Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sea, sex and...oysters. What I did in my holidays

I very much enjoyed reading about what music some of you had taken on holiday. When music plays such an important part in your life then it's a decision which merits some consideration, particularly in view of the limited space you often have to store discs etc. I thought I'd share my holiday listening with you and at the same time give you a rather good holiday tip if you don't know the area already.

We've just come back from a week in Arcachon which is about 70km south of Bordeaux. There were lots of Brits in the area and I discovered that this is due to the Easyjet flights from Luton or indeed Bristol to Bordeaux. We flew down to Bordeaux, picked up a car for the week (about £230 for the car) and drove south to Arcachon.

It's a beautiful seaside town with more than scent of the grandeur of its heyday: the period from about 1860 to the 1930s when Europe's aristocracy came to take the healthy sea air and inhale the pine scented breezes which were thought, at the time, to have a beneficial effect on tuberculosis sufferers. The Empress Sissi was a regular at the Grand Hotel which dominates the seafront and the young Gustave Eiffel cut his teeth on building metal walkway structures here before starting work on his tower.

We stayed in the Ville d'hiver where the wealthy built their magnificent villas, each one more imposing and elegant than the last. Many have been converted into hotels or holiday appartments, and if you aren't looking for the last word in mod cons (these are historical, listed buildings after all) then it's the place to stay. The Saki fans among you will understand why I expected to bump into Clovis Sangrail round every corner. That kind of vibe...

Arcachon is the main town on the bassin d'Arcachon which is, as the Arcachonnais realiably informed us, the centre of the oyster growing industry in France. They even sell their baby oysters to the Bretons, so Breton oysters are, again according to the Arcachonnais, really Arcachon oysters! All manner of seafood, fish, and of course the aforementioned molluscs are the local speciality and I like to think we did them justice... Basque traditions also pervade the local cuisine and very good tapas bars can be found in places such as Le Moulleau.

Around the bassin you have any number of extremely pretty beaches such as Pereire, Le Moulleau and across the bay, Cap Ferret. If you head south, you come to beaches such as Biscarosse which are also vast stretches of perfect white sand but lack the protection of the bassin. The Atlantic waves make these beaches into a surfers' haven and we saw more than one battered pick-up truck with daisies doodled on the side. We kept up our street cred level by talking about 'Point Break' in loud voices.

And then there's the wine. Ooooooh the wine. It really would be worth making the journey by car if you can handle it, just to fill up the boot with the precious liquid. Bordeaux is cheaper in the supermarkets than it is where we live, so I can only imagine what the price difference with Britain would be. We flew so we had to limit ourselves to 2 bottles wrapped in our beach towels (they made it) but we talked to a couple of viticulteurs who spoke, misty eyed, about les anglais who come and fill up their cars...

I was a bit limited in terms of music, but my beach sounds were essentially Grace Jones, Island Life, and Rufus Wainwright's Release the Stars. For the car, I managed to pick up, at one of the area's great markets (Oh my God, the food!!) a second hand copy of Laurent Voulzy's 'La Septième Vague' which consequently became the official soundtrack of the holidays. Voulzy is a French crooner with a great affinity for 1960s London, Carnaby Street, etc. He has even written songs about Mary Quant. For this album, he simply made a list of 18 songs he really loved enough to cover, and proceeded to do his own version. Some of them may surprise, but I wanted to draw your attention to this as it really was the perfect soundtrack for exploring the seaside scenery of the Bassin d'Arcachon. And listening to the words of 'La Madrague' as we were leaving elicited a heart-felt 'Waaaaaaaaaah' from yours truly. I hope you have all had splendid hols. FP.


Découvrez Laurent Voulzy!

17 comments:

Proudfoot said...

Hi fp, shame you missed this week's blog. Pretty interesting. I like the idea of cruising round Cap Ferret listening to schmoozy Voulzy. I usually have to go down the Riviera at this time of year, but this August was in the Western Cape (much wine tasting ahoy ihe inyards. Discovered Chardonnay is actually pretty damn good when you get the proper stuff. All sort of buttery/mushroomy.)It was supposed to be winter in the Cape so I took lots of Bonnie Prince Billy, Bon Iver, Decemberists. The weather was actually brilliant- should have taken some sunnier sounds. Ended up playing my folks' Cat Stevens, Simon & Garfunkel and Fleetwood Mac.
En France, one of the local ex-pat stations (beamed in from Monaco)is called Riviera Radio.It's kind of locked into a timezone of about 1976 pop. The sort of thing Roger Moore might listen to in his Baie des Anges pad. It's impossibly cheesey, but suits the place. Every now and then it throws up a winner (Afternoon Delight, 5,000 Volts, Marshall Hain's 'Dancing in the City', even your own favourite Dollar). I have my own Gainsbourg/Mano Chao etc complilo for when it gets too much.
See you on the other side next week. Enjoy the Arachnid wine.

