Bordeaux and the Gironde Estuary

French astronaut Thomas PESQUET just completed his second 6-month long stay on board of the International Space Station. His use of social media made life in space a little more accessible and understandable for all of us here on Earth. Mr.Pesquet gifted us photos of the Dune du Pilat not that long ago and recently a panoramic picture of the area between Bordeaux, the Gironde Estuary, and beyond:  https://www.facebook.com/ESAThomasPesquet/posts/444002720431032


We visited the east bank of the estuary right before the summer break in 2021, crossing from our home in Gironde into the department of Charente Maritime, luckily when restaurants were just restarting their on-site service.

The first thing I learned there is that locals don’t bother looking up the weather forecast as the wind gusts blow so intensely that in just half an hour the weather has changed.  So, just be sure to pack a rainproof wind breaker and make the most of your getaway to the Gironde Estuary!


HOW TO GET THERE :

Less than two hours north from the center of Bordeaux with many little charming villages right on the bank of the river, you’ll want a car to explore. Bordeaux, Saints and Angouleme will all have major train stations. The closest airport will be Bordeaux.

WHERE TO STAY :

We spent the night in a camp site in Meschers-sur-Gironde or try coming with a camper van.

WHAT TO DO :

We visited the troglodite Grottes de Matata, just on the cliffs, where people used to live with basic comfort. Today the place has been made more welcoming and it is possible to rent a room in the family-run hotel.

Being so close to the water, it was no surprise to learn how important the fishing sector has been throughout the years, with a few typical varieties getting the podium: the lamprey eel (lamproie), the stone bass (meagre in French, despite the name is of XXL size and can weight up to 55kg) and the sturgeon, a protected species since 1982 after being overfished to the point of risking extinction in barely 60 years since the French “discovery” of caviar.

The beach of Suzac was our chance to get our feet in the water, definitely too cold still to enjoy a swim. We came in close contact with the white cliffs and the typical fishermen huts that are so common along the coast: the carrelets. These small wooden shacks on the coast were (and still are) for fishermen to stay, while releasing their nets into the waters to collect the local fish.

Saint-George-de-Didonne is the next village up the road. The houses here made the walk around very pleasant: many of them have names and it was fun to find out one after another. There is a nice 1 km-long walk along the water that stretches out to the 36m high lighthouse (phare) of Vallières, inaugurated at the beginning of the 20th century (open to visit during the touristic season) and from there you can see the more famous lighthouse of Cordouan, now a UNESCO world heritage site since the summer 2021.

On our second day, given the strong wind, we decided to start with a drive along the coast past Royan to the not so secret cove of Nauzan. The wind stopped and the sun made an appearance and how beautiful the place looked, with the low tide. Royan is the biggest center along the estuary. It suffered considerably during WW2, with dozens of bombardments that killed hundreds of residents and destroyed the elegant holiday homes and the cathedral. Today’s church was rebuilt in the 50s in the same place where the old one used to be. Its architecture will conquer you slowly, as you walk closed and enter the building.

Last stop along the road as we were heading back south, was the most beautiful of them all: the fortified village of Talmont sur Gironde: the little pedestrian streets are just picture perfect, with their colorful artisanal shops and bushes of roses and hollyhocks. (rose tremiere).

Written by Simona PALENGA, who continues to share her love of Thomas PESQUET, the sea and travel through the SW of France.

If you would like to book a tour to visit lamprey eel fishermen or local Aquitaine caviar, contact us at aquitaineguide@gmail.com

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