By Maggie LaCoste
Happy New Year! Hope that 2013 is going to be a great year with exciting bicycling adventures in France or elsewhere! Before I totally close my journals for 2012, I have the last part of my Top Places to Stay for the year to post. When this is complete, I will look forward to bringing you updates on the major bicycling routes in France, and my choices for the top cycling itineraries in France for 2013.
Hope you enjoy my final selections for 2012 Top Places to Stay!
Camping Les Ourmes, Hourtin
If Residence du Rohan was the best place to ride out two rainy days during the big Atlantic storm during our trip, then Camping Les Ourmes was the perfect refuge from a terrible day of riding in the cold and rainy aftermath of the storm. Several wrong turns on a poorly marked La Velodyssee in the pine forests left us in trouble in terrible weather with night rapidly approaching. We were on a part of the route that did not have many lodging options, especially because the tourist season had not yet begun.
We took a deviation to Hourtin because someone told us there was a hotel right in the center of town. There was, but it was closed when we arrived. As a matter of fact, everything was closed in this small town. This was the first time in our years of travel where I was really worried that we might actually not have a place to stay. We decided to stop and ask for help at a campground that we passed on the way to the port. What happened next was one of the nicest stories in all of our years of travel. I was cold, tired, wet and hungry. Nightfall had arrived and we needed a place to stay.
Without speaking hardly a word of English, the desk clerk at Camping Les Ourmes took us in, made arrangements for us to stay the night in a new mobile home, provided us with bed linens and even made arrangements for someone to cook us dinner. The kindness and hospitality that she extended to us was something I had never experienced.
The mobile home was lovely and was perfectly suited to a family of 4 with a kitchen, bathroom and shower and 2 small bedrooms. We learned that these mobile home units are some of the most popular rentals at campgrounds throughout the Atlantic Coast region. We also learned that camping is the preferred lodging of choice for the thousands of French families and youth who travel every summer to the Atlantic Coast region. It’s easy to understand why. First and foremost, it is very affordable. Our overnight stay was 19 Euro, but during the busy season, this unit is only available on a weekly basis. In addition, there are great facilities on site, especially for families traveling with kids: a large pool, playgrounds, night activities for adults and kids, grilling facilities and a snack bar and restaurant.
I would never have considered staying in a campground while bicycling since we don’t travel with camping gear. But to stay in a furnished cabin or mobile home in a 4 or 5 star campground is definitely not a bad choice, and is certainly economical. So perhaps the rain, getting lost and stumbling upon Camping Les Ourmes was all part of a plan to teach me about keeping an open mind about the adventures of bicycle travel. If that’s the case, it was a great lesson. I will always investigate camping options when we are traveling in areas like the Atlantic Coast where this lodging option is so popular. As a matter of fact, there are close to 400 campgrounds in the Aquitaine region alone, many of these are located along the popular Atlantic Coast. So if you are looking for a fun adventure in a 4 or 5 star environment, consider staying in a cabin or mobile home on an upcoming visit to France!
Cap Ferret may be one of the most charming villages on the Atlantic Coast of France, and it’s well worth the deviation from La Velodyssee to visit. Not to be confused with Lege-Cap-Ferret on the north side of Arcachon Bay, Cap Ferret is located south, on a peninsula that separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Bay. Everything I read led me to believe this was a place I needed to see and I was not disappointed. Imagine a French version of Cape Cod minus traffic, hotels and crowds. That’s what you get in Cap Ferret.
The small town is surrounded by forest, the ocean and the bay. Its severely restrictive zoning has kept development of all types to a minimum, an effort to protect the fragile environment and oyster cultivation fields. As a result, lodging options are few, most are booked months in advance. Visiting in the off season helped us secure a reservation at the best rated hotel in the town, La Maison du Bassin. A small room for 2 people in off season was 150 Euro, not surprising based on the fact that there are so few lodging options in town.
By all rights, this hotel should have been the highlight of our stay as it has all the ingredients that I look for: location, charming appearance, understated, characteristic of the region. But the staff lacked the warmth and welcoming attitude that would have made this hotel a clear cut home run.
