For the first time, this week, I got to see with my own eyes a medlar tree. The fruits are slowly growing and will be ready to be harvested ripe, only in autumn.
In the Basque Country, this tree is not valued as much for its fruits, but rather for its wood, used to create the typical stick of the region, la makila.
Its origin goes back various centuries and its manufacturing process starts right in the forest, while the branch is still attached to the tree.
It is quite fascinating how an artisan carves over the warm months the branch so that the overflowing sap produces a design. The branch will only be cut in winter when the decoration of the stick has naturally appeared.
The fine work is done with heat, to smooth and straighten the wood.
Braided leather is used to cover the handle that is then topped by a metal grip and a horn knob.
The tip that touches the ground is made of steel. The handle hides a point made also of steel, that might comes in handy while walking the mountains and encountering wolves or bears (for example).
The metal parts have traditional Basque motifs and are used for an engraved short dedication.
These sticks are usually offered as a gift to mark an important event, be it the coming of age of a youngster or visit of a president to the region (Reagan was offered one as well as Pope John Paul II).
About 10 minutes from the vibrant village of Bazas with its many restaurants, charming shops and Saturday market, you have the calm of the Sud-Gironde countryside. Small historic towns, thousand-year-old churches and herds of cattle dot the pastural landscape. After driving behind the church in the village of Saint-Come, further into the trees, you’ll arrive at the Moulin de Laborie. This is a house rental with tree house, completely independant from the owner, Jan, who lives on site. The large guest house (that can accommodate ten comfortably) has a heated pool, outdoor grill, and communal kitchen. There is also a separate tree house with it’s own balcony for enjoying a nice glass of Graves and watching the sunset (tree house alone is 140 EURO a night). It’s a great place to escape the crowds and appreciate the natural surroundings. Perfect for small groups wanting to self isolate. Private educational trips to local farms to choose your fresh, local foods for meals can also be arranged / https://moulindelaboirie.fr/cabane-perchee/ / 1 Laboirie, 33430 Saint-Côme, France / +33 (0)5 56 25 47 92 / firstname.lastname@example.org
This château is about 15 minutes from Saint Emilion has really beautiful guest houses, with fireplaces, large Italian showers or two person tubs, and individual garden areas to host couples or families. Their Spa, TerreHappy, is calm and welcoming but also reasonably priced. The owner is super personable and charming and the estetician, Jemma, is so talented! JUNE 2020 – At 50 EURO per person, you can escape for the day to enjoy yoga, meditation, nature walks, spa (treatments extra) and lunch (15 EURO supplement) at the Chateau Latour Segur every Saturday through the month. Retreats are open to six people maximum due to covid regulations / www.chateaulatoursegur.com / 1 Rue Latour, Lussac, Aquitaine, France 33570 / +33 (0)6 24 53 75 50 /
More information and photos on Chateau Latour Segur can be found here
Boating on the Bassin d’Arcachon in a sailboat or pinasse
After working for years in yachting, I don’t find anything more relaxing and serene than being on the water. Blessed to never feel sick, the lulling of a boat is a sedative for me! I haven’t had the chance to do individual boating experiences in the Bassin but we have done a larger group excursion from Arcachon to Le Canon with stops along the way, and it’s honestly the best way to enjoy our area. There are plenty of sailing boats and the elegant, classic ‘pinasse‘ for taking a few hours or a day out…some even with a picnic supplied (of course local oysters will always be on the menu!). Starting rates for a smaller, private vessel with captain, are around 200 EURO for two hours. I’m waiting to hear back for my own individual trip this weekend (weather hopefully will change for the better), so I’ll keep you posted! Until then, check out these options :
After a few days of grey sky, we almost forgot it is already late spring.
The temperature dropped considerably last weekend and only since Thursday, it is going slowly up, back to the usual for this time of the year.
It is no surprise for the French, we just left behind the ‘Ice Saints’!
Despite being a pretty secular society, they can’t help but trust Saint-Mamertus, Saint-Pancras and Saint-Servatius, 11th, 12th and 13th of May. Respectively, these days are considered as the last ones that might bring nightly frosts and only after these three days it is safe to plant in the garden the most sensible plants: tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and pumpkins.
Saint Mamertus, who lived in the 5th century, is the only one with a real connection to the farming world: he’s the founder of the rogations, processions followed by prayer, that farmers hold on to for good crops (read more here).
I have always looked at this tradition with skepticism, and this year, I decided I trusted the weather forecast better than medieval beliefs.
Winter has been particularly mild, so I planted my tomatoes two weeks back… along with every other single sprout I had worked on since late February.
Well, the curse of the Saints took a modern twist, sending hail for 10 minutes, followed by 36 hours of intense rain. In total, 24 of my tomato plants ended up like Marie Antoinette, decapitated by ice.
If you are in the countryside, you will find French who decided to take a slow pace towards de-confined life, happily bent over, in their veggie patches, planting tomatoes and marigolds.
