Les Vacances d’Hiver – Biarritz et Clermont-Ferrand

Salut tout le monde ! J’espère que vous allez bien. As I write this blog post, it is Saturday 5th March which means it is the last weekend of the school holidays in Toulouse and I will be returning to work on Monday. If you’re unsure of how the school holidays work in France, I have attached a photo below which explains it for you.

As you can see, all of the regions in France are split into three zones, with my city falling into Zone C. This meant that I had two weeks off work and so, as much as I love Toulouse, je voulais en profiter au maximum, and use the time to explore other areas of France. With my best friend, (who is also named Erica and lives in Toulouse – what are the chances?), we made the decision to visit Biarritz and Clermont-Ferrand.

Biarritz

I actually didn’t know about Biarritz before moving to France but my lovely flatmate, Emma, is from there and she regularly goes home to visit family so she really sold it to me and I decided I had to visit!

Emma and I

For those of you who perhaps also don’t know anything about the town, I’ll tell you a little bit about it. Biarritz is a stunning, seaside town in the South-West of France (around a 3 hour drive from Toulouse) and is located on France’s Basque Coast, meaning that it straddles the border between France and le Pays Basque – an autonomous region in the North of Spain with strong cultural traditions and its own distinct language. The impact of this language and culture can certainly be felt and observed in Biarritz. During our trip, we wanted to soak up some of this culture so we paid a visit to a bakery named Maison Adam to try a famous Gâteau Basque. This is a traditional dessert from this region, with a soft shortbread-type dough and is typically filled with black cherry jam or cream. As you can see from the photos, we opted for a cream filling and it was absolutely delightful. I’m almost tempted to make a quick trip back to Biarritz to buy some more!

Additionally, the long sandy beaches of Biarritz make it a major surfing destination and a popular holiday resort among European royals.

Unfortunately, there was quite a bit of brouillard when we visited which meant we missed out on the beautiful sunset that Biarritz is renowned for, but my flatmate has seen it many times and assures me that it is wonderful!

Bayonne

During our visit to Biarritz, on s’est trompées and took the wrong bus. It took us a while to realise our mistake and we ultimately ended up in the neighbouring city of Bayonne. We decided to make the most of our error and explore the area a little before returning to Biarritz to spend the evening with my flatmate, Emma.

Despite having city status, this gothic-style city, characterised by narrow, medieval streets, was extremely tranquil and certainly felt more like a large town.

Despite not spending a huge amount of time here, we thoroughly enjoyed wandering the streets and admiring the architecture. Many of the buildings were unlike any I have ever seen in the South of France so it was really fascinating to me and I was extremely glad that we had taken the wrong bus. It was a true hidden gem.

Clermont-Ferrand

During the second week of our holidays, we took a visit to Clermont-Ferrand, a university city in central France which is home to the Michelin company headquarters and bordered by the volcanic Chaîne des Puys mountains. One great thing about being an English Language Assistant for the British Council is that a large majority of students on our university course are also spending the year working in France, including our good friend, Isla, which means there are always opportunities to visit friends even though we’re away from home. Isla works as a language assistant in a primary school in Clermont-Ferrand so we decided to visit her as we haven’t seen her since she came to visit us in Toulouse in October – a catch up was long overdue, we missed her so much! Clermont-Ferrand is not a particularly large city and not necessarily a tourist hot spot but we were more than happy to spend a quiet few days with our friend and go on simple, relaxing walks to discover a new area of France that we’ve never seen before.

One day during our visit we took a long, steep walk up to Parc Montjuzet, situated on a volcanic hill which provides a landscape view of the city. Il faisait vraiment beau, which made the walk up a little challenging but it was certainly worth it for the views!

Our evenings typically consisted of going for dinner and/or drinks in and around Place de Jaude, the main square in the city centre of Clermont-Ferrand. The greatest surprise of the trip, however, might have been on our last evening when Isla brought us to a small, local restaurant which sold Irn-Bru. Of all the places in the world! It had been such a long time since I had last had a drink of Irn-Bru so it was extremely exciting and it made me really happy to see the French and Scottish cultures come together. It was a lovely way to end our trip.

And so les vacances d’hiver come to an end. I had an amazing time and it was so much fun getting to explore more of France with my free time, however life will return to normality on Monday as I start back work. I would love to share with you more details about what it is that I actually do at work on a day to day basis and how I typically spend a day in Toulouse. With that said, for the next blog post I plan to share a ‘day in my life’ for you all to get a better understanding of what life is like as an English Language Assistant in France.

Thanks for reading, I look forward to sharing another blog post very soon. À bientôt !

Erica

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