La Giraudière Volunteers Visit the West Coast of France
After two weeks as a volunteer at La Giraudière, I realized that I had not heard an American accent since my arrival. (That’s not completely true, a volunteer from Austria speaks with a lovely American accent that
she claims she picked up when she lived in Kansas for a year as a child; it has a pleasant Teutonic lilt to it so it doesn’t quite count.) Of course, I didn’t come to France to meet other Americans but still, I’ve never traveled far or near without running into some of my compatriots. So where were they? It’s really no great mystery. Americans tend to visit the capital cities of Europe:London, Paris, Rome and then home. It’s understandable but by bypassing the West of France, they are denying themselves an incredible travel experience.
On our last weekend as volunteers at La Giraudière, program director Paul lead us on a daylong excursion to the beautiful western coast of France. The first stop along the way was the bustling town of Pons. It’s windy, picturesque streets feature a market on Saturdays. On this particular sunny weekend, it was hosting the “La Grande Fete de la St.- Jacques. An annual affair, the shopkeepers dress as medieval merchants while solders in mail, maidens in headdress and mythological creatures roam the
streets. As you shop for local soaps and cheeses, you are treated to the sounds of authentic medieval music played by roaming musicians. Children in period dress, dance to the music as they dodge the shoppers who fill the streets. Falconry and archery demonstrations on the grand lawn in front of the castle fills out the bill. It was a wonderful stop fro coffee, croissants and ice cream but soon we were off to the seaside village of Talmon sur Gironde.
As you drive into Talmon you are greeted by a sign proclaiming, “Talmon, le plus beau village en France.” By the time you leave you will be in complete agreement. You first must leave your car in the car park as autos are not allowed in the village. The landscape is dominated by the fortress-like church of Sainte- Radegone that guards the harbor on the Estuary of the Gironde. Beautiful in its simplicity, the church proudly looks upon the sea on one side and the small village on the other.
The tiny, neatly landscaped streets of the village wander through residences and shops alike. Tidily maintained gardens amidst sun bleached white walls add the color to this most charming of villages. The town dates back to the 1200s and the carousel on the outskirts of the village adds to the other era feel of the place.
Although, Talmon lies at the mouth of the Gironde estuary, it’s the call of the sea, further up the coast that draws us to Saint-Palais sur Mer. It is this resort city, unlike any of the other places visited on this trip to France that makes me realize how much Americans are missing by skipping this area. Graceful palm trees and sturdy stone mansions line its quay along the sea. Balmy sea breezes waft through the air as beach goers and senior citizens alike,
stroll along to capture the golden rays pouring down from the blue skies. Large sailboats on their way out to the ocean can be seen in the distance as children of all ages frolic in the refreshing waters of The Atlantic. It only takes us seconds before we peel down to our bathing suits and we are diving in the surf. The pleasant temperatures of the water are a wonderful surprise, especially for anyone who has spent summer holidays on the chilly shores of The North Atlantic in America. I am reminded of Nice without the crowds and with better beaches. No rocky bottoms here but rather the type of sand that invites you to curl your toes into as you prepare to take your first dive into the water. An English band with a vocalist reminiscent of Adele rehearses along the
promenade for their evening concert. We knew we wouldn’t be able to stay long enough to hear their complete sets but it was easy to imagine the whole seafront lit up while merry vacationers danced the night away to their pop sounds. A delicious lunch of crepes, omelets and strawberry water readied us for our car ride home. Although we were a bit tired and all had a touch of the sun, the drive home was only 90 minutes long, reminding us just how close we were to this most beautiful of regions.
La Giraudiere sits among the peaceful sunflower and farm fields of The Charente region but it is only a short drive to the gorgeous western coast of France. I didn’t sign up for this but what a marvelous surprise to find such a beautiful piece of the world in my own backyard.
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