An engraving of Saint Mamertus from an 1878 book, Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints @wikipedia
(Pour lire dans Français ou une autre langue, s’il vous plaît vérifier sur le côté de la main de la plate-forme de la page pour le bouton à traduire)
The produce stand can be a challenge in supermarkets, everything is available nearly all of the time…and it maybe even says ‘organic’or ‘bio’ which is a great idea. In France, if you are buying in your local market you’ll find the best selection of local and seasonal produce but it may not be organic. So what is better for you? Which is better for the environment?
Local. How local is local? Let’s say that the products are only being transported from the farm to point of sale (market), or that you are buying from the farm directly where you can see how everything is managed up close. This is going to have a low carbon footprint, but you will also being helping farmers immediately in your community. There are plenty of farms that you can buy locally from or sign up for their weekly delivery of seasonal products through an AMAP.
Organic. Buying only based on the word ‘organic’ or ‘bio’ is generally going to be the worst choice for the environment. It is likely produce that is coming from Spain (in Europe) and grown in very unsustainable methods, in dry landscapes with row after row of greenhouses where water has to be diverted to. Then it is also being transported long distances, adding to its carbon footprint. Many smaller farms find achieving official organic status impossible because of the many government demands, when in reality they essentially are. Farms listed as biodynamic are immediately given organic status, as their farming methods are rigidly controlled by natural systems.
Seasonality. Then there is the idea of seasonality, because nothing tastes better than a tomato in August or a strawberry in June. The idea that we eat only those items available during a certain time of year is really only natural and ensures the best version of that product. Plus, many vegetables that grow during a certain time of year supply our bodies with what our bodies need during that season, like a watermelon supplying our body with more water in the summer and mushrooms being high in Vitamin D which is needed in the winter.
Local farms with pick up and delivery are available on our website but we want to hear about your favorite local product! Send us an email or post it on Facebook at Aquitaine Travel Guide! Right now is asparagus and strawberries-enjoy!
ENGLISH If we can’t be out giving tours, we can still help bring local products to our neighbors. Please keep supporting your local farms. They will still be growing and raising food. By buying online on their websites, you’ll support local business and keep the people who feed us in business! Most deliver to your home or a local pick up point. FRANÇAIS Si nous ne pouvons pas être dehors pour donner des visites, nous pouvons toujours contribuer à faire venir les produits locaux chez nos voisins. Continuez de soutenir vos fermes locales. Elle continuent à faire pousser et élever. En achetant en ligne sur leurs sites, vous soutiendrez le business local et aiderez ces gens qui nous nourrissent à maintenir à flot leur affaire. La plupart livrent à domicile ou dans un point de collecte local.
Here are some options for online delivery orders with multiple farms in France (individual farms are next, des fermes individuelles ont dans la prochaine liste) Voici quelques options pour les commandes de livraison en ligne avec plusieurs fermes en France (les fermes individuelles sont les suivantes dans la prochaine liste) : Note this is new to me as well, please share your personal experiences with each provider, if you’ve used them, in comments below. Thank you!
My Farmers– works with producers locally, register online to make your order of what is available for delivery in central Bordeaux / travailler avec des fermes locales, créé votre compte et choisir des produits dispo pour une livraison a Bordeaux https://www.myfarmers.fr/
Pourdebon– some producers are not selling during this time period, be sure to click in description to verify their Facebook page seems to have what is available posted / certains producteurs ne vendent pas pendant cette période, assurez-vous de cliquer en description pour vérifier. Leur page Facebook semble avoir ce qui est disponible posté / https://www.pourdebon.com/
Cagette.net – Nouvelle Aquitaine / Offers multiple options for delivery (usually to a fixed location) from different local farms and producers / Offre plusieurs options de livraison (généralement à un endroit fixe) de différentes fermes et producteurs locaux / www.cagette.net
La Compagnie Fermiere – Merignac and Gradignan / store with local producers that does pick up and just starting delivery in Bordeaux and surrounding areas / magasin avec les producteurs locaux qui ne ramasser et tout juste de commencer la livraison à Bordeaux et les environs / Merignac@lacompagniefermiere.fr et email@example.com / https://www.lacompagniefermiere.fr/
Individual Farms – ENGLISH I’m working hard on collecting local farms still delivering, as long as they’re allowed to. Please feel free to send me more to add. There are a lot of farms open for pick up, I’m just not sure how much longer we will be allowed to drive very far. I’ve worked with many of these people, they make some amazing products in BORDEAUX/GIRONDE/AQUITAINE generally x FYI Some farms needs masks, if you have some at home or know how to make any…please give them to your local farmer! FRANÇAIS J’ai travaillé dur pour rassembler des informations sur des fermes locales qui assuraient encore des livraisons, tant qu’ils en ont encore le droit. Il y a plein de fermes ouvertes pour une collecte sur place, même si je ne sais pas combien de temps encore nous pourrons nous déplacer loin. J’ai travaillé avec plusieurs de ces producteurs sur BORDEAUX/GIRONDE/AQUITAINE. Certaines fermes ont besoin de masques, si vous en avez à la maison ou savez comment en faire, n’hésitez pas à leur en faire parvenir.
