Saturday, August 4, 2012

Back on the road

They say opposites attract so there is a reason I'm married to Handyman. I break things and crash into things, he fixes them, I pack virtually everything I own (one holdall just for shoes, another for toiletries, you get my drift) he travels light and I love a lie in while he is up before the birdsong starts and has been for a walk, breakfast and coffee before I have even brushed my teeth. Our last night in Western France before leaving for the UK was a frenzy of packing (me and Issy, who have oversized suitcases, so much her mother's daughter) while he nonchalantly chucked a few bits into his diddy Samsonite and hey presto, he was off to the bar while we waded through unworn, unfolded clothes that there was no point unpacking in the first place.  This morning, an hour before we were due to leave, he was hassling us to close our cases so he could start loading the car. I am allergic to organisation on this scale especially when I'm still in bed with sleep in my eyes. Issy was still unconscious. I dragged myself out of bed, shut my case and he was off sprinting to the car with it. Half an hour later, with the car immaculately loaded with cases, wine, beach bags, my bike and concrete candle holders, I realised that the apartment key was still in my clutch bag, now packed in my suitcase. Cue a complete unpacking of the car, amid stifled hilarity upstairs while Handyman burned off a few cals of last nights pizza/pasta carb fest trying to find the right clutch (they were three to choose from, so easy to get confused.) The moral of this story is that it doesn't always pay to be ahead of yourself.  Despite the fact that this last month was supposed to be a relaxing holiday, with some work and adventure thrown in, it has been rather eventful. I am covered in cuts and bruises, the result of biking/surfing exploits. Two days ago, I fell off my bike in front of 200 tourists as I left the ferry at Cap Ferret. It was far worse than landing in the dirt in Spain when at least no one else was around. But by far the worst accident was surfing. There I was, surfing at Biscarrosse near Bordeaux, catching some great waves and enjoying the water. After a couple of hours, I decided to get 'one last wave.' Unfortunately so did the guy next to me and he ploughed into me, knocking me off my board and somehow entangling his ankle leash around my neck under the water. As I fought to release the cord, the guy was tugging his board above me and strangling me. The surfboard fin smashed into the back of my ear and as I finally emerged from the water, I was covered in blood, my diamond earring ripped from my earlobe and the back of my ear sporting a gaping slice. The Baywatch guys swung into action, cleaning me up as other bathers looked on in horror and sending me off to Dr Fabian, a cool hippie with a surfboard in the corner of his office who stiitches up all the unfortunates. The surf shop owner said 'Fabian is good with a needle and thread.' He took a photo with his iPhone to show me the gaping flesh before and the neat six stitches afterwards saying, 'It's a shame it's behind the ear as it looks so pretty now.'   My mum has urged me to take up something safer, like knitting. In London, I have decided to leave the derring do to the Olympians and stick to pedicures and some light shopping instead. Meanwhile the 12 hour journey back to the nippy North unfolded with us both doing what we do best....Handyman driving and me reading the satnav, the papers on the iPad and Cote Ouest.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cap Fantastique

There's a little stretch of western France that is akin to heaven. It's called Cap Ferret/Bassin d'Arcachon and it's as close to perfection as you could hope to get. The town of Arcachon is a buzzy beachside haven with seafood restaurants, cool boutiques and a beautiful daily market selling yesterdays catch, fresh fruit and vegetables as well as cashmere, silk dresses and pastries. La Maison du Bassin on Cap Ferret is the kind of hotel that one wishes to open in those daydreams one has of running a seaside b&b. The bar and terrace were full of interesting types, from Parisian families en vacances to surf dudes to arty creatives. And us. It has a whiff of The Hamptons about it. The region boasts stunning white beaches, surfing, cycling, seafood, the best wine in France, sand dunes,'s full of tanned beautiful families with kids straight out of Boden, dads who look like a cross betwenn Sean Penn and Matthew McConaughey and chic bikini clad mums wearing straw hats and boasting not a millimetre of fat. The shoes are Converse, Havaianas and Bensimon. I'd like to say I hate it but I'm smitten. Cap Ferret has wide open white sandy beaches with barely a soul on them at the end of July, cool beach bars playing salsa and latin sounds with driftwood sofas and shade sails and enough surf to keep the dudes happy. Stylish boutiques like Jane de Boy and Popies nestle beside wooden oyster shacks in the fisherman's quarter serving delicious crustaceans with a glass of chilled white. Everyone cycles with their groceries, baguettes, poodles and French bulldogs in their baskets. Chateau Galhaud locked up their wine when they heard Handyman was in Saint Emilion on Sunday. It's a beautiful village full of history, with a monastery dating back to the 8th century. We were spolit for choice with wine and went to two different caves and chateaux for tastings before heading for lunch on a shady terrace. As we were paying the bill, I noticed a poster advertising Herbie Hancock performing in Bordeaux. 'I wish we'd been here for that, I bet it was brilliant,' I said to Handyman. The very cool guy sitting at the bar wearing a hat nodded and smiled to himself. It was Herbie, chilling on a Sunday lunchtime in sleepy Saint Emilion! You've got to love a road trip, especially if you work from home and time isn't a problem. As long as you book places with wifi, you can work when necessary and explore the rest of the time. After interviewing Lenny Henry, I finally managed to persuade Handyman to hire a bike so I don't have to keep training alone following my coast rides in Spain and exploring the Bassin here. We hit the road first thing and cycled along stunning routes next to the ocean, stopping for a coffee and a croissant just as the rest of Bordeaux was waking up. Short of a surf, which had to stop after day two when a fellow surfer careered into me and caused a gash in my ear that needed six stitches, or a gallop across the beach, it is the perfect way to kick start the day. After cycling around the Cap, Sebastian Degrave's oyster shack, pictured above, beckoned and six huge oysters and a glass of white wine seemed in order. Although to call it a shack is slightly misleading given that it sits on a beach opposite the oyster beds and looks like a style shot out of Cote Sud. Cannot say more...except please don't come here, it's awful.