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.
This region is famous for wine production, so when Charles DELALAND opened up his Brasserie Distillerie Cabestan he wasn’t very worried about the competition or fitting in with the local vintners in Saint-Croix-du-Mont. The brewery is tucked into the center of town, almost hidden behind a tall gate that from behind looks out over the Garonne valley and onto the vineyards of Sauternes in the distance. It’s an incredibly scenic and inviting atmosphere for summer evenings.
Charles started working for a brewery in Seine-et-Marne before coming down to this region to begin his own brewery. This is a one man show using barley (orge) and making ales (beers made with a high fermentation level of 18C-23C). He is an excellent teacher, which I noticed from the beginning, so it wasn’t surprising to hear that he offers beer making classes (in French) on Saturday afternoons (book here) and beer tasting ateliers.
It was interesting to hear how the smaller, independent breweries will bottle their beers while they still have no bubbles but with the addition of sugar these beers ferment one last time in the bottle (much like champagne). This gives the beer a finer and more delicate bubble.
There is a reason for the ‘distillery’ in the name. With the small leftover materials from the beer making, Charles has started to distill a 40% alcohol called ‘Esprit de Biere‘. The past year he made 100 bottles that have already sold. I guess you could compare the taste it to a smooth grappa, it really didn’t have the horrible bite some stronger alcohols do. It’s a beautiful bottle as well.
Finally, in partnership with Sandrine GONDOLO, he has a ‘Confit de Biere Ambree‘ made which has a flavor much like a quince which can be used with fois gras, cheese or in similar styles to the classic Sauternes confit.
If you are looking for something a bit different from the standard vineyard visit but equally interesting and tasty, take a detour to Saint-Croix-du-Mont or book one of the classes on offer with Charles…or come to Le BoeufPop! in Bazas and taste his beers on tap!
There are so many lovely towns to visit within an hour of Bordeaux. One of the most authentic and unspoiled French countryside towns might be Bazas. Its arcaded town square, beautiful Saturday morning markets and unique festivals are only a few of the reasons to visit. Come for a taste of what French life was, and has been, for centuries.
Lovely Spring Morning on Cathedral Square
How to Get There:
The closest airport is BordeauxBOD which is serviced by AirFrance, Vueling, Easyjet, RyanAir and Volotea among others. A bus can take you to Bordeaux Saint-Jean Gare for 8 EURO one way and departs every 30 minutes and tickets can be purchased online, inadvance with http://www.30direct.com.
The closest train station is Langon (Nouvelle-Aquitaine) which has regular service from Bordeaux Saint-Jean Gare. The round-trip fare is around 18 EURO for adults. There are car rental companies within walking distance to the train station.
There is limited bus service which makes arriving by car the only way to visit Bazas and is the main reason it has retained its authentic French countryside charm.
What to See : There are tours of Bazas village, Saint-Jean the Baptiste Cathedral, the ancient hospital apothecary, summer underground visits and even theatricla tours for children through the Bazadais Tourism Office, in French. There is a small archeological museum underneath the mairie which can be visited during high season on Thursday or Saturday, or with a guided tour. This traces the growth of the village and area from prehistoric times, with displayed artifacts collected over the centuries of habitation. Hours vary depending on season / +33 5 56 25 25 84 / Place de la Cathedrale, 33430 Bazas
The Cathedral and town itself is considered a UNESCO heritage site due to its placement on the Saint-Jacques Compostelle Trail. The building suffered through the Protestant Reformation and the French Revolution, with many of it’s riches stolen or destroyed. One can still appreciate its significance by strolling through the aisles or by watching one of the local concerts from the pews.
For a bit of nature, take a walk along La Breche, a path along the outside wall of the cathedral with a pastural view of the town. Or, rent a bike with Les Cycles du Bazadais to tour the town and surrounding area as there are plenty of bike paths. Half day starting at 10 EURO / +33 (0)5 56 25 48 26 / 5 allées St Sauveur, 33430 BAZAS
Private tours of the town and food tours visiting the local farms can be booked through Aquitaine Travel Guide, contact directly for pricing and times / email@example.com / +33 (0)6 33 91 37 90
Chateau Cazeneuve 15 minutes drive from Bazas, in Cazeneuve, this chateau was started in the 13th century. The residence of Henri IV and Queen Margot has amazing gardens on its grounds for picnics and an enchanting walk to the queens grotto. Tours in French only / 11,50 EURO adults / check website for hours / +33 (0)5 56 25 48 16
Chateau Roquetaillade 15 minutes drive from Bazas, in Mazeres, is a chateau started during the 100 years war with a rather unique style. They also have a beautiful heard of Bazadais on their property and a farming museum (open in summer). Tours in French or English on demand / 9.50 EURO adults / Winter hours are Sunday only with more tours during high season / +33 (0)5 56 76 14 16
Queens Grotto at Cazeneuve
Where to Stay : While Bazas works as a day-trip from Bordeaux, there is plenty to see and it’s worth an overnight stay.
