This is the blog of journalist, Lonely Planet author and photographer Stuart Butler. It features news and travel updates from the regions in which Stuart works, including northeast Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan), Yemen and Sri Lanka.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Questions on French Atlantic coast for Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter

As the author of the French Atlantic coast and Basque Country chapters for the Lonely Planet France guide I was recently asked by Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter if I could answer a few readers questions regarding visiting this part of France. Here is a link to the article

If you don't speak Swedish (like me!) then you may find the following translation useful! I had to write this feature from a tiny village on the Indonesian island of Java and was only able to get an internet signal through my phone by standing at a very specific angle under a certain palm tree!

My husband and I (around 50 years young) would like to travel to the Atlantic coast of France.
1. Where is the best place to start if we rent a car to travel from north to south?

This very much depends on how long you have available and how quickly you want to travel. In the average two week holiday it makes a lot of sense to just concentrate on one part of the Atlantic coast. Brittany, in the far north, has a beautiful coastline with lots of little coves interspersed with long stretches of sandy beaches, but of course its northern location means it’s the area with the most temperamental weather. Nantes (which is technically no longer in Brittany) is probably the easiest place to fly to and has numerous car hire outlets (both at the airport and in the town itself). It’s an attractive city with a good range of museums, an excellent art galley and a large, walking mechanical elephant! Further south La Rochelle in the Poitou-Charentes region is an ideal place to begin an Atlantic coast holiday. The city might be the most attractive on the Atlantic coast, has several quirky museums and a world class aquarium. Numerous flights (including a number of budget airlines) fly into the city’s airport and there are plenty of car hire outlets. La Rochelle also makes an excellent base from which to visit the Île de Ré, the Marais Poitevin and even Cognac, all of which are amongst the highlights of the Atlantic coast.

2. We both like good food and culture. Can you please tell us about some places we should not miss?
Mats and Pia

Almost anywhere along the Atlantic coast has good food, but the Basque country, on the Spanish border in the far south really combines both your requirements for good food and a notably different local culture. The area is renowned across France for having the best food in the country and the Basques have a culture that is notably different to the rest of both France and Spain. The Basques claim to be the oldest Europeans and to speak the oldest European language (and one that is unrelated to any other language). As well as some superb restaurants there are an increasing number of tapas (or pintxos as they are known in Basque) bars which are not just good fun, but a great way to taste a variety of the regions food. The pretty city of Bayonne, capital of the French Basque country, is both the best place to eat in the region and has the most visibly Basque culture. The Chiloa Gurmenta Restaurant (rue des Tonneliers 7) in the heart of Bayonne, is as Basque a restaurant as they come. For tapas Bar Jean (Rue des Halles 5) in Biarritz is a great find.
Further north, Bordeaux is a city renowned not just for its wine, but also for its food. The city centre is filled with classic French bistros serving equally classic French food. Le Cheverus Café (Rue du Loup 81-83) is maybe the best of these sort of places. On weekdays it’s a good idea to eat your main meal at lunchtime as many places do great value set menus. Whilst in the Bordeaux region take a day trip to the seaside town of Arcachon and have an oyster lunch – this is where the best oysters in France come from – or try those at La Bôite á Huîtres (Cours du Chapeau Rouge 36) in the city itself. You should also make time to visit some of the vineyards. The Bordeaux tourist office organises a variety of different day long wine tours as well as various wine courses. See for more information on these. The École du Vin ( based inside the Masion du Vin de Bordeaux (Cours du 30 Julliet 3) organises introductory wine tasting courses everyday but Sunday throughout the summer.

I'm going to Biarritz this summer and I'm going to travel around. Which are the best places that can offer surfing lessons for beginners?
Almost every beach in the Biarritz region is home to at least one surf school, but not all the beaches here are suitable for learners. By far the best place to learn to surf is in Hendaye, a small town right on the Spanish border and about twenty minutes drive or train ride from Biarritz. The waves here are always small and gentle and normally the only other surfers in the water are other beginners. Closer to Biarritz the Plage Côte des Basques, just a short walk south of the town, is another great place to learn to surf. Wherever you go make sure the surf school you pick is one affiliated to the French Surfing Federation and bear in mind that some instructors use giving lessons as nothing but an excuse to go surfing themselves. You should also insist that your instructor keep you well away from more experienced surfers who don’t tend to take kindly to having groups of beginners in the water with them.

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