Other than the staff, everything else about the hotel was totally charming. While I would not stay at this hotel again, I can’t wait to go back to Cap Ferret for a longer stay. This truly is a very special area, light years different from other tourist towns around Arcachon Bay. This truly is an area that has been unaffected by time, no night life, fast food restaurants or big stores. Life in Cap Ferret focuses on the tides, the market, the beach, boating, sports, bicycling and oysters. There are miles of bicycle paths in the forests to explore and many small oyster villages nearby like L’Herbe and La Vigne to visit.
Perhaps it was the fact that we were Americans traveling via bicycle, and the fear that soon bicycle tours would be showing up in this best-kept secret of a town. If that’s the case, I get it. The quaintness of Cap Ferret is well worth protecting. If you have a chance to visit, and are lucky enough to get a room anywhere in the town, savor the opportunity as there are not many places like this in France. If you go, consider renting a holiday house for a week, or off-season for a long weekend. It may be the best value because of the supply of rentals available.
Hotel La Marisa, Saint-Jean-de-Luz
Saint-Jean-de-Luz is one gorgeous town, and Hotel La Marisa is the perfect base to explore the region from. This was my very first time to the Basque region and I was awed by the friendliness of the people and the beauty of the landscape. We had actually planned to only stay for one night, but we loved the town and the region so much that we couldn’t help but stay longer.
Our days in this area and at the Hotel La Marisa were some of the best of our trip. The owner Sylvie and her assistant Mehdi make the Hotel La Marisa the most charming place to stay in the area. Without them, the hotel would be just a place to spend the night. This dynamic duo seem to always be around when you need something, and they always seem to make the right suggestion for whatever you are looking for. Perhaps this is the reason that Tripadvisor named the hotel a 2012 Traverler’s Choice Winner for Best Service! A stay here is truly very special.
Breakfasts here are truly very special, as is the breakfast room itself. Fresh Bayonne ham and local yogurt and cheeses are served, along with fresh local pastries.
There is a lovely terrace where you can also enjoy breakfast or an afternoon glass of wine, weather permitting. In case of rain or cool weather, there is a lovely library adjoining the entrance where you can read, use the Wi-Fi or just enjoy relaxing.
If you’re looking for one of the most authentic, charming Basque hotels in the region, located in the heart of a very vibrant resort town, less than a block from the promenade and beach, the Hotel La Marisa is for you, if you are lucky enough to get a room. While the rates at the hotel are definitely in the moderate and up category, a room at a comparable hotel in the South of France during the busy summer season would be three times the price!
I loved Saint-Jean-de-Luz and the surrounding Basque region. I can’t wait to go back, and to stay with my friends at the Hotel La Marisa. If you plan to go, contact the hotel as early as possible as it has become a very popular place to stay!
So at first glance, it may seem strange to have this hotel on my list of top places to stay. But after staying here at the end of my last 2 bicycling trips to France, there was no question that it belonged on the list.
I hate the end of my bike trips to France. We used to try to end trips so that we could spend a day or two in Paris before coming home, but that always seemed to be an anti-climatic way to end a wonderful trip through the French countryside. Two days in Paris is about as relaxing as two days in New York City or London. Then a couple of years ago, I decided to bike along the Loire until mid-day and catch an early evening TGV to Charles de Gaulle airport. We brought a picnic dinner and wine along for the train and after arriving at the CDG train station in Terminal 2, simply walked upstairs to the Sheraton at the airport. No buses, no taxis, no hauling bags, no hassle. And in the morning, we had breakfast and then took the train to our departure terminal.
It was the smartest decision we ever made. The rooms are comfortable and the staff is welcoming. There is a lovely bar for a drink before bed, a restaurant and room service. Unless there is a special function at the hotel, there always seem to be promotional rates available, so be sure to check thoroughly if you plan on staying there. During our last stay, we paid 160 Euro for one night. This is actually less than spending the night in Paris if you factor in the cost of transportation into and out of Paris.
This closes my Experience France by Bike trip journal for 2012. I’m looking forward to sharing new adventures and experiences with you in the upcoming year. Thanks for reading my blog and hope you come back often in 2013!
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