Back again to our superb B&B in Hendaye and to our wonderful
hosts - Monsieur and Madame Coppola. Home from home.
That's our suite with the balcony
As I say, Pat and I have just returned from a superb two and a half weeks in France. We took the ferry from Portsmouth down to Bilbao in northern Spain and then drove the short distance into south west France. As we did two years ago we stayed for a few nights at a wonderful B&B in Hendaye, right on the border between France and Spain and once again enjoyed the company and hospitality of Monsieur and Madame Coppola – two wonderful hosts – in one of our favourite seaside resorts. We enjoyed a beer in the garden with Monsieur Coppola and each morning listened as he set both France and the rest of the world to rights with typical Gallic humour and wisdom - a true grumpy old man! After my own heart! We felt completely at home and one of the family! While at Hendaye we explored the foothills of the Pyrenees, enjoyed tapas in the wonderful Spanish resort of San Sebastian as well as visiting local French resorts such as St- Jean-de-Luz, a place that we really loved.
From Hendaye we travelled the short distance
to Capbreton, just north of Biarritz, and enjoyed the sun, sand and surf of
this stretch of the Atlantic coast. Capbreton and neighbouring Hossagor are sometimes venues for the world surfing
championships and our B&B reflected this. Remote and deep in the woodland
just outside Capbreton it was a real “one off”. Milko, the owner, was a skilled
surfer and keen motor cyclist and was a delight – providing us with wonderful breakfasts,
a super swimming pool and a magnificent home decorated with surfing
memorabilia. We felt as if we had gone back in time to the 60s music of the
Beach Boys. It all felt bizarre to be sitting by a pool in the middle of
woodland and surrounded by surfboards, photographs of Hawaiian surfers and
retro American merchandise – but it was indeed a place to remember and to
Then on to Fouras - a return to a place we both love. Splendid beaches,
castle, boat trips to the islands and a really friendly town filled with
ordinary French folk getting on with their everyday life. Our B&B there was
what can only be described as quirky - a rambling house, filled with twisting
staircases, hidden corners, low ceilings, chicken, goats and bells which one
rang to attract Madame Chognot by pulling innumerable pieces of string. Madame took
care of us like a mother hen – ensuring that our every need was met – breakfast
in a sunny garden complete with even fridge to keep drinks and butter cool,
shady trees to sit under when the sun became too fierce and freshly laid eggs
And then finally a long journey north to the Channel coast
where we enjoyed a couple of days just outside Dieppe revisiting places where we had first experienced French B&B
accommodation with our children thirty or so years ago. Senneville, Fecamp,
Varengeville - all places that we knew well from the past and our B&B at
Quiberville a magnificent and imposing house overlooking the Channel and the
little fishing village. Madame Vergnes cooked us a splendid meal on our arrival
and provided a hearty breakfast each day. Our room was in complete contrast to
that at Fouras – high ceilinged and high French fashion. It was called the Guy
de Maupassant suite after the famous French writer and indeed we felt almost as
if we were in some late 19th century Parisian salon into which would
walk one of the great names of French literary or artistic society!
|Deep in the pine woods at Capbreton - notice the surf board on the left.|
|Breakfast at Capbreton - never bettered|
|Breakfast in the garden at Fouras - chickens and goats|
wandered around as we ate
|Milko - a lovely man: surfer, racing motor |
cyclist, vintage Beetle owner, B&B
owner. A man doing what he loves,
living the life he loves - a real one off
And we will long remember the mile long trek through the pine woods after Milko – complete with beautifully maintained and ancient VW Beetle (the ultimate surfer’s car!) - the owner came out to “rescue” us and guide us to his remote home, our Capbreton B&B. How I wished for an SUV to negotiate that bumpy road! Or maybe when the cold days of winter set in we’ll remember all the lovely restaurants that we sat outside while eating our evening meal – Les Vivaldi in Fouras, Embata in Hendaye or the Mona Lisa in Capbreton – idyllic summer evenings with a lovely meal and a cold beer – what more could one ask.
|Another day another beach - this one on the beautiful, car free|
Île-d'Aix off Fouras
The tallest sand dune in Europe, the Dune of Pilat at
La Teste-de-Buch near Bordeaux
|Bastille Day in Fouras - flags are lowered in honour of|
French soldiers. And the lady bearing her flag realises that everyone else's
flag is twice as big as hers. Much merriment ensued!
|The little band strikes up the Marseillaise|
So much to look back upon. So much to reminisce about. But there is one this I haven’t mentioned. A small thing perhaps but something which I found a delight at the end of the holiday. It was also something that I suspect one would not find in many other countries – certainly not in the modern UK.