Vegetables / legumes
Ferme de Cantis – Couthure (10 minutes de Marmande) / call to order your vegetable basket to be picked up at farm / appelez pour commander votre basket de legumes à être ramassé à la ferme / Bastien +33 (0)6 16 31 86 40
Le Domaine d’Ecoline – Sadirac / vegetables and fruits, legumes et fruits / pick-up or delivery w/in 20kim of Sadirac, récupérer ou livraison entre 20km de Sadirac / order online for delivery in 48hrs, faire la commande en ligne pour livraison dans 48hrs / +33 (0)6 10 13 26 81 / Lieu dit Joyeuse, 33670 Sadirac / firstname.lastname@example.org / https://www.domaine-ecoline.fr/
Asparagus, Asperge – Noaillan / pick-up at farm, récupérer à la ferme / asparagus,asperge 5€ kilo, tips et des points a 6€ kilo / Chez FAUQUE Nathalie, 1 Suscarrot, Noaillan / +33 (0)5 56 25 39 05
Thierry Premieur– Langorian (closed) et Podensac et Langon (ouvert) / vegetable stand doing pickup and delivery orders via ONE SMS (put name, address, contact info) / stand de légumes faisant des commandes de ramassage et de livraison via UN SMS (mettre le nom, l’adresse, les coordonnées) / +33 (0)6 08 01 47 92 (Thierry) / https://www.facebook.com/thierry.primeur
Muriel ARNULL – Langon, Bazas, Cudos, Captieux, Villandrault / delivery of chickens, pintade, and butchered duck as well as eggs and duck hearts / livraison des livraison pour la volaille, poulet 7.80 le kilo, pintade 9.30 le kilo, canette 9.60 le kilo et magret découpe plus des œuf pleine aire et les coeurs de canard / email@example.com
Little Black Pig – Montesquiou / charcuterie products for pick or local delivery / des produits charcuterie, récupérer sur place ou livraisons local / +33 (0)5 62 07 15 19 / Enjouanisson, 32320 Montesquiou / firstname.lastname@example.org / http://littleblackpig.eu /
Duck / canard
Palmagri – Magasins aLangon, Auros, Bordeaux et Bazas / pick-up and local delivery at local duck coopérative making foie gras and any other sort of duck product from magret to rillettes, des produits canard et foie gras / récupérer sur place et livraisons locales dans coopérative de canard local faisant du foie gras et tout autre type de produit de canard du magret aux rillettes, des produits canard et foie gras / http://www.palmagri-foiegras.fr
La Ferme de Queyran – Bernos-Beaulac / duck and foie gras products, canard et des produits foie gras / pick-up for orders under 50€ and more than 10km, récupérer sur place ou livraison pour les commandes plus de 50€ et mois de 10km / Fabien +33 (0)6 03 19 17 86 / https://www.facebook.com/fermequeyran/
La Ferme du Moulinat – Loubens / canned duck goods, sunflower oil and canola, bio lentils, dried corn, grains for animal feed and they are part of the association Les Paysans d’Aqui, we are a group of organic or very reasoned producers who offer sales via cagette.net on Thursday evening at the new plant (former prison of La Réole), the second Wednesday of the month at my farm and we have just set up specially for sales containment on Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the farm / FRANCAIS conserves de canard gras (et produits frais sur commande) huiles de tournesol et de colza Bio, lentille bio, maïs popcorn bio, céréales pour animaux bio et ils faites partie de l’asso Les Paysans d’Aqui, nous sommes un regroupement de producteurs bio ou très raisonnés qui proposons des ventes via cagette.net le jeudi soir à la nouvelle centrale (ancienne prison de La Réole), le second mercredi du mois à ma ferme et nous venons de mettre en place spécialement pour le confinement des ventes le samedi matin de 9h à 12h30 à la ferme / email@example.com / www.lafermedumoulinat.com
La Ferme Gauvry – Rimons / Bazadais beef, ducks and canned goods for pick-up, bœuf bazadais, canards et conservés pour récupérer sur place / Lieu dit Gauvry, 33580 Rions / +33 (0)5 56 71 83 96 ou +33 (0)6 07 75 19 43 / firstname.lastname@example.org / https://www.lafermegauvry.com/
La Grise de Bazas – Bazas / Bazadais beef, race bazadais veal veau Le semaine de 23 mars ready for pick-up the week of 23rd March with sausage and pate ten days after / veau le semaine de 23 mars prêt pour récupérer sous place le semaine de 23eme mars et des saucissons et pâte dix jours après / +33 (0)6 12 27 84 16 / email@example.com / https://www.lagrisedebazas.fr
Cheese and Milk / Fromage et lait
La Ferme de Pre Chic – Prechac / fresh goat cheese (and soaps), pick-up and delivery locally on orders over 15 EURO / fromage de chèvre frais (et de savon) récupérer sur place et livraison a domicile locale pour 15 EURO commande / 4 Lieu-dit Bergey et Bardine, 33730 Prechac / envoyer message sur Facebook https://www.facebook.com/lafermeduprechic/