Frogprincess said...

Great post. "Schmoozy Voulzy" will stay in my head forever now. Just right. And I love the "have to go down to the Riviera". Nice one. Sounds like you had great holidays too. That radio station is right up my street. I share great acting ability with Roger Moore. Hum. I take it they also play another classic of that era - Taste of Honey's Boogie Oogie oogie. Cue Roger "Would you like to... boogie oogie oogie, dahling?" I can just see it.

TatankaYotanka said...

Imagine the best student holiday job ever ... working for a brewery in the south of France, with a free beer tap in the depot perhaps? I spent a number of summers chez Kronenbourg at La Generale Des Boissons in Biarritz. Biscarosse and Arcachon were the outer limit of our purlieu .... an occasional wholesale delivery rather than the quotidien restocking of bars and festivals from St Jean De Luz to Mimizan. I graduated to fork lift driver at the depot, loading the trains going back to Strasbourg - I once sent the depot's dog, a big sleepy black Labrador called Pancho, on a five day round trip to the Alsace by forgetting to check my trucks before closing up .... managed to convince him it was a planned mini-break on his return, so that was alright.
Happy times spent with the Banda Des Genets at the Fetes De Bayonne (like Pamplona but without all the Hemingway wannabes)

http://www.fetes.bayonne.fr/

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5558848577537630209

and people like Ruper Ordorika starting out ... http://www.last.fm/music/Ruper+Ordorika
www.ruperordorika.com

The food of that whole corner of the southwest is still the stuff I dream of .. you've got me thinking; time off booked for the end of September .. but no plans made ... cheers :)

Anonymous said...

and the sex?

Frogprincess said...

That sounds like the mother of all student jobs. How cool is that? I love Biarritz too - also great surf country (ok so I can just about do body board) but we didn't make it down that far. Mimizan also has a brilliant beach from memory. I badly want a black labrador called Pancho.
---
@ anonymous: Oh yes, forgot about that. Did you know that oysters change sex regularly? Not a lot of people know that....

CaroleBristol said...

Archachon is lovely, I went there years ago on a day trip while staying near Bergerac and really wanted to go back for a stay. We climbed to the top of the Dune du Pilat, the largest sand dune inEurope.

I'll go back some day and stay for a week.

Frogprincess said...

Absolutely. We went to the top of the dune. Not so much a problem as there are steps BUT if you go down to the beach at the bottom and then have to climb back up without the aid of the steps - there aren't any on the beach side - then you soon start to feel your calf muscles. I felt like bloody Laurence of Arabia. Great views from the top though...

Proudfoot said...

I really do "have" to go down to the Riviera. It's a family-in-law thing. We did break out at my insistence one year to go to the Camargue. I must confess my chief reaSsons for going are based on Alistair MacLean's potboiler 'Caravan to Vaccares'.
I'm glad I did. Bullfighting (the non-a-la-mort-kind) in Arles, Van Gogh, brilliant bird watching, salterns (yes, salterns are interesting. Where do you think salt comes from, Levi Stubbs Tears?). I saw the Camargue Horse, although the most Camargue bull I encountered was gypsies renting dodgy bikes in Sainte Marie de la Mer.
Hey, it's France's duelling banjos territory!
I'm going to escape to Corse next time. I wonder what Corsican Radio is like?

Frogprincess said...

Love the duelling banjos! Déliverance!! Hope their sexual mores are somewhat, er finer... And if you go to the GU homepage today there's an article about Corsica. Never been and it's supposed to be stunning...

ejaydee said...

That sounds brilliant, especially the wine and oyster part, never been to Arcachon myself, closest I got was Dordogne like Carole. Corsica on the other hand, I've had to fortune to go, and it is really gorgeous (its nickname, l'Ile de Beauté is not a fluke).Last time I was there, I was in a fisherman's town called St-Florent, or San Fiorenzu in Corsican. It's in the North, at the bottom of the finger, but the south is also gorgeous, especially that hanging village whose name I forgot. From there you can see Sardinia.

Frogprincess said...

Cheers Frenchy. I couldn't get The Bloke to like Voulzy's version of La Madrague. He kept bleating about Bardot's version being better. But then he would, wouldn't he? And Corsica is on the list... Deffo.

Proudfoot said...

Next year mes amis.

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