Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Pays Basque Atlantic Coast

French Village Diaries #KTTinyTourer cycles the Pays Basque Atlantic coast
St Jean de Luz, Pays Basque

The Pays Basque Atlantic coast

The Pays Basque isn’t just about mountains, spicy peppers, sheep’s cheese or Gateau Basque, it boasts a great coastline too, and in what I hoped would be more gentle terrain for my little legs than the mountain cols, that was where we found ourselves on our second full day back in the Basque.

French Village Diaries #KTTinyTourer cycles the Pays Basque Atlantic coast
Morning coffee in Bidart, Pays Basque

When morning coffee is served with a white-sand vista stretching along the blue horizon, and the warming sun was on our faces, it was with some difficulty we tore ourselves away, unfolded the bikes and set off to explore. 

French Village Diaries #KTTinyTourer cycles the Pays Basque Atlantic coast
Eurovelo 1, Pays Basque Atlantic coast

Following Eurovelo 1 up, down and around the corniche, I soon realized there isn’t much that’s flat in the Pays Basque. However, with honeysuckle, elderflowers, acacia and viburnum all competing to perfume the air, walking the steeper or loose gravel sections of the bike path just extended the nasal delights. From cool and shady sections with almost hidden glimpses of dramatic coastlines, to open areas with a never-ending view, it was a treat to be there on the bikes and in the sun.

St Jean de Luz reminds me a little of La Rochelle, with its cosmopolitan feel and off-the-scale people watching score, but it retains an unmistakable Basque flavour. White buildings, red shutters, balconies, triangular Basque pitched roofs and a little bit of Spanish creeping in around the edges, it was great to be back. We picnicked in the main square where we have previously feasted on plat du jour regional specialties, but today the bike parking at our preferred restaurant looked tricky. Warm quiche and mini Gateau Basque brought direct from a quayside boulangerie, certainly set us up for the afternoon climb. 

French Village Diaries #KTTinyTourer cycles the Pays Basque Atlantic coast
St Jean de Luz from Ciboure, Pays Basque

We crossed the harbor into Ciboure and soon the floral fragrance was replaced by fresh, salty sea air as we followed the coast towards Hendaye. Our afternoon was a great mix of climbing followed by sweeping descents, all with a backdrop of seaweed, seagulls and the sound of crashing waves.

French Village Diaries #KTTinyTourer cycles the Pays Basque Atlantic coast
Hendaye, Pays Basque

From Hendaye we looked over to the tower blocks of Hondarribia in Spain, just the river estuary separating the two countries. The air was hot, and the palm trees gave it an exotic holiday feel, but there was beer waiting for us back in St Jean de Luz, so retrace our steps we had to do. A meander up the main shopping street followed the beer stop where my eye was drawn to a Basque coloured trinket to adorn Katie the Tiny Tourer, who is getting quite a collection of quirky dangly bits, none of which help my climbing I’m sure, but all make me smile.

French Village Diaries #KTTinyTourer cycles the Pays Basque Atlantic coast
Guéthary, Pays Basque

It was certainly worth the hour or so drive from St Jean Pied de Port to the coast at Bidart where we left the car for the day. Eurovelo 1 is reasonably well marked, although after the beautiful fishing port of Guéthary (worth a stop) on our return, they send you on a longer than necessary detour, just to pass a museum, which despite the vivid mosaic sculptures in the garden we didn’t have time to visit. You certainly get to see the best of coast line following the Eurovelo by bike, rather than stuck in traffic on the busy main road by car.

Here are a few of my previous posts about the Pays Basque you might like:

Friday, May 24, 2019

Book review of the French Summer Novel series by Laurette Long

French Village Diaries book review French Summer Novel series Laurette Long Pays Basque
Biarritz, Pays Basque
For my latest installment of all things Basque, let me introduce you to the French Summer Novel series of books by Laurette Long.

French Village Diaries book review French Summer Novel series Laurette Long Pays Basque
Bairritz Passion by Laurette Long

Biarritz Passion

In the first book in this fabulous trilogy, Biarritz Passion, as well as sisters Caroline and Annabel, we meet an extended family who reunite every summer in the holiday home originally owned by their grandparents, the Villa Julia in Biarritz. It is a place where four cousins, living different lives in different countries all come together for a close-knit family summer in the Pays Basque. In this first book, (read my full review here) what stood out for me most was the emotions that ran throughout the novel and the sense of place; it really does open up the magic of the Pays Basque to the reader.


