L'Estacade's invigorating fragrance
6:35 p.m. – With my suitcase in hand at the Bordeaux-Mérignac airport, I decide to rent a car for the entire duration of my stay in the southwest of France. After only a few minutes on the road, I drop my luggage at the hotel and then head for the boulevard Aliénor d'Aquitaine. In front of the Place de la Bourse, a large wood and zinc metal shed on stilts gives off charming marine aromas into the city's right bank. I lean my elbows on the outside rail of L'Estacade restaurant while contemplating the view. In the kitchen, Frédéric Montemont and Jean-Marie Esposito get dishes moving as seafood (from scallops and clams in white wine to Noisette oysters from the Arcachon Bay) already perfumes this exceptional location. The panoramic terrace offers a breathtaking view onto the Garonne River and its many walking paths. The sun dives into the horizon line and its pinkish last rays glow over the river's calm waters.
Quais de Queyries
+33 (0)5 57 54 02 50
The excellence of Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux & Spa
11:40 p.m. – As it is now time to make it back to the hotel, I head for the Yves Parlier floating dock for a pleasant nighttime ferry crossing. Now on the opposite bank, I only have to walk a few hundred feet. The Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux & Spa is the cream of the crop in Bordeaux, standing proud on the Place de la Comédie. Behind a lush looking façade, it displays a theatre decoration of thick red velvet curtains, reddish furniture and marble floors. I stand fascinated with the premises and cannot help but salivate, thinking about famous British Michelin-starred chef Gordon Ramsay's dishes I'll try out tomorrow. Will I be able to choose between the sautéed foie gras with lavender or turbot baked in seaweed butter?
Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux & Spa
Place de la Comédie
+33 (0)5 57 30 44 44
Altered time and space at the Cité du Vin
Following day, 9:45 a.m. – I barely woke up, so I take my time before going out. Located on the Quai de Bacalan, the Cité du Vin offers an immersive and sensory experience into the world of red, rosé and white wines, amid groundbreaking architecture. The curvy lines of the building structure impress, but the limited environmental impact maybe even more so. I wander around the surrounding gardens, feed my brain off temporary exhibitions and reading lounges, and browse the programme revealing upcoming concerts, screenings and other shows. I end up taking part in a wine tasting workshop in the panoramic viewpoint. This unique encounter throughout ages, cultures and civilisations is delectable. At the end of the visit, I cannot help but wonder: what if I were to explore one of the five remaining routes during my next stay? Médoc, Sauternes, Saint-Émilion, Blaye and Bourg… the choice will be mine!
La Cité du Vin
134-150, quai de Bacalan
+33 (0)5 56 81 38 47
Exquisite detour through the “Rue Gourmande”
1:10 p.m. – In the heart of historical Bordeaux between the Saint-Michel and Sainte-Croix districts, the “Rue Gourmande” took entrepreneur Jean-Pierre Xiradakis' intuitions to a new level. As a true institution within the city, the purpose of this famous street took on its full meaning in 2011 when the talented businessman decided to develop multiple trades on the theme of gastronomy: bistros, terraces, a Greek restaurant, a grocery store, bars, a cellar wine-bar and even a B&B rub shoulders, finding balance between culinary traditions and modernity. Opened in 1968, La Tupina has often been considered among the best restaurants in the world by both the Herald Tribune and The Times, and it is this local cuisine ambassador's pride and joy. After revelling in a delicious Basque-style chicken, I stroll from building to building along the rue Porte de la Monnaie, and gaze at the empire of good food built upon one man's bold desires.
La «Rue Gourmande»
Rue Porte de la Monnaie
+33 (0)5 56 91 56 37
From Rue Sainte-Catherine to Place de la Bourse
3:00 p.m. – At the crossroad of the city centre, the Rue Sainte-Catherine established itself as the queen of shopping streets in Europe, with 4,000 feet of paved stones and shops. In the past, butchers and millers used to sell meat and flour, before the 17th century, when royalists and revolutionaries fought a bloody battle, creating two factions in the city. I walk down the street (riddled with stalls from February to July) during the clearance sale that takes place twice a year in Bordeaux. I push further towards Place de la Bourse, where three centuries of history show their reflection in the largest water mirror in the world. Without a care, I take off my sandals to venture in the “Trois Grâces” fountain, joining kids cooling off in their gigantic bathtub.
