot were just “warm-ups”. There were a few people sitting nearby, but we did wonder how we were able to land such a great viewing spot from up on the hill, when everyone else was on the beach.
When the fireworks started, we could hear them but not see them. That was because they were being shot off from behind a huge hotel that we were sitting in front of. Our view was 2/3 of the way blocked! Luckily, though, we were able to see most of the ones that were up high, including the finale!
Wells kept yelling “this is the best birthday EVER!!!!!”
The next morning, after breakfast, we walked to the Biarritz aquarium which sits on the ocean and was small, but perfect size for kids to see in an hour or two. It was difficult to understand much, as all of the signs, etc. were in French, but we did enjoy seeing all of the fish, sharks, turtles, and some huge eels and jellyfish. And the VIEW!
At lunch, there was the cutest guy walking around playing his accordion and singing in the square.
We headed to the beach for a few hours so the kids could swim and we could get some beach time. Chuck warned me that the water was cold, but I didn’t expect it to be the coldest water I have ever stuck my toe in. It was unreal! Seriously, I couldn’t get over how this was the same Atlantic Ocean that we swim in back home.
The other thing which was new for us was toplessness. There’s obviously no point in trying to shield the boys’ eyes from the wide display of topless women (and might I just add, women of ALL ages), most were older and they didn’t even seem to notice, so we just rolled with it and were available for questions. However, just as we were showering off and walking off the beach, one very cute topless 13ish y/o girl decided to walk up and shower right next to the boys. I was literally holding my breath, but after glancing inner direction, they just looked down and washed off. Later on, I did feel it was important to follow up with an explanation of how and why girls and women in other cultures do things differently than we do on beaches back home. I am not sure I even understand the reason for it- ?sunbathing? Did you just buy bottoms in the pattern you liked? Was your laundry only half-done? As we have said from the beginning of this journey, different is not bad, it’s just different. The boys seemed ok with my brief explanation for now. And I”m sure there’s a lot more toplessness in our future here. Especially in France!
After the beach we cleaned up and decided to try and find easy and laid back for dinner. We tried a few pizza places, but they were full. Just when we were about to give up and grab sandwiches from the market, we came across a complete dive called California Kitchen. The menu was total American bar fare- think burgers, chicken fingers and fries in baskets, chips and guac, tacos, etc. Chuck found his first American IPA and was in heaven. It totally hit the spot. Our first American style meal since we’d left! The waiter even brought Chuck and I tequila shots at the end of our meal with our bill. Hilarious!
The next morning, I woke up and wanted to go for a run along the ocean, curious to see if there were any beaches further down that were a little less crowded and might be better for laying on the next time we came back to visit:)
The views from high up were just breathtaking. There were surfers everywhere, and it was clear enough that morning that off to the left, I could see the mountains of Spain.
Before we headed home, we wanted to stop at the covered market, (Halles de Biarritz) to look around. We sat at the counter of a little food stall serving the yummiest savory and sweet crepes along with fresh juices/coffee. This was one of my very first market experiences and I couldn’t get over how fresh the fruits/vegetables and flowers were!
Our drive home was great, and as we drove into the rolling hills of Auvergne (the region of central France where we live), we stopped and took advantage of the great view of the large volcano chain (The Châine des Puys) that overlooks Clermont-Ferrand. This volcano chain includes 80 domes and craters that are as old as 70,000 years and as young as 7,000 years! The last eruption was around 4040 BC (source:wikipedia). The Puy de Dome, located on the right in the pic below, is the highest point in this chain and is easily viewable from many spots in downtown.
We arrived back in Clermont to unpack and start packing up all of our things…lots to do- moving day was in 2 days!