La Makila, Basque Walking Stick

By Simona Palenga

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).

Visiting Bazas

UPDATED Jan 2020

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.

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Lovely Spring Morning on Cathedral Square

How to Get There:

The closest airport is Bordeaux BOD 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.

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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 / aquitaineguide@gmail.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

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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 / reservation@domaine-de-fompeyre.com / Route de Mont de Marsan, 33430 Bazas 

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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

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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 caviste Tradition, 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.

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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 2020Festival 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 2020Fete 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.

Saint Jean Festival

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.

France Culinary Tour May 2019

All-inclusive, six nights and seven days in the culinary capital of the world with Anne Jordan from May 6-May 12, 2019! Want to read more about your guide? Click About ATG

We will spend three days in Paris and four days in Bordeaux exploring the idyllic French countryside and seeing some of the ‘real’ France. If you love the Farm-to-Table movement, this trip is for you! All hotels, meals, visits, and transportation is included in the price.*

Paris is a must-see on many visitors lists, as the magical Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum and River Seine are a dream! This tour will include stops at all of these locations, but will also include visits to incredible Michelin restaurants and markets, bakeries and cheese shops. Some highlights are :

Rungis – the largest wholesale food market in the world with warehouses full of fruit, vegetable, cheese, fish and meat

Marche des Enfants Rouge – the oldest, continually running food market in Paris with unique food stalls to enjoy lunch before exploring the Marais quarter

Michelin Restaurants – Dine daily at a Michelin starred restaurant, past visits have included La Tour Argent, Le Clarence, Dominique Bouchet and L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon

Bordeaux, known worldwide for its top red wines and as a major historical port of call, this city has recently enjoyed a renaissance with tourists with the newly opened Cite du Vin. The city is charming and full Michelin meals but is also surrounded by some of the top producers of fine edible (and drinkable!) products.

Ferrandi-BEST – One of the top culinary schools in France, see where the top chefs are trained and enjoy a gourmet lunch made by the students

Local farmers and producers – From fois gras to caviar, lamprey eels to oyster cultivation…and of course some of the beautiful vineyards producing fine French wines

Don’t worry, there will be plenty of ‘down’ time to enjoy time to yourself and explore on your own or to arrange private side tours based on your interests.

Price is 4,679 USD per person, based on double occupancy in three-star hotels. Should you desire four-star hotels, please add 700 USD per person for double occupancy. 400 USD deposit is due at time of booking and is non-refundable unless the 10 guest minimum is not met by March 31, 2019. 

*Prices do not include airfare, health insurance or spending money. Exact tour description may change based on availability and size of the group. Please be available to meet in Paris by 11am on May 6 and be available throughout the day of May 12.

Contact aquitaineguide@gmail.com for more information or to schedule a meeting one-on-one, via FaceTime, Skype or in person in Winston-Salem, NC.

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Water to Cool Off During the Gironde Summer

 

If the end of June is any indicator, this summer is going to be a hot one! Here are some of our favorite places to swim during these sweltering days (click name for maps and links in articles for more information) Lather on the sunblock before heading out! :

Arcachon – About 45 minutes from Bordeaux, although traffic in high season and on weekends can double that. Parking happens to be free on Wednesdays, but it’s a great place to go any day of the week. Arrive early in the day (Place de Verdun is a quick and easy walk to the many beaches). Bring your beach umbrella and pack a picnic, or have lunch at any number of the restaurants in town. Most restaurants do not have the best hot meals, but a fresh seafood platter with local oysters and shrimp will certainly hit the spot! Dogs are not allowed so best to leave them at home.

Bazas – Should you find yourself in the SE of Gironde, this charming town with UNESCO protected cathedral, arcaded town square and many wonderful chef-owned restaurants specializing in regional cuisine with local products, is well worth a visit. Plus, the newly opened public pool with its large water slide is a hit with the kids! There are also two kiddie pools, one for the under three and one with waist-high water for older kids. Two euro fee for adults and kids under five are free. Hours in July and August are 1100-1300 / 1500-1900 with closure on Sunday. Small snack bar with drinks and ice cream, lockers require a one euro coin.

BiscarrosseLow lying lake water that is only up to your knees, which is great for small children as you don’t need to worry about waves and tides. This area is popular with families and has areas for your furry friends as well. Pack a picnic and be prepared to look for parking in high season, but at least it’s free! There are water sports and there is plenty of camping available nearby and hotels.

