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Favorite thing: A historical definition is in order. In the 12C the SW part of France was an unpopulated and lawless area because of fighting between England and France (Aquitaine vs. Toulouse), brigandage and the Albigensian Crusade. At the same time, population was exploding. The concept of free-towns (bastides) was approved by the central authorities. Some say Raymond VII of Toulouse founded Montauban this way in 1144, others say it was Cordes in 1222). The towns were built at one campaign to a modified Roman plan with a central square and a pair of parallel broad roads leading to surrounding wall-gates and lateral streets subdividing it into districts. The citizens were “free”, no longer vassals and land was allotted and farmed without tax. It was a contract between the landholders as a group and the noble. The tax was on trade and not production. The locations however were strategic and the availability of foot soldiers was always considered. As soon as the French did this, the English responded and fortifications were continually added. The area just west of Quercy contains many such bastides. A typical bastide is Monpazier. Its central place is still surrounded by stone buildings arcaded (“couverts”) at ground level (and now enhanced by a large covered wooden market). No two were quite alike. The church (usually later fortified like a keep) was near the town center. The bastide is one of the first expressions of individual and group liberty.
Fondest memory: Here is an important step in western man's progress toward being civilized.
Written Apr 27, 2009
Favorite thing: Extending from the Gironde estuary to the Basque coast, the Landes coast is a 220 km long sandy beach, almost linear. Bassin d’Arcachon and small river mouths are the only discontinuities of the coast. I like the beaches except in summer; stormy winds of winter, late autumn with red sunsets, spring with flowers on the dunes. The beaches are quite crowded in summer, especially near resorts, (and there are more and more . . . ), but nice places can still be found. Out of season, it is possible to walk for kilometres, looking for shells, drift wood, looking without end at the surf, listening to the fierce noise of the waves breaking on the shore, without meeting anybody. The pictures here show beaches in the southern part of Landes, and one can see there is space for playing whatever on the sand.
And surfers enjoy the beaches of the Landes.
The ugly blockhouses left by the Atlantic wall deface here and there the beaches , but with time, the are part of the landscape, and. . . the ocean is stronger than the concrete.
Main picture: Beach at Moliets
Picture 2: Vieux Boucau
Picture 3: Surf at Moliets
Picture 4: Capbreton
Picture 5: Capbreton
Written Jan 4, 2007
Favorite thing: Mont de Marsan is the prefecture (administrative centre) of the Landes department. This small town has a very interesting fine arts museum (Musee Despiau-Wlerick) organising every summer temporary exhibitions on special themes. This museum is located in an old donjon tower from the 13th century. Apart this tower and the arenes (Bull and cow fighting arena) no buildings of interest are there. This city is well known for its aviation history (it is an old military air base) and the French strategic atomic bombs carriers (MirageIV planes in the 70’s-80) were based here. The most important event of the year here is the “fetes de la Madeleine”, a one week festival, with feria (Bull fighting), during which the city is fully crowded, alcohol is flowing in the throats like water in the rivers, music and dance in the streets, etc. etc. I enjoyed this, 30 years ago and people from far around and lots of tourists gather here during the week of Ste Madeleine (depending on the years, generally around 14th -22nd July).
On the pictures you see the Midouze river formed by the junction of the Midou (right) and the Douze rivers. Lots of people sleep on the banks of the river during the festival.
I like much more small villages in the area, like the one with the little church in the previous tip and like Grenade sur Adour of which I show pictures here: it is a small bastide, with arcades around the square place and the houses on the banks of the Adour look quiet and nice. Walking in the Landes villages is relaxing, but in summer it may be quite hot.
Main picture: Mont de Marsan, Midouze river
Picture 2: Mont de Marsan, rue des Arceaux
Picture 3: Grenade sur Adour
Picture 4: Grenade sur Adour : the central square : bastide
Picture 5: Grenade sur Adour: the church
Written Jan 4, 2007
Favorite thing: The Pine forest of the Landes covers about 6700 km² and is the widest of Europe; well, a small one compared to the taiga or the Amazonian forest! But you can walk or bike here for hours without stepping on other people, especially during the late Autumn very misty foggy weather.
The pines (Pinus pinaster) of this forest are not very common outside the Landes and they have been adapted to the area in the 19th century in order to dry up the swampland which covered most of the Landes area (landes means : heath, or wasteland in French) ; in some way this forest is a man made forest.
A tip about this forest is a difficult task: have to tell about the light in the trees, tell about the whispering of the wind caressing the treetops, the moving treetops when the wind blows. . . tell about the resin scents of this pine forest, all the colours of the flowering heather and brooms, in Summer or Autumn.
Have to tell also about the little villages isolated in the forest, their hidden architectural jewels, tiny little churches, farm houses, tell about the people living there, the food, wonderful food, well, have to tell a lot about and now with VT mind I will re-visit lots of places I know and discover new in this forest.
I just show here in this general tip some pictures of the forest you may visit if you go for a vacation or a trip on the coast, it is not far.
Main picture: the high pines (Pinus pinaster)
Picture 2: the light in the forest
Picture 3: blooming heather
Picture 4: The bell tower of the church of Mano
Picture 5: Roman entrance of the church of Mano
Written Jan 4, 2007
Favorite thing: The vineyards are like gardens, lots of work has to be done to make a good wine, and this begins in the vineyard.
The PessacLeognan wines are top and given their price, you may understand the mansions are quite . . . cosy! The land here is probably more expensive than construction land in a residential area of a average French city.
The chateaux, which are on the pictures are among very well known ones, but the world famous ones are Pape Clément or Haut Brion , I will visit one day. When I was student in Bordeaux, the window of the room where I lived for two years had a view on Haut Brion vineyards; I was not interested at the time and I do not remember I made a picture of them.
Among the Chateaux you see on the pictures, Fieuzal is very famous for its white grave (Sauvignon grapes). Most of these chateaux can be visited during week days and wine tasting is possible; it is easy to find them when driving on the roads of the area, and they are generally happy to welcome visitors and . . . sell some bottles; if you are not interested by wine, only the landscapes may be a reason to drive around.
Written Dec 31, 2006
Favorite thing: La Gironde which designates the broad estuary after the Garonne and Dordogne rivers junction is the widest department in France. Lots of places to be visited, archaeology, prehistory, geology (Aquitanian, Burdigalian. . .), the long beaches on the Ocean, the Bassin d’Arcachon, the Dune du Pyla, Bordeaux, of course, other historical cities, I may have to post some information about many places I visited long time ago, and when getting there next time, I will not forget my camera.
Of course, one of the major characteristic of this department is the Bordeaux wine! Some week ago I travelled through the Graves area, the Graves are (at least to me) among the best wines of the world (it is not just a way of telling, it is what I really think, and am sure of!).
Graves de Pessac Leognan, an area beginning in the southern suburbs of Bordeaux and covering 1600hectars worked by 68 “chateaux” is the leading “appellation” of the Graves wines.
Originally, graves designates a light sandy-pebbly soil, (Picture 2) where in fact vineyards can easily be established and worked.
The cabernet-Sauvignon grape variety (Picture 1) is the king of grapes here, but the Bordeaux wines are blends and other varieties grow on the vineyards and the art of wine here, is art of blending too.
The chateaux are the domains where the wine is elaborated and some of them comprise nice little mansions (Pictures 3 and 4).
And here (Picture 5) is the typical shape of Bordeaux bottles, 75 cl; these are examples of “usual” Graves and Pessac Leognan Graves bottles. Cheers!
Fondest memory: http://www.vins-graves.com/?page=VinsGravesLayout
Written Dec 31, 2006
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