La Ferme des Jarouilles – Coutras / pick-up at 17h Monday-Friday goat and cow, milk, yogurt and cheese as well as grains and eggs, / récupère a 17h le lundi à vendredi du chèvre et vache lait, yaourt et fromage et des graines et les œufs / +33 (0)5 57 49 28 20 / 36 Les Landes, 33230 Coutras / http://www.jarouilles.fr/
Dénis Morlans – Sendets / organic bakery delivering locally, pick-up at bakery. Hugo Délices a Bazas or at Bazas farm Johan Musseau on Saturday – boulangerie organic pour livraison locale, Hugo Délices a Bazas, récupérer sur place ou à la marche à Ferme Johan Musseau a Bazas les Samedis / 4 A Rippes, 33690 Sendets / https://m.facebook.com/LesConfituresDenisMorlans
For general inquiry check these locations :
Bienvenue à la Ferme – Great source for local farms and even places to visit after the virus quarantine is over. They are working with farmers to make sure all necessary hygiene and safety measures needed to deliver local foods / Grande source pour les fermes locales et même les endroits à visiter après la quarantaine du virus est terminée. Ils travaillent avec les agriculteurs pour s’assurer que toutes les mesures d’hygiène et de sécurité nécessaires à la livraison des aliments locauxhttps://www.bienvenue-a-la-ferme.com/nouvelle-aquitaine/produits-fermiers-produits-de-la-ferme
Lodene headed by Nicolas FAUGERE will be updating his list with map as well to help you find local producers – with a great interactive map! / Dirigé par Nicolas FAUGERE mettra à jour sa liste avec carte ainsi pour vous aider à trouver des producteurs locaux – avec une grande carte interactive!http://www.lodene.com/annuaire-covid.php
These are some cheese (non-exhaustive list) from the SW of France with basic information and where you can see the farm production of each cheese. Check out each AOP (Product Designation of Origin) Route des Fromages, as they will have a drivable route with plenty of relevant places to visit in each area. Please call all farms in advance if you would like to make a visit and be sure to tag us on Instagram @aquitainetravelguide when you go!
Most cheese in France are made from the milk of either a cow, sheep or goat and a rennet will be used to make the curds, which are then pressed into a form and aged for varied lengths of time. The type of animal and what it is feeding on during lactation will change the flavor. Some will have salt washes, some salt rubs…some will be wrapped in linen and others to air dry. All of these different methods (and more) will add the to the unique flavor and texture of the product.
Rennet – the curdled milk from the stomach of a baby cow, the byproduct of veal production, used in the cheese making process to make the curds
Artichoke Thistle (cardoon) – used often in the Mediterranean, one of the many vegetarian options, also less expensive options, available to curdle milk in cheese production
Microbial Rennet – vegetarian rennet alternative, used to curdle cheese in France, derived from molds
Fermier (artisanal) – farmhouse cheese, made with raw milk from cows on the farm (small production)
Laitier – commercialized, large production of pasteurized cheeses / many cheeses will have a pasteurized version for international sale
CHEESES : Locally to Bordeaux, we have small goats cheese producers like Cheverie Dunie in Gajac which makes lovely fresh and aged using vegetarian rennet or La Ferme du Pre Chic in Prechac which makes really young, fresh cheese and goat milk soap. The delicious Tomme de Bazas, from pasteurized cows milk, is actually made closer to the Pyrenees (not in Bazas). Please feel free to share your local favorites below!
Saint Nectaire – cows milk, AOC since 1955, curds the size of corn are placed into a round inox mold for an hour, salted on both sides, wrapped in damp linen and returned to the inox molds. They are stored in 8C-10C for a week before being taken to the aging room (cave d’affinage). Should have a semi-soft rind and soft interior. Visits to a local farm Ferme GAEC de l’Oiseau can be made here or GAEC de la Ferme du Clos here.
Bleu d’Avergne – cows milk, AOC since 1975, first made in 1854 by a roquefort cheese maker, has the blue mold Penicillium roqueforti but a creamier taste to Roquefort. Outside and inside should be crumbly. Aged over sixty days. Visits at La Grange de la Haute Vallee can be made here, which also offer other local AOC cheeses like Cantal and Salers.
Cantal – cows milk, AOC since 1956, one of the oldest cheeses in France and mentioned since Gallo-Romain times. The larger curds are salted en masse and pressed twice then aged from 30 days up to eight months. Exterior should be hard and the interior crumbly in more aged versions. For visits.