Cap Ferret – only a 30-minute ferry ride from Arcachon (although you can access from the North by car) you will want to rent or bring a bicycle with you to get to the quietest beaches. Off season is great and you can almost have the whole beach to yourself outside of July and August. There are infinite oyster shacks to have a lunch with a view of the Bassin. Ferries hours may vary, so be sure to check, but generally are on the hour from Arcachon, and on the half hour back (with a pause between 1200-1400). No need to book ferries in advance as you should find places even at the height of the season. Tickets are 15 euro round trip and leave from the Jetee Thieres in Arcachon.

Casteljeloux – Famous for its spas and thermal water, this town just outside of Gironde in Lot-et-Garonne has the Lac de Clarens, a man-made lake. With sandy shores to build sand castles, boat rentals, golfing and a casino (!). Not a lot of shade, so you’ll want to bring an umbrella but there is a restaurant and you can picnic. Outside of season, it is free, however, during July-August, there is a fee of 2.50 for adults.

Hostens – Close to Louchat and Le Barp, Lac de Lamothe is another man-made lake with paddle boat rentals, hiking trails, camping and a snack bar with panini, ice creams and drinks. Lots of shade from the pine trees on the outer edge, but bring your umbrella if you want to be closer to the water. Free entrance and parking with space for dogs offseason.

Lac d’Espiet is an old quarry with beautiful, clear water about 20 minutes from Saint Emilion. They also have a lakeside restaurant, water sports, and kids water recreation area. There is sand on the shore, but some parts are a bit rocky in the water so water shoes might be nicer to those with delicate feet. Some shade is available from the nearby pines and there isn’t too much space to set up an umbrella. Adults are five euro entrance, kids under 3 free. Parking is free, but you are not allowed to bring a picnic (I have seen people kicked out for bringing food in, however…). Dogs are not welcome on bathing beaches.

 

 

 

Saint Emilion

SAINT EMILION

As an American, one of the best-known wines in the Bordeaux region are the reds of Saint Emilion. Honestly, once you are in the Bordeaux region it seems funny that we should be so aware of these reds, seeing they are generally from small, family-owned vineyards and produced in minute quantities compared to those of Medoc (for example). The drive is easy and beautiful from Bordeaux and it’s worth arriving by car so that you can take advantage of the visits available at the many chateaus nearby.

There are times of year one might wish to avoid visiting, say the month of January when everything is closed…or the height of tourist season in July and August when the town is swarming. However, even in the month of February when restaurants and cavists are only just reopening, you will find plenty to see and do without crowds.

Saint Emilion is a stunning village with the UNESCO heritage denotation, which feeds its notoriety. It is small, easy to walk around in a day (without heels) and charming. The winding, cobbled streets, only add to the allure. Once named Ausonius, the name changed to Saint Emilion after the saint decided to call it home for a good portion of his life. If there is one tour you should take, outside of the vineyards, it’s the monolithic church tour which takes about an hour and costs 9 euro. You will learn a great deal of history, architecture, and folklore.

What is tricky about most wines in the Bordeaux region is that they vary in taste from house to house, based on differential grape blends, materials used during aging, and the very unique distinction of terroir (environmental factors such as soil and climate). Around Saint Emilion you find lots of gravel, sand, limestone, and clay which can add different mineral or earthiness to the grapes.  Merlot is the main grape variety, but you will see the subtle richness this grape gives to local wines versus the typical Australian or American wine.

If you can, take a hotel and enjoy tasting the many wines and discussing the viniculture with the shopkeepers. Many shops are owned by a certain chateau and are great at promoting their wines, but are equally keen on helping you discover your own favorite. My recent visit brought me to Australian cavist Craig Stanford of Bordeaux Classique who introduced us to the 2012 Tour de Seme from Chateau Milens. This was a great example of what I find to be the perfect, classic, light and red-fruity wine from the Saint Emilion AOC.

Besides wine, Saint Emilion is also famous for their light, airy macaron cookies (not to be confused with the Bordelaise macaron which is the classic, colorful ‘sandwich’ filled with jams or creams). The local version is generally sold attached to a piece of paper, with the original recipe from the 17th century being used at Macarons Ferlion. You can read more about the history of the Saint Emilion macaron on the Eat Live Write Travel Blog.

Restaurants can be a little hard; worrying about bad food might be on the back of your mind. In general, the food will be good, no matter where you eat. Many of the finer (Michelin) restaurants will require a deposit to avoid no-shows. If you have allergies or aversions, please let the restaurants know in advance. Feel free to contact me for recommendations.