Driving by Arcachon and Seignosse
5:30 p.m. – I hop on my car and head for Arcachon! The region is full of beautiful period houses and oyster farms, fish and pleasure boats, white sandy beaches and genuine huts. The Arcachon Bay is a true gift of nature, subject to unpredictable waters and wilful men. I take a quick break in small cottage filled with an oyster smell. I gobble one, then another, and then 5 more! But I feel like I should resume my journey and have dinner in Seignosse. I drive between the half-timbered houses and white shops of this little town in the Landes region. A slice of gâteau basque (a local pastry) with cherries fills me up, near l'Étang Noir. I finally reach Biarritz, the Queen of beaches that became the beach of Kings.
Office de Tourisme d'Arcachon
Esplanade Georges Pompidou
+33 (0)5 57 52 97 97
Between Seignosse and Tosse
Splendour and wonders at the Hôtel du Palais
10:20 p.m. – As I enter the majestic lobby of the Hôtel du Palais, I'm overwhelmed by the splendour of this construct, directly giving onto the Atlantic Ocean. Originally built for Empress Eugénie de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III, the hotel retained its elegant Second Empire architectural style and luxury decoration. As soon as the early 19th century, it became the showcase of the seaside resort. Under the frescoed ceilings, pearly dressing tables and flashy chandeliers, dancers stamping their feet during Imperial Balls still resound in the large rooms of the palace, before bands of gypsies and canon-shots of the three Napoleonic wars took over. I slip exhausted into my immaculate and large bed, welcomed a few minutes afterward into Morpheus' arms.
Hôtel du Palais
1, avenue de l'Impératrice
+33 (0)5 59 41 64 00
Improving takeoffs and cutbacks along the Basque seashore
Following day, 8:20 a.m. – From a discreet and charming fishing village, Biarritz turned into the privileged destination of many retiring crown heads... As a cosmopolitan and enthusiastic landmark of the Basque region, the city's architecture is a testimony of its glorious past and fast-growing tourist spot. The craggy cliffs meet with large sandy bays and stand tall, facing regularly troubled waters. Off the coast, surfers wait on their board for the next wave. Eager to try and face the challenge myself, I join a group of beginners. Dressed with a matching suit, I first use a rubber board that the coach just handed me. As a diligent student, I follow him on the beach, just like the hero in the movie Point Break, ready to catch “my first tube”.
École du Surf Français
56, rue de Madrid
+33 (0)5 59 41 11 18
Sensory travel in Biarritz covered market
12:30 p.m. – How sweet it is to leave the wetsuit behind and lie down on the scorching sand. That training session was hard on my body! I therefore decide to find some sweetness at the Biarritz covered market, as it ranks among the must-go-tos of my travel. This is a temple of local gastronomy and I walk its aisles giving off mouth-watering smells, tempted by a truffle omelette at Maison Balme, hake and sole fish from Christophe Beury, as well as Caro Sushi's Japanese specialities. I end up buying a few local cheeses and seasonal fruits for later, and give in to delicious Basque and Spanish cold meats calling out my name.
Biarritz covered market
Rue des Halles
Last stop at Surfing
4:10 p.m. – Privileged spot in the heart of Biarritz, the Surfing restaurant is directly standing on the beach, only a few feet from crashing waves. Paintings and posters adorn the walls and ceilings and breathe in some Californian spirit through town. I sit at the brasserie's terrace, my eyes riveted by the ocean. I order a glass of sangria and a nice plate of Mexican tapas. The whole thing is simply delicioubs. It is now late afternoon and daylight takes on orangey hues, reminding me I'll soon have to fly away. I'm leaving this country of water and sand, but make a promise to return as soon as I can.
9, boulevard du Prince de Galles
+33 (0)5 59 24 78 72