Salers – cows cheese, AOC since 1961, and fermier produced from spring to autumn. ‘Tradition Salers‘ is made from hand-milked, Salers cows. At least 300 liters of milk is used for each round of cheese, which is aged around nine months or more. As with other SW cheeses, Henri de La Ferté-Senneterre is a local from Auvergne famous for serving Salers to Louis XIV and finally giving them notoriety even though it has been produced for thousands of years. For visits.
Rocamadour – goat milk, AOC since 1996, familiar small round of cheese that is aged for 12-15 days. Should be white and soft on the inside. Named after the Lot Valley mountaintop village area where it is produced, Rocamadour (also worth a visit). Tours at one of the 90 farms can be made here.
Ossau Iraty – sheep milk, AOC since 1980, traditional cheese of Bearne and Pays Basque. Made during the late Spring and early Autumn months, 5-6 Liters of milk make one kilo of cheese. They are aged from 2 1/2 months up to even 12 months. The Pays Basque age in dry caves while the Bearne cheeses are in a more moist environment, even wrapped in moist cloth, which explains the difference in taste and look of the Ossau Iraty varieties. For visits, you can stop by Farm Gaec Hobiaguehere.
Explore the whole Pays Basque area which includes the production of the tiny pepper piment espellette, which was used as a black pepper alternative in the region, Bayonne with it’s important chocolate history, and the land of a very cute and small variety of horse, Pottoka.
Another cheese in this area, Kukuklu, is a goat cheese and you can do a self guided tour at the farm La Ferme Kukuluhere.
Laguiole – cow milk, AOC since 1961, takes its name from the same little town also famous for their knives, Laguiole. Considered to have a nutty/acidic flavor, from the Simmental or Aubrac cows milk only, aged six to 12 months and should have firm crust with a firm yet creamy center. This is used to make the famous ‘aligot‘ potatoes – a rich dish of cream, potato, butter and cheese. Visits at the Ferme des Claudels can be made here.
Bleu des Causses -cows milk, AOC since 1949, considered the mild variety of Roquefort. Aged from 3-6 months in North Aveyron and Causses’ natural limestone caves and perforated (like other blue cheeses) to allow for mold growth. Ferme Gazenas offers group visits here
Roquefort – sheep milk, AOC since 1925, 4.5 liters makes a 1 kilo of cheese. Named for the region it is produced, Charles the IV in 1411 grated the locals of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon the sole producers of the cheese. The mold, Penicillium roqueforti, is found inside the natural limestone caves where they are aged. Fromagerie Papillon is one of my favorite cheeses, visit the cellar here.
Fourne d’Ambert – cows milk, AOC since 1972, uses the same mold as Roquefort. Generally made with pasteurized milk, there is a small artisanal production which has started. La Ferme des Supeyres makes unpasteurized cheese and you can buy directly from them here. They are also included on the Route des Fromages AOP Auvergne.
On a sunny Saturday morning, we left earlier than usual by our typical family outing standards and drove south east for about two hours, avoiding toll roads as we could, to drive by sleepy villages along secondary ways.
Our first destination was the historical capital of Gascony, Auch, (French pronunciation: [oʃ]): it’s always been a joke reading the name on road signs, pretending getting hurt. The name stems from the Aquitaine peoples who once lived there, called Auchi.
To my great surprise, apart from the stunning blue sky of a perfect and unusually warm winter day, the city of Auch is lovely, a gem not so rare in the French south-west. It is only a brief detour from the Bordeaux-Toulouse axe, in the Gers department.
When we walked towards the center, the market (held Thursday and Saturday) was in its wrap-up phase. The Cathedral Sainte-Marie dominates the main square and the Auch Tourist Office is smartly placed by its side, in a 4-story building, whose top floor is used to look at the square from a higher point of view. It’s colorful and has indoor swings, a playground for visitors of all ages / 3 Place de la Republique, 32003 Auch City / +33 5 62 05 22 89
We walked out with a map with a suggested itinerary not to miss the most important sites and for our children were given tablets for them to participate in an interactive treasure hunt with a thematic reward at the end.
Auch Monumental staircase is imposing with its over 300 steps connecting the low city with the high one and it’s worth climbing. Along the steps there is a statue of Charles de Batz-Castelmore D’Artagnan (who was a famous musketeer for Louis XIV and was the inspiration for one of the three Muskateers characters) in nearby Château de Castelmore. There is also a bronze sculpture quoting passages from the Biblical Flood myth to commemorate the devastating floods of summer 1977.
Along the narrow and steep streets of the center there are nice timber-framed buildings, a house where Henry II spent a night, and The Musee des Jacobins (also known as Musee des Ameriques) hosting the second most important collection of pre-Colombian artefacts in France.
Before the end of the day, we drove an hour to spend the night in an Airbnb in Montauban, which is known for, among many other things, its reddish brick buildings, its rugby glory, and for briefly hiding Leonardo’s Mona Lisa during World War 2. We closed the day with a sunset walk across the Tarn River and a generous plate of local cassoulet – a local dish of beans and meats like pork sausage, pork belly and duck confit (there are many varieties), named after the dish it is baked in, the cassole. Mardi Michels (author ofIn The French Kitchen With Kids) has a great post on cooking the regional dish.