GUIDE

VISIT

Monolitic Church – impressive crypts, chapel and early Christian church built into the limestone with a visit to the hermitage of Saint Emilion. One hour, only in French (save for the summer tours) but they do offer a paper handout in English to help you through the visit – http://www.saint-emilion-tourisme.com/uk/3-what-to-do/20-underground/438-underground-saint-emilion.html – Hours vary; buy your tickets at the Saint Emilion tourist office who can also give you a list of the chateau open that day for visits.

Bordeaux Classique Wine Shop – filled with Bordeaux wines of all budgets, and other French wines. Friendly, English speaking cavists, worldwide shipping and degustations available – http://www.bordeaux-classique.com/ – Open 9am – 8pm every day – 15, rue de la Porte Bouqueyre – Phone +33 (0)5 57 74 49 49 or email bordeauxclassique@bordeauxclassique.com

 Macarons Ferlion – small confectionery selling ‘the original’ Saint Emilion macarons – http://www.macarons-saint-emilion.fr/Accueil.html  – Open (hours vary slightly by season) every day from 8am – 730pm – Phone +33 (0)5 57 24 72 33 and email contact@macarons-saint-emilion.com

Sauternes

SAUTERNES

Of all the local towns, the one my daughter knows best, is Sauternes. It’s not for the wine, but for their swing set in the playground (we don’t have swings here in Bazas).

Sauternes is one of my favorite little villages as well.  It’s rather idyllic with well maintained, provincial homes and rows of lovely grapevines streaming the slight hills, changing color with the seasons. There are great restaurants and a wonderful wine collective called the Maison du Sauternes where you can go a sample almost any version of the sweet Sauternes that was ever made for free (Chateau Y’quem is one exception, however it also costs around 70 euro to visit the chateau so no big surprise!).

You need not spend more than an hour walking around the town, but you could easily spend a morning here, visiting the chateau nearby (Chateau Filot is right next door, with its charming owner and decadent wines you can taste in the chai), perusing the book of wine at the Maison du Sauternes and then a classic, rich Southwestern lunch of duck breast and fois gras at the Auberge les Vignes.

If you’re lucky enough to be here in the autumn, you might just get to see the ‘noble rot’ which makes these wines so sweet and unique. It is a fungus that grows on the grapes due to the humidity and micro-climate created by the lands location between the Ciron and Garonne Rivers. The grapes shrivel and the juices condense, making them sweeter. The incredible guide (who speaks perfect English) at Château Clos Haut-Peyraguey gave a wonderful tour where we were able to sample the shriveled Semillon grapes (if you like!).

There is also a local tourism office just across the street from Le Saprien if you want to get advice on what else to see in the area. Always keep an eye out for events like the Portes Ouverts where the chateau offer tastes of their new vintages with arts, food and music or the Fete du Vin de Sauternes held in late May/early June every year.

GUIDE 

SEE

Maison du Sauterneshttp://www.maisondusauternes.com/ – great place to get information on all of the local wines, degustation and visits for local vineyards – hours vary by season so be sure to check their website – open 7/7 from 9am-7pm (summer) – Phone +33 (0)5 56 76 69 83 or email contact@maisondusauternes.com

Visit any of the amazing chateau around Sauternes by asking at Maison du Sauternes, calling the individual chateau or using any of the available websites listing wineries. Most chateau are free, or request a nominal fee for a visit plus tasting. Some of my favorites are mentioned in the blog.

 

RESTAURANTS

Auberge les Vignes https://www.aubergelesvignes.fr/le-restaurant/ –  great service, kid friendly, great value with local products and local clientele, nice fireplace in winter. 23 Rue Principale – open Tuesday-Sunday (lunch only) – Reserve via phone +33 (0)5 56 76 60 06 or email aubergelesvignes@orange.fr

Le Saprienhttp://www.restaurant-le-saprien.fr/ – best in warm weather when you can sit on the terrace and look at the vines, can have an uppity vibe, with good value set-lunch menu. 14 Rue Principale – open Tuesday-Sunday (lunch only) – Reserve via http://www.lafourchette.com or click link on website. +33 (0)5 56 76 60 87.

Chateau Trillonhttp://chateau-trillon.fr/z/index.php – little outside of central Sauternes, friendly service with family style food, good value. Chateau Trillon Cap Lanne – open – Reserve via phone +33 (0)6 84 79 22 71 or email contact@chateau-trillon.fr