French Village Diaries book review French Summer Novel series Laurette Long Pays Basque
Hot Basque by Laurette Long

Hot Basque

Book two in the series, Hot Basque, is set during the following summer and adds to our character list when Caroline’s friend Jill joins them at the Villa and spends most of her holiday touring with Edward’s friend Antoine, learning about the area, the people (and love) and taking us along for the sightseeing ride. It is another book with fire and passion aplenty. There is more emotional blackmail from Caroline’s sister Annabel, and more drama and hurt for Caroline, but this year she is not alone. She has Edward, and with his love and his family tightly packed around her, Annabel’s shocking behavior is easier for her to cope with. Caroline has become one of them now, and Villa Julia has become a place that is very special to her too. 


French Village Diaries book review French Summer Novel series Laurette Long Pays Basque
Biarritz-Villa Julia by Laurette Long

Biarritz-Villa Julia

Villa Julia, the third and final book in the series takes place later in the same year as book two, when the family gather for a late summer celebration for the 60th birthdays of twins Julie and Anouk, mainly organised by Caroline and Edward from their flat in Toulouse (another great French location we get to discover more about). In this book it is Edward’s cousin Claudie and her new man Pete who get a good slice of the action. Pete is a top London chef, in charge of the birthday cake, and accompanied on his first visit to the Villa by his mother, the formidable Hibiscus, or Hibby for short. Things between Claudie and Hibby get off to an hilariously bad start and it would be true to say Claudie’s Basque spirit meets its match in Hibby.

Once the birthday party is done, it’s full swing into preparing for Caroline and Edward’s spring wedding, keeping tabs on Annabel and following the developments of Jill and Antoine as their life takes on a new and unexpected direction. 

Like in the previous books there is no shortage of drama and short-fuses in this final novel and the fire and passion I fell in love with in book one is still burning brightly here. I was sad to get to the end and realise there will be no more, but it was great being back and I was left with a nice feeling of contentment at seeing each couple’s stories through to a conclusion.


French Village Diaries book review French Summer Novel series Laurette Long Pays Basque
The Passage of Desire by Laurette Long

The Passage of Desire, the prequal

Although I had this on my kindle before book three, I didn’t read it until I’d finished the trilogy! This meant that around half way through book three I found myself in a new location, with new characters and a feeling like I’d been dropped into a different book. However, I quite enjoyed the mystery and sense of adventure this gave me, and I soon worked out where it was taking me. Reading the prequal certainly expanded on Caroline and Annabel’s early years.

This series gives you everything Basque; the scenery, the local festivals, the food and a real sense of place. It also gives you passion, emotions, love and drama. For someone who has been lucky enough to visit the Basque a few times, these books take me right back, so if you can’t get to Biarritz or the Pays Basque, you will at least feel like you’ve experienced a short break just by reading them.

What next Laurette?

Here are a few of my previous posts about the Pays Basque you might like:

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Col d'Ispeguy in the Pyrenees

French Village Diaries Col d'Ispeguy Pays Basque Pyrenees #KTTinyTourer
Col d'Ispeguy

Col d’Ispeguy

Cycling in the Pyrénées isn’t just for hardcore racers, there are plenty of gentle climbs, touring routes and coastal rides to enjoy too. Our first choice, as a good leg stretcher for our Basque cycling break, was one that has quickly become our favourite, the Col d’Ispeguy. A baby, in terms of cols (mountain passes) at only an 8km and 672m climb, to the Spanish border, we first conquered it in 2017 on the road bikes and managed to ascend (and descend) twice in five days on this trip with the Bromptons.
French Village Diaries Col d'Ispeguy Pays Basque Pyrenees #KTTinyTourer
St Etienne de Baïgorry
The weather the week before we left had been against us, the bikes were left folded and unused all week, allowing no training for legs that now needed to be able to climb mountains. We parked in St Etienne de Baïgorry, which allowed a kilometre or so of flat warm-up before the road crossed the river by the church, the Col sign appeared, and the gradient arrived. Cycling up these first few bends a French cyclist, older than us and a local, loomed up from behind. Through my ragged breaths, we exchanged bonjours and despite my obvious lack of fitness, he seemed keen to converse as well as climb. He was tackling the col for the second time that day but was interested in our Brompton’s and how they compared, gearing wise, to road bikes. I tried my best, but soon fell behind, leaving him and Adrian trying to chat around a subject they both knew about, but with language (and accent) issues. Ever the gentlemen Adrian soon let monsieur cycle on ahead and waited for me to catch up.
French Village Diaries Col d'Ispeguy Pays Basque Pyrenees #KTTinyTourer
Col d'Ispeguy
The scenery here is stunning, with green rolling hills, gently curving mountains, rocky peeks visible when you strain your neck upwards and ribbons of road snaking into the distance. 

