Mrs. Misadventures – La Grande Dune du Pilat and St. Emilion

La  Grande Dune du Pilat
La Grande Dune du Pilat


La Terrasse Rouge – La Table du Château La Dominique. I loved the red gravel terrace which mimicked walking on grapes and called to mind the gravel paths of yesteryear.


Scenes of St. Emilion


This past weekend a friend and I went to the Bordeaux region and it made me realize why my kids don’t want to travel with me any more.  I sometimes come up with ambitious ideas that are super fun but can be, let’s say, a bit overwhelming.  They think adventure is code word for “crazy.”  So – I had to find a friend to join me on my next adventure, La Grande Dune du Pilat and St. Emilion.  It started off great: arrived early to the train, settled into our seats, chatting about the weekend ahead – meals to be eaten, wine to drink, wine to buy, more food to eat, etc.   The ticket lady comes around – and low and behold, I have forgotten to bring my discount card, so we both have to pay an additional fare on the train – a minor annoyance, but nothing can bring us down.

We roll happily along for another hour or so until I hear a disturbance near the door as new passengers board.  I look to see an older gentleman struggling with his old, overweight cocker spaniel trying to drag him up the steep stairs and onto the train before the doors close.  I rush to help and make fast friends with a very old and very stinky cocker spaniel who proceeds to stare at me with his rheumy eyes for the rest of the trip.  Knowing that this older fellow will have trouble getting the dog off of the train, I volunteer to carry my new best friend off the train. Now I am feeling good about myself – I have done my good deed for the day.  Surely this is a good omen.

We descend in the town of Arcachon for our several hour visit to the La Grand Dune du Pilat before proceeding to St. Emilion.  There were no cabs to take us to the dune – but luckily there was a bus that went directly there! Hurrah!  Well, 30 enormous Dutch men had the same exact idea so my friend and I were stuffed like sausages onto a hot, small bus to make the 30 minute journey to the dunes.  That is when her motion sickness really started to kick in – but by gosh, she wasn’t going to let it stop her.  Oh- in the rush of all of this, we forgot to leave our luggage in the train lockers and instead are carting it around with us.  We’re strong – no problem.  Until we see the dune. The  tallest dune in Europe – which we will now be climbing with our weekend luggage – 110m meters high, straight up, in sand.  Not ones to shy away from a challenge , or take the stairs, we start our slow ascent. This is our Everest – except hot, sandy, and no sherpas.  We toy with the idea of paying someone, anyone, to carry our bags. There was just no way we were going to leave that large Vera Bradley bag at the bottom.  Small kids cheered us on as they whizzed past.  We huffed and puffed our way to the top and  I swear we could have happily stayed at the top of the dune overnight – but we had a schedule!

After our major accomplishment – we paused for some photos and a quick rest,  then off we went – over the other side of the dune to hopefully find the restaurant were we planned lunch.  Again, with our luggage but without a clear idea of where we are actually going, but certain there is no way we are going to walk up another dune.  Since there is no obvious (or authorized way) path to exit on the other side of the dune – we hike through some scrub brushes and climb through a broken fence and finally make our way to the road and luckily find the very posh hotel/restaurant.  The hotel is a spectacular.  We trudge in with our luggage, our outfits and hair slightly worse for the climb, the sweat, and the ocean breezes.  We hope to fit in at this lovely Philippe Starck designed terrace and have a refreshing drink and meal before heading back to the train station .  We get there too late for lunch service and instead order the only available cold snacks from the bar.  We order a pâté and saucisson – and that is exactly what we got.  A saucisson on a plate and a CAN of pâté,  Served IN the CAN.  If only my cocker spaniel friend was still with me – this was his kind of treat.  Poor friend, still suffering from motion sickness decides the pâté might help – it didn’t.  Please note, do not eat pâté from a can if you have a stomach ache.  It doesn’t won’t make you feel less queasy.

Snack finished – we forge ahead to get back on the bus for the train station – now everything is going like clock-work.  No more large Dutch men, no dogs to carry, refreshing snack eaten.  Until the bus is 20 minutes late.  Now we are cutting it close -but there is still a chance we can make our next train. We are thrilled when the bus arrives and we get the last two places.  Hurray again!  We are quickly making our way towards the station, when and old lady waves down the bus and proceeds to yell at the driver about being late and full.  The nice young driver promises to come back for her in five minutes.  Of course we think this is an expression (pardon our poor understanding of French) and he really means another bus will pass by in a five minutes.  Well, it was not an expression.  At the next stop, he drops off a couple of passengers, then proceeds to turn around and go back for the lady – all the while my friend was pointing to her watch and gesturing loudly about missed trains.  The driver is oblivious to her concerns.  He will not be deterred.  Well, I guess he was doing his good deed of the day.  We picked up old lady – she was happy – we continue to train station – and have missed our train by a good 10 minutes. There is a later train – so we jump on it and have a small layover in the town of Bordeaux.

While in Bordeaux, the wine capital, we decide to stop at the “Terminus” – an aptly named bar just outside the station- to have a  nerve calming glass of wine.  No wine menu needed here – white, red,or rose.  I order the rose, which I am sure was a mix of leftover red and white from last night’s service.  So much for the wine capital.   Finally, finally, we make our connection and get to the hotel in St. Emilion- tired, sick, and maybe a touch cranky.  The hotel is lovely, but apparently, when we reserved bikes a month ago, they forgot to write it down and have since given our bikes away to other guests.  We throw a slight fit and they kindly promise us a complimentary taxi for our Chateau visit the next day.  A look of relief washes over their faces when we go to our room.

A look of horror crosses their faces when I showed up at the desk at 7am the next morning.  They thought the were rid of us demanding Americans but I was determined to get sick friend some medicine, so I needed to find a pharmacy on a Sunday, in a small town in France. We still had chateaus to visit and more wine to drink.  They did get rid of us for the day – but we called them numerous times with restaurant changes, shifting plans, and general questions.  I like to think we helped them improve their English skills.  Needless to say, it was a trip we will never forget!  For your next adventure, call me and I will give you some tips for seamless trouble free travel.

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