When we arrived at our final destination – the area around Quiberville on the Normandy coast – we noticed that each little beach that we visited had something common. This area of Normandy is the department of Seine-Maritime and stretches along the coast around the mouth of the River Seine and includes the port of Le Havre to and the city of Rouen. And on each beach that we visited there was a large beach hut with decking in front of it. On the decking were placed about twenty brightly painted deck chairs. The huts were attractive, welcoming, well maintained and beautifully painted in white, red and yellow and each proudly boasted on their roof the legend Lire a la Plage – “Read on the Beach”.
Each hut was staffed by a couple of young
people and inside was a mini library – all the shelves labelled as to their
contents: children’s books, romances, non-fiction, local interest, thrillers,
magazines, newspapers, foreign language books, guides, and so on. Something for
everyone. There were displays of leaflets advertising local events and a
handwritten board where the staff recorded particular events to be held at the
hut – book readings, book reviews, visiting authors, poetry reading sessions
and the like. And all this, I discovered
when I read the board outside the hut on Fécamp beach went on throughout the
summer months when the beaches were full of visitors and children were on
holiday from school.
|Le Vivaldi in Fouras - a splendid restaurant with a delightful staff.|
Pat choosing the healthy options: with one of her sweets at Le Vivaldi and enjoying "the
best banana milk shake ever" in an ice cream parlour on the front at Fouras
And all this is presumably the brain child of and funded by the local authority – the Department of Seine-Maritime. What a wonderful use of public funds. I don’t know how the initiative is funded – do locals donate books, can you bring a book along and exchange it for another, are the books in one beach hut exchanged every so often for books in another to ensure a recycling of books and interest? But whatever, it is a glorious idea. In an age where in the UK libraries and library services are being severely cut back in the name of austerity this French department is encouraging reading by putting books on the beach!
At a time when in the UK high
culture and is deemed to be the next Pixar animation or the next episode of
some TV soap, where anti-intellectualism
stalks our streets and schools and where many book shops selling worthwhile
literature are increasingly being forced to close down as supermarkets and
Amazon flood the market with the cut price selling of cheap “chick lit”
paperbacks to satisfy the dumbed down end of the market it seems that France,
thankfully, remains a society in which good literature and reading as a
worthwhile and engaging activity is still viewed as important. Indeed a common
denominator of each B& B we stayed in were the shelves of books and walk
through any French town and it will not be long before you come upon a well
stocked book shop, its shelves and displays filled with books of “worth”
reflecting France’s literary, cultural and academic heritage as well as current
popular reading material. And, as we sat on the beach at Veules-les-Roses it did not escape my notice
that on the promenade immediately behind
the Lire a la Plage hut was a
restaurant - Le Victor Hugo – named
after that giant of French literature who often visited the resort.
|Lire a la Plage at Fecamp|
As we sat and watched this literary pastime on Fécamp beach or on the beach at the tiny seaside village of Veules-les-Roses it occurred to me that the general principle and ideas behind this initiative could be applied in virtually any situation. In Nottingham we have a vast concrete wilderness in the city centre – the Market Square. It used to be a pleasant place with raised sections, plants and the like – now it is just an expanse of concrete. So sterile and uninteresting it is that the city council ensures that throughout the year there are a number of activities – fairgrounds, Christmas markets, a big wheel, a beach (tons of sand are imported) and so on to brighten its appeal and its sterility.
But why not a “Read in the Market Square” hut as in France – not just to promote the centre of Nottingham and this sterile concrete environment but to promote reading and literature? Why not at the railway station, the bus station, the shopping mall or my local country park here in Ruddington? When I walked through one of the vast shopping malls in Nottingham the other day I noticed a couple of “soft play areas” where children could be taken or even left for a period while parents went off to shop. They were full of noisy children throwing themselves on padded mats, play fighting or scrambling over plastic blocks. True, it perhaps got rid of excess energy but my experience of working wit young children throughout my teaching career suggests that it also made them more excited, sweaty and boisterous when it was time to go. But why not a reading area – surely much more beneficial – calming, useful, educational, a much more positive way of occupying children? Sadly, unlike our French neighbours, I’m of the view that we in the UK perhaps do not value and expect our children to value such quiet, calm and cerebral pursuits. Nor, increasingly, do we perceive books and reading as pleasurable activities worthwhile for their own sake. In UK schools today books (often bizarrely referred to as “texts” when one reads modern school and educational documentation) are to be studied, analysed, and comprehended not necessarily enjoyed, loved and remembered. Reading is a skill to be mastered not an activity that will inspire, light up the imagination or take us to another place.
|Plenty of seats for everyone|