Iggy the Hymer motorhome is watching the morning sun burn the frosting from the grass at the free motorhome Aire in Dax.
In an hour I will send DM to rouse our lazy chauffeur from his slumber and we will be on our way to San Sebastian/Donostia. Donostia (as the Basques call it) is something of a traditional stop for motorhomers heading into or out of Spain from South West France, and we are going there to meet up with fellow motorhomer and long term traveller Vera and her sister Rita.
With some social time to look forward to later I’m keen to catch up with the blog before we go, and have already been out and walked Marley round the small lake beside the Aire. Quietly stunned by the sight of it’s covering of morning mist drifting skywards. The irresistible pull of the swiftly warming sun lifting each tiny drop of water vapour, up, up, up… Evaporation in heady, graceful process.
To Drink or not to Drink – Cognac is the Question
Returning to Iggy I try and drag my wandering mind back to the blog. What do I need to write about? Yesterday was Dax. Got that one. But where else? Oh yes Cognac. But when was that? When was now for that matter? Tuesday? Wednesday? Was there a date to go with those days
Thankfully this trip I keep a note of all our coordinates along with the day, date and name of town. Popping them down in a notebook as I plot our destinations for the day. A quick scrabble under the bed to the glove box for said, trusty book and I have the details my absent brain has forgot.
Sunday! Ah it’s all coming back to me now! Sunday the 10th of February, found Iggy loitering at the free Aire, on the banks of the Charente in Cognac. ( N45.698299, W0.332264 ) The old town gates tantalisingly close on the other side of the water. Beckoning us past the winter bare arms of the willows and over the waiting bridge. Cognac. Surely this would be fun?
And to be fair, it mostly was, and most likely would have been more, on another day. A day not a Sunday. A day with less rain. A day not in early February. A day with more…colours, flowers, the passage of feet raising dust in the white, crumbly sandstone, empty streets.
Maybe it was just us but we seemed to spend most of our time in Cognac saying things that started with “It’s probably really nice when…” And I feel a little bad to describe it so as it was, in essence, a pleasant place, with all the right ingredients to make a wonderful place.
The river is of course a great starting point. The wide flowing waters, complete with accessible, wild, island walks, and a lock system was my favourite part of the visit. And Marley loved being able to be off lead and charge around the wooded wonderland of the island.
The historic buildings were, well, they were there, but you got the feeling the commune didn’t care too much, and couldn’t really be bothered to make them as interesting as a modicum of effort could have made them. But again, we think this was mainly a sort of out of season malaise that seemed to affect the whole city centre.
It was Sunday of course so all the shops were closed. The only people on the streets in the old town seemed to be two of those slightly intimidating young men often found in France – and cities in many other countries too. Lurching through the streets with drug glazed eyes, loud voices, the challenging, appraising glance that screams poverty and crime.
We went another way, drifting back towards the river and it’s broad, open walkway. Admiring the eateries that would be fabulous in the summer with clouds of greenery and soft music drifting to and fro like the river cruisers, abandoned for the winter with black mould covers against the rain.
Cold, wet and ready for dinner and a movie we made our way back to Iggy for the night. On a Saturday in late Spring or early summer Cognac would be a lovely place to visit. Baskets of flowers and the arching waterside willows will transform the austere, white sandstone streets into things of utter beauty. The museums and Cognac tours will sparkle with interest, and a river cruise or gourmet meal in a superb riverside venue will finish off the day in perfect style.
On a cold, wet, Sunday in early February? Maybe not.
Last Day in France – Dax
And so, after our quiet night in Belin-Beliec we arrived yesterday at the spa town of Dax, a scant 44 miles as the crow flies from the Spanish border.
We didn’t know it was a spa town before we arrived of course. We try to know as little as possible about the places we visit before we arrive. Instead I look for welcoming motorhome aires or parkings in a general direction and distance from where we’ve stayed the night before.
Once I find an okay sounding spot I google the town or village and press images to see if anything interesting looking comes up. If it does – we go. If it doesn’t? I look for another Aire.
There are some places of course that we visit with expectations and fore knowledge. Places like Rome, Pisa, Montelimar, Dijon, Granada, Seville. But for the rest we like to be surprised. To turn a corner and discover something completely unexpected.
Like a Thermal Spring in the centre of a town called Dax that the Roman’s had built a baths around after the waters healed a centurion’s dog!
What? Yes! So we discovered as we wandered the five minute wander from the free aire, along the river and into the historic old town. Past the architecturally beautiful bullring. The groups of Boules players scattered around the little park and the incredible acoustics of the lacy central bandstand. Hello Dax! We think we like you!
It wasn’t an instant liking, although as said above there’s plenty to like. But the place grew on us more and more as we wandered it’s streets and riverbanks.
There’s some pretty shoddy buildings here, and the town is a strange mix of feelings of poverty and over priced “Trendy” co-existing simultaneously in exactly the same space. Like two realities, two worlds whose very particles are woven inextricably together.
But it is fun. A shop window full of kitchen gadgets held our attention for ages. A pineapple corer, a garlic roaster, a machine that simultaneously peeled, cored and sliced apples! I wanted every gadget and fear I shall dream longingly of the apple peeler for the rest of my days!
The next window showcased a fantastic selection of knives. Plain knives, patterned knives, Army knives, steak knives. One display with beautifully scrollworked blades had a centrepiece advert of a disconcerted looking Hipster man about to tuck into a steak. You can read the caption we made up for it below…
The sun was a heady 16 degrees and we wandered blissfully without our winter coats. Poked our hands under the roasting hot thermal waters gushing out of taps at the old Roman baths turned fountain.
We admired the cathedral, read the story of the Roman Legionnaire and his dog, chatted with friendly dog walkers and munched massive Pommes de Chausson with strong black coffee from a backstreet bakery.
After dinner we walked Marley one last time out along the riverbanks beneath the towering, winter bare arches of the plane trees. Over the course of the day this town had worked a magic on us and left us content, happy, sorry to leave, glad to have come.
Maybe it was the waters…