By the water at Mortagne-sur-Gironde

Trip Start Apr 10, 2012
Trip End Jul 13, 2012

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Flag of France  , Poitou-Charentes,
Sunday, June 3, 2012

Driving north from St Jean de Luz, and after Bayonne, we we entered an area of pine forest. This forest went on for over 200 kms. The land was flat, and underneath the trees was a covering of bracken. At first it was lovely, but it grew to be all so much the same. Bob says the last few months have spoilt me for views.
Apparently these areas used to be swampy land. They are known as the Landes Forest or the Landes of Gascony. In the 19C people here used stilts to walk on the wet ground. Forests were planted here to rehabilitate the land. 

There were lots of families out bike riding here, and also 'pique-nique' (don't you love that word spelt like that?) spots. We stopped for lunch on the way, but for once my camera was rested.

We spent the night at a camp ground at Andernos-les-Bains. Here we were on the eastern shore of the Bassin de Arcachon. Lovely spot by the water. 

Next morning we drove around the bay to Cap Ferret. There were lots of oyster vendors on the way. Apparently the oyster industry is buoyant again after a series of set-backs in the seventies when there were issues with disease in the oysters. On the headland of Cap Ferret we could see sand dunes near Arcachon across the bay. These are the largest dunes in the country, and they are creeping inwards, swallowing all in their path at 4.5 metres per year. Even on this side the sand dunes seem bent on invasion.
There were more pine forests the next day, but gradually the vegetation changed to grain fields and cattle. Just as we were looking for a place to stop, we came across a great camping car aire at Mortagne-sur-Gironde. The Gironde is a long estuary (65 km) formed from the meeting of the rivers Dordogne and Garonne.  We were parked with a view of the boats in the marina and the lovely old buildings on the other side (looked a bit like Tasmania). Ducks were everywhere, and for 7.4 euros a night we had not only the view but also electricity and wifi. 
What was interesting here was that just a 100m up the road were high white limestone cliffs. Above these is the new town, and below them the marina, marshes, and grain fields on the dryer parts. Rock cavities in the cliffs were used as dwellings by monks in the fourth century. At this time the water came to the foot of the cliffs, and mariners could take refuge there. Later the caves became a refuge for pilgrims on the Compostella route.
We walked up to the Ermitage Saint Martial. This hermitage consists of several cells, a refectory, a kitchen and a chapel dug from the cliffs by monks in the 2nd or 3rd century.  76 steps to walks to walk up inside. Can't believe they did all that. 

Although they were later expelled, in 1698 a new monk, J Boucher, revived the site.  I have no photos, but the chapel was small but beautiful.  It seems it was not all for the monks, as smugglers also had some part in the build. That makes sense then, as there was reward for their labours.

There was a  kiosk by the camp site which did good business. We bough 2 pieces of Oignon Lardon Tarte (like a flat quiche) and stuffed tomatoes. Very tasty, and as soon as we had the plates out the ducks were by our door. All was quiet as can be during the night as well, so all in all a good stop.
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