French Village Diaries Col d'Ispeguy Pays Basque Pyrenees #KTTinyTourer
Foxgloves at the road side, Col d'Ispeguy
This alone makes it difficult to be anything but awed by the journey, even if it was tough going on my legs at times. Add in the shocking pink foxgloves, deep purple aquilegias and many more wild flowers tempting me further along the road, the streams tumbling down the rock side and the birds of prey circling and calling overhead and it was amazing to be engulfed in such beauty. 
French Village Diaries Col d'Ispeguy Pays Basque Pyrenees #KTTinyTourer
Top of the mountain! Col d'Ispeguy

I couldn’t have gone any faster than I was, but it would have been a shame to have rushed the experience, so slow and steady I went, drinking in all that nature had to offer me. 
French Village Diaries Col d'Ispeguy Pays Basque Pyrenees #KTTinyTourer
The restaurant at the Col d'Ispeguy
Unlike some cols, Ispeguy has the bonus of a tiny community when you reach the top. Two bars sandwiched between the now closed customs house on the Spanish/French border offer food and drinks as well as souvenirs and somewhere to rest for the weary cyclist. Once fully refreshed, I took a steady approach to the descent and soon found my rhythm sweeping around the corners in a cautious rather than graceful way, but overall so much happier with the centre of gravity on the Brompton compared to my road bike. It left me feeling positive about the rest of our plans for the week cycling in the mountains. 

Here are a few of my previous posts about the Pays Basque you might like:

I’m not the only one who thinks cycling in the Pyrénées is for everyone, here is a recent post from Adventure Creators with lots of ideas for cycling holidays in the mountains: Cycling in the Pyrenees For All.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Book review of The Only Way is West by Bradley Chermside

French Village Diaries book review The Only Way is West Bradley Chermside
The Only Way is West by Bradley Chermside

The Only Way is West by Bradley Chermside

Having just returned from a few days in St Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrénées, sharing my review of this fabulous travel memoir about the 500-mile walk from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela in Spain seemed appropriate. Many thousands of ‘pilgrims’ make this journey on the Camino every year, following the ancient route over the Pyrénées and across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, where the bones of St James are said to rest.

Bradley is one such person and this memoir tells of his journey, from the planning, his arrival in France, his blisters and sleepless nights along the way, the people he meets and the mysterious girl he hopes will be waiting for him. His writing style is funny, his descriptions and observations, especially of those he shares his Camino with, bring his journey to life, and I enjoyed every page. He certainly fanned the flame of fire within me to make my Camino dream a reality one day. 
French Village Diaries book review The Only Way is West Bradley Chermside Camino
Following the Camino
This book is mostly his account from the journal he kept, but also includes some of the emails sent to friends and family and their words of encouragement, that always seemed to arrive just when he needed them most. The Camino is tough on the body; the grueling terrain and nights spent in large hostels with shared dormitories and basic facilities. Plus, with long, hot days, often walking alone, there is time outside of your normal routine for your head to think and make decisions. I really enjoyed the experience of following Brad and couldn’t wait to see if he found what he was looking for at the end of his journey and also discover how the Camino changed him and shaped his future.

This book would be a great read for anyone planning their own Camino, or for those who like adventure and travel memoirs written with honesty, emotion and humour.

The Only Way is West is available in ebook and paperback format and links to Amazon can be found below.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Back in the Pays Basque

French Village Diaries back in the Pays Basque
On the French/Spanish border Pays Basque
Sometimes it is important to forget your worries and count your blessings, so having left our requests for post-Brexit residency with the Prefecture in Niort, and spent a good few days struggling to move around whilst keeping everything crossed, we decided enough was enough and in true Bollox to Brexit spirit hit the road. 

A four-hour drive from home and we caught our first glimpse of the Pyrénées in the distance. Light shadows of mountain peaks teasing us, there one minute, gone the next, then majestically reappearing and revealing a little more of themselves. The Pays Basque was beckoning us; Adrian with his inner mountain spirit was keen to stretch his legs, feel the burn, and crest col after col (mountain passes) and I was dreaming of reacquainting myself with the rich, buttery, moist and chewy Gateau Basque.