Le Sorbet, is a bed and breakfast in the hills just 5min walk to Bazas. Their stunning French countryside bedroom with balconied bathroom is a relaxing countryside escape with a garden view over the cathedral. 90 EURO for double occupancy / +33 (0)6 32 31 74 64 / 3 Sorbet, 33430 Bazas
Le Clos de la Cathedrale opened in 2019, the larger bed and breakfast has elegant rooms in an old mansion with garden, in the center of town near the cathedral. 86 EURO for double occupancy with breakfast / Book online / 9 Rue de la Taillade, 33430 Bazas
Domaine de Fompeyre*** is a larger hotel, about 15 minutes walk into town, with a great view of Bazas and covered, heated pool. They also have a restaurant and substantial parking. Rooms start around 70 EURO a night for double occupancy / +33 (0)5 56 25 98 00 / firstname.lastname@example.org / Route de Mont de Marsan, 33430 Bazas
No matter where you eat, you’ll want to try some Boeuf Bazadais! (pictured at Caro&Co)
What to Eat : There are a great selection of restaurants for this small town, all with their own unique charm and great lunch menus. However, don’t miss this opportunity to taste some of the Boeuf Bazadais*.
Boeuf Pop!offers up a great burger with fois gras and works with local farmers to serve locally sourced meats and cheeses with lunches under 30 EURO. Ask for a terrace seat in summer. Reservations recommended by calling / +33 (0)9 83 72 28 28 / 30 Place de la Cathedrale, 33430 Bazas
Caro&Co works with local farmers and has a light touch with their food, incorporating a lot of seasonal vegetables and beautiful plating and a lunch menu around 18 EURO. Nice garden area for dining in summer. Reservations recommended by calling / +33 (0)5 56 65 24 58 / 38 Place de la Cathedrale, 33430 Bazas
Hugo Delices does classical French and some international plates with a French touch and lunch menus at 16 EURO. Small, so request indoor dining in winter. Reservations recommended by calling / +33 5 56 25 54 34 / 23 Place de la Cathedrale, 33430 Bazas
Indigo has great classics like sweetbreads with truffle sauce but also incorporates hints of SE Asia in many dishes and lunch menu at 16 EURO. Nice for date night. Reservations can be made with LaFourchette well in advance / +33 (0)5 56 25 25 52 / 25 Rue Fondespan, 33430 Bazas
Le Maquignon has an open grill to sear your Bazadais steak to perfection, a cold buffet and a lunch menu at 14 EURO. Good for groups and they have a covered terrace out back for summer months. +33 (0)5 56 65 58 73 / 4 Cours du Marechal Foch, 33430 Bazas
La Breche Antiques Hunting
Where to Shop : Not all the shopping is found on the pedestrian street of Rue Fondespan and antiques lovers will want to come Saturday when all of the antiques stores are open.
Antiques of all varieties and pricing can be found in Bazas. The charming Jean-Luc Creiche on 8 Rue Bragous has a collection of tableware, light fixtures and furnishings of all price ranges and will search for whatever you need. Un Air de Curiosities specializes in fine French countryside antiques in a romantic shop under the arcades at 43 Place de la Cathedrale. When you look to the Cathedral, notice a small road leading to the right called Rue Theophile Servieres and you will discover Antiquites La Breche which is like going into your grandmothers garage and realizing she collected unique antiques during her travels.
Fine foods and fresh produce can be found at the idyllic green grocer Serge Baradat on Rue Fondespan who sells fois gras products from Palmagri in nearby Auros. The Concerverie Lamigeon under the arcades at 26 Place de la Cathedrale has been making excellent pate since the 1940s, like porc pate with Sauternes wine and pate of boar or deer.
If you are looking for a nice memento of your visit in Bazas, look no further than the Bazas Tourism Office with mugs, aprons, books and other items for sale. The tableware and cavisteTradition, on Rue Fondespan, has charming plates with the Bazadais cattle or palombes on them to take home, amongst other specialties.
