Saturday, 18 June 2011

152. St Jean de Luz in the late afternoon sunshine

18th June 2011. Late yesterday afternoon we decided to zip down to St Jean de Luz (25 mins from Pipérade Towers) for some retail therapy (hold me back!). As we drove the few km south down the autoroute, the horizon opened up at one point to reveal a great expanse of the not-so-distant Pyrenees shimmering in a misty blue heat haze - this view never fails to inspire us.
The car said it was 27C and it certainly felt like summer when we arrived at St Jean - the beach was quite crowded and a few people were swimming. We stopped at the Glaces Lopez concession on Boulevard Thiers - difficult not to - and 'people-watched' for a few minutes while we ate our delicious ice creams (chocolat noir and stracciatella). We noticed that the shop windows were full of red and black pants, shirts, foulards etc and, sure enough, it wasn't long before we saw a sign for the Fêtes Patronales de St Jean de Luz. (above left) It all kicks off next weekend when it's more or less de rigueur to wear red & black. The Fête Patronale usually combines all of these - dancing the fandango, confetti wars, strolling bands, eating, singing, sangria and usually the toro fuego to finish up with - which is totally bonkers!

We had 2 English girls visiting us down here years ago and, at the height of the high jinks, one of them turned to us and asked a little plaintively, "Is it always this lively?" (that phrase has entered our vocabulary!)

Boulevard Thiers still runs along the sea front but it no longer looks like this (left) - only a couple of these elegant seaside villas remain - unfortunately the remainder were demolished long ago to be replaced by 60s multi-storey apartment blocks. And nowadays, both sides of the boulevard are lined with parked cars.

After finishing the shopping, we returned to Boulevard Thiers to stop off at the newly re-juvenated 'Bar Basque' (right) for a sangria. All the tables and chairs outside have been replaced with swish new ones, there's a new menu, the waiters are friendly and if you're ever at a loose end in St Jean, there are many worse places to twiddle it in than the 'Bar Basque'. Sitting with a drink under the trees in the late afternoon sunshine watching the world go by, I'd be hard-pushed to think of anywhere else I'd rather be. All the elemental colours of the Basque flag were there - the white of the buildings, the Basque red shutters and doors, the green of the trees under a burning blue sky. And while you're contemplating all that, their drinks list features some classic cocktails too..

The Boulevard Thiers runs through the chic part of St Jean de Luz. If your S.O. (significant other) feels her shopping low level warning light come on, you could suggest that you park yourself at the 'Bar Basque' thus leaving her free to ramble and roam without that nagging feeling that two steps behind her lurks Mr Grumpy who's got half an eye cocked on his wrist watch.

And if you ever find a large bunch of keys to an apartment anywhere on Boulevard Thiers jangling in your pocket, you'll know that you've landed on your feet. Lined with well-groomed evergreen trees (I'm not sure if they're eucalyptus or  magnolia - or neither), a few steps from the beach and handy for all parts of town, Boulevard Thiers really is the ne plus ultra as far as I'm concerned.   

Went down to the river this morning under heavy grey skies - it had rained overnight - and no sooner had we got out on the river in an VIII than it started raining.. Ah well, it's only water (it says here). Did 14km (Running total: 766km).

A propos of nothing - this sign from European trains advising passengers not to lean out of the windows always used to amuse me - not entirely sure why though:
The German phrase sounded to me as though it should be shouted, whereas in French it sounds like something a Frenchman might whisper to his girlfriend last thing at night. The Italian one comes straight from a menu.. "I'd like the pericoloso sporgersi and a bottle of San Pellegrino per favore." That's the danger of national stereotyping for you!

19th June 2011. The window's wide open, there's not a cloud in the sky and the birds are twittering (not tweeting!) outside.. Going to be warm today.

No lawn or hedge has been harmed in the writing of this post. 

Here are some tips for travellers dated 1937 - how times have changed:


POW16783 said...

I didn't realise, when we journeyed south in May that we would be staying so close to Piperade Towers! Lucky escape I'd say (for you ;-) )

We loved St Jean de Luz, and wished we had more money to spend, sitting eating, and drinking in the wealth of cafes/bars.

Camping by a nearby beach was wonderful. I miss being near the sea, so 3/4 nights listening to waves breaking on the beach was just lovely.

We were very lucky, weather was hot, and I think we'd arrived in advance of the main tourist season, so the camp-site and facilities were clean and reasonably empty.

One day we'll go back and drive up into the Pyrenees and make it to the Guggenheim Museum, we were so tired this trip that we needed to just unwind.

Bon continuation.

Pipérade said...

Ah yes, St Jean de Luz.. the jewel in the crown of the Pays Basque in my opinion.. the perfect seaside town - compact, flat, largely traffic-free (once you've achieved the near-impossible and found a parking space!) and with the sea on three sides. And as you say, spoilt for choice for places to eat or just to sit with a drink and watch the world go by.
Sounds like you had a great time!