French Village Diaries back in the Pays Basque
St Jean de Luz

Instead of looking at (yet another) week of no work for Adrian as a sign of the possible recession the UK seems to be heading for, we made the most of it and proved we don’t just live in France, we are LIVING in France. In four days we cycled 189km, climbed three mountain cols, each one a little higher than the last, dipped from France to Spain and back again a few times (EU freedom of movement bonus) and followed the Atlantic coast from Bidart to Hendaye, taking in cosmopolitan St Jean de Luz. We were powered by stunning scenery; green rolling hills dotted with white Basquais houses, wild horses, sheep and flowering verges, as well as lots of delicious Gateau Basque cakes.

French Village Diaries back in the Pays Basque
Valcarlos in the Pays Basque

There is something about the Basque that captured our hearts five years ago, the hills are soft, not rough jagged peaks, but they are not exactly gentle either. Cycling here is a constant climb, curve, descend, climb again, pattern, but after a while it’s easy to get into a routine. There is locally produced wine to enjoy with sheep’s milk cheeses, and the warming effects of the Piment d’Espelette chili can be found in many local dishes. With a language of its own and boasting one of the oldest civilisations in Europe, it is a unique area of France (and Spain) and also home to St Jean Pied de Port, pilgrim gateway to the Pyrénées and our home for four nights. 

French Village Diaries back in the Pays Basque Camino Saint Jacques de Compostelle
The Chemin de St Jacques, St Jean Pied de Port

I have a fascination for all things to do with the pilgrim camino to Santiago de Compostela. Maybe it’s from living on the Chemin de St Jacques that passes through Tours, Poitiers and Melle, on its way to St Jean Pied de Port, or because of my namesake, Ste Jacqueline, an Italian who walked as a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela many times in her life, but whatever it is, the pull is there. Immersing myself in St Jean Pied de Port for four days gave me the opportunity to watch the comings and goings of the pilgrims as we drank our morning coffee in the sun, spot the pilgrims from the holiday tourists (like ourselves) over dinner, and as a reward for conquering a short (but steep) section on my bike, buy myself a Camino shell trinket in the hope I can one day return.

French Village Diaries back in the Pays Basque Camino Saint Jacques de Compostelle
Walking the cobbles of St Jean Pied de Port

Not everyone is on a pilgrimage, but we are all on a journey and putting my body through the sometimes-grueling climbs of the Pyrénéan cols certainly left no room in my head for worrying about where our future will take us. The fatigue was fought off by the sense of achievement, the encouragement from seasoned local cyclists warmed me when the cold wind hit at altitude and the time Adrian and I spent sharing our adventures created special memories to cherish.

This week the blog is going Basquaise and I will be sharing some of our days on the bikes in the Pays Basque, as well as some reviews of books set in the Basque and on the Camino.

Here are a few previous posts about the Pays Basque you might like:

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Book review of Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers' Ball by S.P. O'Farrell

French Village Diaries book review Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers' Ball by S.P. O'Farrell
Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers' Ball
by S.P. O'Farrell

Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers’ Ball

This book, set in a patisserie in Paris, is aimed at 10 to 11-year old’s, but that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying it, in fact, with a main character who is a little bit different, plenty of mystery and lots of chocolate; I would have loved to have read this as a child.

Simone LaFray is not your average 12-year-old girl. She prefers to blend into the crowd, to see everything, but not to be seen; for Simone is an undercover agent and a pretty good one at that. Following in her mother’s footsteps (she is a top international spy) and with the backing and assistance of the ministry, there are always plenty of mysteries for Simone to solve, as well as looking after her little sister Mia and helping her Father in his patisserie. Who is the Red Fox and why is he back in Paris? Who stole the ancient recipe books from her Father’s patisserie? What has suddenly made her Father lose his culinary perfection?

Things come to a head at the Chocolatiers’ Ball, a prestigious event that this year will be showcasing her Father’s work, but with sabotage and theft hanging over them, what must Simone do to save the day?

I loved Simone’s character and enjoyed her daily life in Paris, from strolls in the park to helping out in the patisserie, to working undercover in the art galleries. Her attention to detail, the way her eyes expertly sweep a room and mentally take everything in; calculating how many people, who is acting suspiciously and who is genuine, was matched only by the attention to detail in the author’s descriptions. There is a lot that makes Simone unusual and different, including her love of routine and precision, but these were the things I enjoyed most about her. As a children’s novel, her quirky perfection will I’m sure strike a chord with those kids who maybe don’t feel they fit in with the norm.

This first book sets the scene perfectly and left me wanting more from the extraordinary life of Simone LaFray.

Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers’ Ball by S.P. O’Farrell will be published by Brandylane Publishers on Monday 13th May, available in hardback, paperback and ebook versions. Links to Amazon can be found below. I was kindly sent a review copy by the author.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

8th May Victory in Europe Day 2019

French Village Diaries Victory in Europe Day 2019
The grave of Fernand Prevost
8th May Victory in Europe Day and public holiday in France

8th May 2019, a damp morning where villagers, hidden under umbrellas, coats and scarves, congregated in the cemetery to stand by a plain grave, situated against the far wall. 

Fernand Prevost
Died for France
Shot by the Germans
In the woods at Bois Cambert
24thJuly 1944
At the age of 18

There was no official ceremony, or laying of flowers, just a moment of quiet reflection for the loss of a young life to war, almost 75 years ago.

The slow procession then made its way to the village war memorial outside the salle des fêtes (village hall), where the Maire read the address from the French minister in charge of the armed forces.

French Village Diaries Victory in Europe Day 2019
Ed at the village war memorial

Three years ago, our village lost its last war veteran and since then our son Ed has often been asked by the Maire to hold the flag, both at the 11th November and 8th May memorial ceremonies; where the French stand alongside the British, and the young alongside the old, united in remembrance.

Ed is 18 now, the same age as Fernand Prevost, and away at uni with a world of possibilities ahead of him. But he is home today, to do his bit once more and we are very proud of the man our village has turned him into. My mother lost her father in The Second World War, my father’s father was in northern France, possibly on 8th May 1945, so ensuring Ed remembers has always been important to us, as is the idea of a united not divided Europe, something we will never give up hope of.

To read more about the shootings in our village in 1944 see my post from last year here.
To read about my family’s history in the war see these two posts

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Book review of The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin' Wobin by Tony Rocca

French Village Diaries book review The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin' Wobin Tony Rocca
The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin' Wobin

The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin’ Wobin by Tony Rocca 


Meet Robin, or rather, Wobin: a metal garden ornament transported from England to the beautiful French Riviera. He's lonely and can't speak French. Neither can he fly, which is a bit unfortunate for a bird. This is his story about learning to fly and being brave.

My Review:

This is a sweet tale about a little bird, built in a shed in London, who finds himself at the Chelsea Flower Show where he is sold to an elegant French lady, who thinks his wobbling will be the perfect thing to deter the pigeons on her balcony in Cannes on the French Riviera. Lucky Wobin!

He soon makes friends with a blackbird and two doves and then the fun really begins. They want him to be able to fly with them and to see the sights on the Riviera, despite him being a metal ornament. With the help of his friends, lots of perseverance and a sense of adventure, Wobin takes to the skies and explores Cannes, Nice, the islands of Sainte Marguerite and Saint Honorat, and Monte Carlo, learning all about them from his knowledgeable dove guides. 

Poor Wobin has a few mishaps and run-ins along the way, with bullying pigeons and seagulls, and a gang of streetwise Magpies, but he soon learns to hold his own. There were a few topics that surprised me for a children’s book, like drinking too much wine at the monastery and feeling hungover, but I loved Wobin's determination and the power of friendship that came across. The illustrations at the beginning of each chapter were beautiful and I really enjoyed being taken along for the bird’s eye view of the Riviera too.
French Village Diaries book review The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin' Wobin Tony Rocca
Illustrations by Fulvio Testa

Information about the Book

Title: The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin’ Wobin
Author: Tony Rocca
Release Date: 30th April 2019
Genre: Middle Grade
Page Count: 182
Publisher: Clink Street Publishing

Amazon Link

French Village Diaries book review The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin' Wobin Tony Rocca
Tony Rocca and Wobin

Author Information

Tony Rocca’s writing career has spanned 30-plus years as a London journalist, notably with the Daily Mail and Sunday Times, during which time he has been a reporter, sub-editor, foreign correspondent and features editor. He has written five books and is widely travelled, having once owned a vineyard in Tuscany that brought him success as an accidental winemaker. He tells the story amusingly in his first book, Catching Fireflies (‘A welcome change in a climate of clichés’ – International Herald Tribune). A second book, Memories of Eden, concerned the Jewish community of Iraq and was equally well received. His first novel, You Send Me, followed. This new book for children, set on the French Riviera where he now lives, is a further example of his versatility as a writer.   

French Village Diaries book review The Amazing Adventures of Wobblin' Wobin Tony Rocca
Tour Schedule 

Sunday 5thMay

Monday 6thMay

Tuesday 7thMay

Wednesday 8thMay

Thursday 9thMay

Friday 10thMay

Saturday 11thMay