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France & Beyond

A blog about making life changes and my experience moving to a town on France’s Atlantic Coast to teach English

Getting to Know Southwest France

Like most people, I’ve always thought being a travel writer would be a cool job. Yet when I consider writing about my travels, I’m often uninspired. Who cares, I think, if I’m just writing about the same place that thousands of other people have? What new insight do I offer? I’m not an authority on any particular region. Plus, when I write about traveling, I sometimes feel like I’m simply chronicling consumption (“check out all of the cheese I ate and wine I’m eating and drinking in France!”) or of trying to be the most novel (“check out this hidden, underground bar from Paris that only the locals know about!”).

 A man looks out from a cliff on the coast of Biarritz, a popular beach town with a rugged shoreline in the French Basque Country

A man looks out from a cliff on the coast of Biarritz, a popular beach town with a rugged shoreline in the French Basque Country

But I realized, what interests me when reading about travel is what it is like to be a fish out of water, to not know what you’re doing the next day, to visit somewhere that feels like another planet from one’s own home. Plus I’ve had so many instances where I’ve searched a question while traveling and come on some person’s random and incredibly informative blog entry about it, so you never know who will find what I write useful.

Anyway, we language teaching assistants had our first vacation here after only three weeks of working (more on the vacation experience in France in another post, but in short, we get eight weeks of vacation during our seven month teaching term which is really nice).

I had little time to plan a trip, being so consumed with my move and then getting settled in here, so when about a week before vacation I checked the Facebook group of my teaching program and saw other teaching assistants’ plans—Croatia, Spain, Scandinavia—I felt a little bad. I had a vague idea of going maybe to Spain after the southwest of France, but nothing more.

I decided to finally do something to get things rolling and booked a stay in a hostel in the center of Bordeaux for two nights. I ended up adding to my itinerary mostly on the fly, not more than a day or two ahead, and still visited five different cities: Bordeaux, Montpellier, Toulouse, Bayonne, Biarritz, in two different regions: Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Occitanie, and four different departments: Gironde, Hérault, Haute-Garonne, and Pyrénées-Atlantiques (départments are a sub-regional distinction in France,) in what encompassed an amazing tour of southwest France. In terms of finding hotels and train and bus tickets at the relative last minute, it helped that I was visiting in a quieter time of year.

For me, it was worth staying in France rather than venturing farther afield. It was a gratifying and fascinating 11 days that made me love the region, helped me improve with the language, and re-energized my feelings about traveling—especially alone. Out of various train and bus windows I had a peak at the diversity of the region: neat lines of still verdant vines in the Pays d’Doc wine country, snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees, the ancient walled city of Carcassonne. I got to appreciate how much variety there is across French cities of the south and how good people are here at just enjoying their time off. Despite the stress, moments of loneliness, complexities of planning, and money concerns—actually because of all of these things—traveling is always satisfying to me. The more work and uncertainty and even discomfort that goes into something, often enough, the more satisfying it is, and such was my experience on my first trip in southwest France.

Itinerary

Here’s an overview of my itinerary in southwest France, with links to a more detailed entry about each place I visited, starting with Bordeaux.

Bordeaux

Read my full summary of my time in Bordeaux.

Sites

  • Place de la Bourse

  • Miroir d’Eau

Museums

  • Cité du Vin

  • Musée du Vin et Négoce

Parks & Outdoors

  • Darwin Ecosystème

  • Jardin des Publics

  • Parc Aux Angéliques

Markets

  • Marché du Capucins

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Shopping

  • Rue Saint Catherine

  • Rue Notre Dame

  • Rue Saint James

Accommodation

  • Central Hostel

Restaurants

  • Restaurant Bordelaise

Wine Bars

  • Bar à Vin

  • Max Bordeaux

Montpellier

Read my full summary of my time in Montpellier.

Sites

  • Arc de Triomphe/Place de Peyrou

  • Hôtel de Ville

  • Place de la Comédie

  • Port Marianne

 The Arc de Triomphe or Place de Peyrou

The Arc de Triomphe or Place de Peyrou

Museums

  • Musée Fabre

Outdoors

  • Jardin de Plantes

  • L’Esplanade Charles de Gaulle

  • Place de Royale Peyrou

Markets

  • Les Halles Castellanes

Accommodation

  • Hotel du Grand Midi

Toulouse

Sites

  • Basilica St.-Sernin

  • Carmes

  • Le Capitole

  • Le Pont Neuf

Dining

  • Aligot Bar

 Pont Neuf in Toulouse

Pont Neuf in Toulouse

Bayonne

Sites

  • Cathédrale Sainte-Marie de Bayonne

  • La Nive

Dining

  • Les Tontons Flingeurs

  • Nostrum Bayonne

 Bayonne’s riverside.

Bayonne’s riverside.

Biarritz

Parks & Outdoors

  • Plage de la Cotes de Basques

  • Grand Plage

 Biarritz’s shoreline.

Biarritz’s shoreline.

Sites

  • Rocher de la Vierge

Dining

  • L'Ecaillerie

  • Puig & Daro

Markets

  • Les Halles

 Oysters, whelk, and wine at Biarritz’s indoor covered market

Oysters, whelk, and wine at Biarritz’s indoor covered market