In the morning, we walked around discovering the Montaubon Cathedrale, the pretty national square and the gardens and the Ingres Museum which houses artwork of the Neoclassical painter, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres / 13 rue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville Montauban / +33 (0)5 63 22 12 91
The reason why we took this weekend road trip was for me to finally visit the Romanesque Abbey in Moissac which I had learnt about while visiting the Grande-Sauve Abbey, near Bordeaux.
We arrived Moissac on a foggy Sunday morning, drove around in circle a couple of times, in search for a parking as we didn’t know the market attracts hundreds of visitors and is very big considering the season.
We left the car along the canal that connects the Atlantic Ocean to Toulouse and goes on to become the Canal du Midi, till Sète on the Mediterranean Sea, and walked towards the center.
We ate in La Terrace du Cloitre the only restaurant we found open on a Sunday, by the entrance of the abbey, quickly enough to be at the guided tour of the early afternoon.
I like the tranquil atmosphere abbeys convey: the geometry of their corridors, the symmetry of the columns, the stubbornness of ruins still standing despite revolutions, wars and the simple passage of centuries. I like how the tradition of these places aimed at self-sufficiency and inner peace.
Moissac, as the cathedrals in Auch and Montauban, is part of the St. James Pilgrimage path (also known as Camino de Santiago), a UNESCO world heritage site for humanity since 1998.
Our guide to the abbey and nearby church, knew every brick, every column capital, every bas-relief and anticipated all our questions with information revealing what everyday life used to be like over the span of 14 centuries, since its creation around 650. 1-2 hour Guided tours are available on weekends November-March and daily April-October. Visiting hours vary by season, check website before arriving.
This is by far one of my favorite cities to visit and was so lucky to have been able to call it home before we made the decision to move to the Bordeaux region.
These are my suggestions for your visit in Barcelona, please feel free to message me for more suggestions or if you have any questions.
Arriving into Barcelona by train is simple, Barcelona Sants is centrally located and it is a nonstop six-hour trip from Paris for around 80 EURO each way (some deals for under 30 EURO can be found). From Bordeaux it will take just as long, if not more, and will require a transfer. Train bookings open up three months prior to date of departure.
Flights are equally simple and cheap, Vueling and Easyjetcan have nonstop flights as low as 20 EURO each way. Once you leave the airport, the AEROBUS can take you to Placa Catalonia starting at 6 EURO. Taxis are cheap in Barcelona as well and will run you around 20 EURO from the airport to town. UBER doesn’t exist, so you would want to download the local versions app Cabify.
Driving is another alternative which allows you to explore the beautiful Costa Brava coastline between France and Spain, as well as take side trips to Romain ruins at Empuries or theScala Dei vineyards of Priorat. Parking in Barcelona isn’t hard and there are plenty of parking decks starting around 18 EURO a day.
For the metro, buy a T-Casual ticket with ten trips for 11.35€ from any machine in the metro. Make sure you don’t bend it or keep it next to a magnet.
WHAT TO SEE :
As I am a food-centric person, you’ll have to excuse the fact that my trip primarily revolves around meals, markets and snacks! You have to take the time to visit at least a couple of markets. Each neighborhood of Barcelona has a market, at least one, and they are impressive. The quality and vast range of products will make anyone with a kitchen happy! Plus the prices, if you’re coming from France.
The Boqueria, on the Ramblas, is probably the most well known and visited market. There has been a market on these premises since the 1217, when the local farmers would pull up with their produce to sell. The current structure is from the mid 1800’s and is beautiful. I’m sad to say, however, that over the past decade the number of authentic stands (not dedicated to tourism) have waned dramatically. If you want to get a sense of what the market used to feel like, go early in the morning (aim for 8am) and after walking around, stop at one of the counters, order una cana (beer) and a plate bunyols (fried cod fritters). The fish section of the Boqueria is incredible, but due to high numbers of tourists the fish mongers will prefer if you refrain from taking photos.
If you want to visit a local market less frequented by tourists, try the Mercat Santa Caterinain La Ribera with it’s tiled roof of a pixelated image of fruit and vegetables, or head to the newly renovated Mercat de Sant Antoniin Poble Sec (great neighborhood for tapas hopping).
If the Ramblas is the Times Square of Barcelona, then El Born Neighborhood is the Brooklyn. It is a really fun, hip place to be with beautiful streets to wonder through, a chocolate museum and school and a covered market that has been turned into an archeological museum. Bar del Pla is perfect spot to grab lunch or dinner, with classic tapas but also creative additions in a traditional bodega setting / Carrer Montcada, num. 2, 08003, Barcelona / +34 932 683 003
The Gotico neighborhood is where a lot of shopping can be had and where the beautiful Cathedral Santa Cruz is located. During the Christmas season, a giant caga tio (excellent video by the late Anthony Bourdain) is placed in front and you can watch local children stand in line to beat the log…as we would line up to sit on santas lap. If you don’t know about the caganer or caga tio, watch this. It’s the most unique European Christmas tradition I’ve seen yet.
