Beyond Bordeaux: Arcachon Bay, Blaye, and Saint Émilion

As I travel, my travel evolves. Now when I visit a big city I would also try to visit its surrounding. It was difficult to decide where around Bordeaux that I wanted to visit the most in four days. As the largest wine producing region in France, I was tempted to visit all the big names like Médoc, Margaux, Bourg, Saint Émilion, etc; but of course it was impossible and too pretentious. At the end I found three perfect places to visit: Arcachon bay, Blaye, and Saint Émilion.

Arcachon bay

The city of Arcachon is where the bourgeoise Bordelais have their second house. It is located at the bay of the Atlantic ocean. To get there I took the regional train for about 40mins. The thing that popped right up in Arcachon was the four season village (http://www.ville-arcachon.fr/la_ville_des_4_saisons.html). The houses are divided into four regions each represent a season: spring, sulllmmer, autumn, and winter. There were no real distinction (from my point of view) between these houses. It was perhaps only a way to separate the district inside the city.

A nice viewing place can be found in Parc Mauresque located in the winter village (ville d’hiver) that had view to the city and the ocean.

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View to Arcachon from Parc Mauresque

From Arcachon I took the line 1 bus to go the great dune of Pyla. Dune du Pyla is the highest natural sand dune in Europe. At 60km from Bordeaux, the dune reaches 107m height. A stairs was available, but I went for a real sand walk challenge. I tied up my shoes on my bag and climbed with my bare feet to avoid any sand inside my shoes.

Walking at the top of the dune was amazing. With the ocean cost at my right and a forestière view at my left, the wind that brought sands piercing into my skin, it was ae in a life time sensation.

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At the top of the dune of Pyla

I then went down the the ocean coast and walked back to the Pyla-sur-mer beach before taking back the bus to Arcachon. Along Pyla-sur-mer, the sun was shining brightly. I took turn walking on the beach and on the housing area. Alot of houses were empty since the owner didn’t live there for sure.

Back to Arcachon I visited the beach. The beach was way crowded than back in Pyla-sur-mer. The sand was hot but the water was pretty cold, which didn’t hold the Bordelais back from swimming.

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At Arcachon beach

The Arcachon bay is also the place to taste oysters. It’s where they farm and harvest the freshest oysters of the region. Just two stations from Arcachon, the oyster farm caan be visited, but unfortunately I didn’t have time. After spending all day in Arcachon I took the train back to Bordeaux. Surprise surprise the train was full, I was lucky to sit on the stairs.

Blaye

The only reason of my visit to Blaye was for the citadelle that was designed and built by french famous engineer, Vauban. This citadel is one of the ten Vauban citadels spread all over French border used to protect a city or the country. I have only visited this and the other one in Besançon.

The citadel in Blaye is in the complex of the Estuary of Gironde that includes the citadel of Blaye, fort Pâté and fort Médoc. In 17th century, Louis XIV asked Vauban to improve the existent citadel to protect Bordeaux. Vauban examined the city and decided to move the population outside, destroyed all the houses and built the strengthened citadel. The comprehension of the estuary came to me when standing on the citadel and looking to the for Pâté and fort Médoc direction.

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Citadelle de Blaye

While I was there, a marathon was happening and so most of the part of the citadel was covered for the event. I could still visit the inside and went to the history and estuary museum. This museum was a prison that was turned into a bakery during the war period.

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Where’s Wally? French like to disguise – at all events

Visiting Blaye gave me another perspective of the people in the region. Different from Bordeaux or Arcachon or Saint Émilion, where the bourgeois attitude radiated, the people in Blaye had real small city attitude. Some people came to Bordeaux, got off the bus at a commercial center close to Blaye (which had McD and one big supermarket really), then got back to the bus to Bordeaux. So yes, people in the region is not always bourgeois.

Saint Emilion

This was my favorite visit in the region. I am not a wine connaiseur but Saint Émilion wine was one that I have a fond memory of. With the rail work, I couldn’t go directly there by train. I took the bus from Bordeaux to Libourne then continued by train to St. Émilion. The juridiction of St Émilion is listed in the UNESCO world heritage. The mediavale village of Saint Émilion is surrounded by wineyards on its 360degree border.

From the train station I walked for about 1,5km before entered the village. Be careful with the misleading map for the center of the city, where the tourism office located is the highest point. People come to Saint Émilion for two reasons: wine and history; although most came for the former.

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Different size of wine

The history of the village about the hermit of St Émilion was fascinating. The hermit of Saint Émilion lived in this village after abandoning his secular life, and stayed in a cave with only a fresh water source. The cave is situated just below the monolithic church and can only be visited with the guided visit proposed by the tourism ofice.

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The hermitage cave and the monolithic church

The visit also entered the monolithic church which is a church that was built from a single stone. Yes, it was magnificent that this huge immense church was crafted from only a single stone. Apart from its wine, St Émilion was also a producer of limestone of the region. This beautiful white stone dominate the construction materials of the region including in Bordeaux. With the water penetrated the porous limestone and weakened it, some reinforced stell were put inside the monolithic church to avoid damage.

Roaming around the city, guided visits to the wine storage to the cave were proposed by different château. In this context, château refers to a domain of wineyard that is large enough to provide a unique taste of the grapes for making wine. Two free visits were available in the village but without no explanation. Wine boutiques and cellars were everywhere in the village and some proposed free tasting.

Outside the village, the tourism office proposed different walking paths through the wineyard for those who were interested. The paths range from easy to difficult with different time frames. I did the easy one that took 1,5hour since had to take my train back.

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Wineyard of Clos la Madélaine

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One thought on “Beyond Bordeaux: Arcachon Bay, Blaye, and Saint Émilion

  1. Pingback: Volcanoes in France. Part 1. Discovering Clermont-Ferrand | johanes.chandra

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