When to Visit : Outside of festivals the town is great to visit most days, except Monday when everything tends to be closed. Oddly, for a small town, on Sunday mornings and early afternoon there are shops and restaurants open. Saturday, however, might be the most charming day to come and enjoy the market, shops and dining. During festivals and market days, the parking in the main square is closed. Try finding a spot on Avenue Anatole de Monzie (near the rugby stadium) and take the 5 minute walk into town.
Fete de Boeuf Gras 2019
20 February, 2020 – for the Boeuf Gras Festival, get there early as this town of 5,000 people swells to 20,000 to celebrate epiphany and the cattle bearing their name. Bazadais cattle were originally brought over by the Moors during the 400AD invasion. A smaller breed, they were used for pulling carts and work but in 1980’s were brought back from near extinction and have found their place as one of the finest beef products for their marbled, fatty flesh. Bazadais have been celebrated since 1283 with parades, demonstrations and stands serving any style of beef. Restaurants also have special menus this day, but you’ll need to book at least two weeks in advance.
24 June 2020 – Festival of Saint Jean, to coincide around the summer solstice, is an evening parade (arrive early for a good view) and fire spectacle with people jumping through bonfires by the end. The entire town turns into outdoor bars, live music and restauration during multiple days. It can get messy in the late hours but the day time is fun, there is even a carnival for the kids by the library.
TBA September/October 2020 – Fete de la Palombe, a celebration of the hunting season. Specifically, the wild pigeons. Come learn about this unique hunting method and hear bird calling coemptions, witness the blessing of the pigeons in the cathedral, horn concerts and meet the brotherhoods celebrating the palombe and other regional delicacies.
Fete de Saint Jean
*Restaurants in alphabetical order and not exhaustive. Boeuf Bazadais represents a race and could have been raised and slaughtered anywhere in the country. If the restaurant is serving Boeuf de Bazas, this is an animal raised and slaughtered in the area but could be a Blonde d’Aquitaine, Bazadais or other race.
If you have ever been to the Alps, you cannot compare the skiing available nearby in the Pyrenees (try going to Andorra in that case). Within three hours from Bordeaux (or Bazas) you can get a wintery experience at either of these nearby locations.*
Charcuterie for two, with fondue
Piou Piou ESF
Gourette : A small, low altitude, affordable, family ski village created in the 1960’s with a good selection of trails
The instructors are really great with kids and introduction lessons for 3-4 year old kids with Ecole du Ski Francais start at 61 EURO for 2×2 hour courses during the weekend. An adult ski pass costs 37.50 EURO for the day. Secured parking is also very reasonable. Adult ski rental equipment from SkiSet starts at 18 EURO a day (13.50 if booked in advance online).
The restaurant selection is OK, you can get cheese fondue with morelles at La Quebotte if you book in advance. Lots of garbure (traditional Gasconne soup) and even palombe are on offer, depending where you dine. There is the Maison Casaux, a cute coffee shop with patisserie, decorated in skiing antiques and mountain bric-a-brac.
There didn’t seem to be an particular hotel but lots of apartment rentals and chalets. There are groceries, cheese shops, bakery and a butcher by foot.
The bad – Outside of skiing, there is not much to do.
Saint Lary Soulan : A charming mountain village with slopes for families and experienced skiers, spas and thermal indoor pools.
The good +Saint Lary and its 58 pistes has a snow park and toboggan run, but so much more…so it’s a great place to go if you have people in your group who don’t want to ski.
There are lessons with ESF for beginners under 5 years, starting at 36 EURO for one 2-hour lesson. Ski passes can be booked online and start at 44 EURO for an adult day pass. Most hotels have free parking and there is plenty on the street as well.
The main town of Saint Lary has a good selection of shops and little stores to buy the gateau a la broche – a delicious cookie/cake that is cooked over an open fire and resembles a pine tree. There is a great selection of restaurants serving everything from galettes to local beef, even wine bars for socializing like Le Balthazar.
My favorite place to stay in the town is the Mercure Sensoria, they have a NUXE spa and decent restaurant attached, lovely lounge area with fire place for after skiing and are just at the bottom of the tele-cabin to the slopes. They are great with kids and offer a small play area with PlayStation and sitting area to read their books. Prices can be as low as 200 EURO a night for a family, but go up in season and tend to book fast. They also offer a pool and play area with thermal spa waters, which is also available to the public.
The bad – It is more expensive than Gourette for the basics and most everything is in the village if you don’t want to ski.