If olive oil is your thing, and this would be the traditional cooking fat of Spain, thenOroLiquido is a must. The owner, Ana, has an incredible selection of oils from all over Spain and Xavier (who also has his own olive oil farm BOOC) will be happy to take you through how to taste the different varieties / Carrer de la Palla 8, 08002, Barcelona / +34 933 022 980
There are plenty of great hotels in Barcelona, but the most important part is choosing the right neighborhood. Avoid Raval, as it is changing but you might also still find shady characters and goings on. The Gotico can be too crowded and while generally safe, is best avoided. The Ramblas, like Times Square, is an invitation for pickpockets as well as visitors. Airbnband VRBO are a great option in Barcelona, because the ability to use a kitchen and work with all the amazing products is a treat!
If you want quiet try the neighborhood of Sant Gervasi, near metro stops Muntaneer or Sant Gervasi, which is residential and completely dead on Saturday afternoon and Sunday, but is only a five minute metro ride into Placa Catalonia. The Mercure is clean, safe, offers parking, and has a great breakfast / Via Augusta 127HB003342, 8006, BARCELONA / +34 932 094 511
El Born will be lively at night with plenty of bars and clubs, so be aware of who your neighbor is to avoid loud music and yelling in the streets, which is the same to be said for Barceloneta (not great for distance from metro). Eixample is safe, residential, as is Poble Nou which is also close to the beach and much calmer. Escriba, a master of pastry in Barcelona, has a wonderful paella (not local, Valencian origins) and fiduea (Catalan version of paella) restaurant on the beach Xiringuito EscribaAvinguda Litoral, 62, 08005, Barcelona / +34 932 210 729
WHERE TO EAT :
This list is just a taste of what there is to be had in Barcelona. First lets talk cuisine. You’re in Barcelona, so Catalan and Molecular cuisine are king. Make reservations at any place listed, if possible.
While Barcelona is in Spain, their identity is Catalan which is a region reaching to the Pyrenees and South of Barcelona. The local language is Catalan, with many older people speaking French as a third language and the younger generation speaking English. There is fierce pride in their language and identity after decades under authoritarian regimes that tried to erase their language and culture. Catalan cuisine is unique in many ways, the influence between the border with France might be the biggest difference between their food and the rest of Spain. Their love of mar i muntanya (surf and turf) will be immediately noticeable. The five sauces you will find in nearly any traditional dish – romanesco, sofregit (sofrito), aioli, picada, and samfania – really characterize the dishes.
Classical Catalan at Freixa Tradicio was my favorite, but it has since closed (2018). Modern Catalan can be found in many places, but the two OG’s of bistrionomic cuisine in Barcelona would have to be Embat and Gresca.
GRESCA – modern Catalan restaurant with local ingredients and great technique (no molecular) and newer adjoining wine bar, think eggs and jamon Iberico with a twist / Daily for lunch and Monday-Friday for dinner / C/ Provenca 230, 08036, Barcelona / +34 934 516 193
Most people have heard of El Bulli, that institution and birth place of molecular gastronomy in the hills by Roses on the Costa Brava. Gourmet magazine referred to Adria as “the Salvador Dali of the kitchen“. Thanks to the Adria brothers, the look and feel of food has been forever changed. Ferran Adria is still active in the culinary world, many restaurants in Barcelona will say how he has come to their establishment to dine. However, the new head of the Adria empire is Albert with elBarri restaurants. From the circus-styled taperiaTickets to the modern take on Mexican at Hoja Santa, your senses are sure to be simultaneously tricked and pleased.
El Bulli produced not only impressive food, but incredible talent like Akreme Benallal whom I had the privilege of staging with in Paris years ago. The whole city of Barcelona is filled with restaurants that have chefs who either worked at or staged at El Bulli…from Disfrutar to Alkimia.
They may not be Catalan, but Spanish tapas are everywhere…alongside their Basque cousin, the pinxco. So, where to try them? Head to Poble Sec, one of the more up and coming neighborhoods that has transformed immensely in the last five years.
A great place to start, is Els Sortidors del Parlament will have barrel tables near the front and long wooden tables in the back serving up typical Xarcuteria plates and formatges, little bowls of local Arebequina olives and pa amb tomaquet (bread with tomato). Take a glass of the house vermut or local beer and take in the locals laid back ambrience / Carrer del Parlament, 53, 08015, Barcelona / +34 934 411 602
Afterwards, if you can get in, try Quimet y Quimet if only for their smoked salmon and truffled honey. Then head toCarrer del Blaiand grab a little of everything…the street is filled with spots for tapas.
Further afield is another favorite, Lolita (currently closed until March 2020). The friend eggplant and molasses, tiny goat ribs, beans and truffle and their own version of the Quimet y Quimet classic / c/ Tamarit, 104, Local 2-4, 08015, Barcelona / +34 934 245 231
If you want more restaurant recommendations, please send me a message with the dates you’re going and budget.
When we lived in Barcelona we would often take visitors to the beautiful old bullring, La Monumental, which had been disused since the region of Catalonia banned bullfighting in 2010. A small museum shows the costumes of some of the matadors and the heads of a few prized animals. The gift shop has old posters and figurines. After nearly 100 years in use for the corrida, it is now used as a site for food truck and music events.
During tours of La Boqueria (old covered market in Barcelona), I would mention how years ago you could find bull meat after a fight. It was considered a delicacy, although the meat itself was tough and needed stewing for hours if not days. There are still some restaurants serving bull meat, but it’s a rare occurrence. One might be able to argue that in this case, the death of an animal was not in vain.*
Bullrings are found in only 10% of French territory and mainly in the South of France. In Captieux, about 20 minutes from Bazas, there is a small bullring used in the amateur bullfighting circuit every year for the Rugby y Toros. Some big names have passed through this arena, like El Juli, while others started here on their way to matador stardom.
They still use this ring – and it’s brutal. A lot of missed and failed attempts to quickly down the bull occurred during my short time there. The horses, covered in thick quilted blankets were charged. Here, in the end, the animal is not used for human consumption. A man I spoke with argued the meat is too tough and not worth it. There was a journalist next to me and we both kept looking around at the people cheering, some as young as five years old.
Cultural differences and traditions aside, I’m actually incredibly surprised that the French government still allows this to happen anywhere. There are alternatives where animals are not hurt, which embrace the corrida and are equal part arts and athleticism, like the Basque Countryrecortadores.
Invisible Bordeaux wrote an article on the local Bordeaux bullrings, if you want to read here. For more information on the anti-bullfight movement in France, read here.
*I only mention this to show what could be the natural progression for an animals life in such circumstances, not to simplify what is an incredibly delicate discussion (all that to say, I am against bull fighting).
EVENT : February 20th, 2020 – The Fete des Boeufs Gras is in its 737th year and has been held in very much the same was as since medieval times. The date moves from year to year but is always held the Thursday before Carnival, Fat Thursday. Bazas, normally under 5,000 inhabitants, swells to accommodate over 20,000 visitors.
This Fete was a response to the demand in the 13th century that all butchers should give the clergy a bull for the Fete de Saint Jean in June. The compensation was that the farmers of Bazadais cattle could choose their best representative of the breed, place large wreaths and crowns of flowers on them and bring the animal into town to the delight of many admiring onlookers in February. The element of ‘competition’ for the best cattle is a later addition, but which is still held towards the end of the afternoon.
Throughout the day there are parades, traditional Landaise dancing with men sporting the large stilts of the sheep herding men before the Landes Forest was planted (great article here).
By the afternoon, the cattle are all lined up in the center of town on display for the crowds to admire before heading to their final destination. There is a large sign in town that will show the name of the animal and where it will ultimately end up, be it a butcher or super market. A little bit of reality shed on an otherwise happy event.
Then the dancing continues, the wine flows, and there is eventually a concert and dinner in the local community hall (reservation required).
FOOD : The streets will smell of grilled meat with every local restaurant and organization selling their own version of fat cow…from steaks with roasted vegetables to sandwiches with shallots. If you want a table at a restaurant, book now as they are all offering special menus for the day and go fast (Caro&Co, Le Boeuf Pop!, Le Maquignon, Indigo, Hugo Delices and Le Bistro Saint Jean, to name a few). Prices are usually between 35-50 EURO for a three course meal.
BUTCHERS :If you want to take some Bazadais home, there are butchers all over town who will have the breed, Bazadais, or local cows, Boeuf de Bazas. If you see the label Boeuf de Bazas, you might be getting Bazadais…or maybe Blonde d’Aquitaine or another breed which was born and raised in the Bazadais region.
TOURS : Aquitaine Travel Guide will be offering 2hr tours in English of the city and the Bazadais, with a tasting of local food and wine after. Please call us at +33 (0)6 33 91 37 90 or email to book your place, tours are 10 EURO per adult (cash only), with kids under 10 years of age free. Meeting point is the Hotel le Rodin / 1 Allee Saint Sauveur, 33430 BAZAS
February the 19th at 3pm
February the 20th at 930am and 1030am
For morning visits in French, please contact the local tourism office located in the town square.
ACCESS : Bazas is not accessible by train and there are very limited buses from the Langon Gare, which are either very early in the morning or will not get you in until after lunch.
Parking is not available in the center of town during this event. Arrive early to get the best places, you’ll likely need about 10 minutes walk to get into the center of town, but it’s an easy walk.
It is not recommended to bring your dogs as the crowds are tight and they can overwhelm the cattle.