The little known village of La Bastide d’Armagnac epitomises the genuine essence of France
Draw a triangle with Bordeaux, Toulouse and Biarritz at their corners and you’ll find a sleepy gem of a medieval village nestled at its centre. It’s also just off the A65/E7 road, midway from Bordeaux to Pau.
Les Landes area of France on the Aquitaine coast to the west of France is less visited than many areas but offers a diverse and interesting spectrum of attractions – from the sophisticated ambiance of Bordeaux to the shabby-chic peninsula of Cap Feret; the open pine forests of the Parque Naturel or huge Bay of Arcachon, to the windswept dunes south of Biscarosse; where the very first seaplane operations were conducted – there’s a wealth of opportunities whether you’re a cyclist, camper or hedonistic dilettante.
The Bastide d’Armagnac was founded at the end of the 13th century by the Comte d’Armagnac. Today it is the most picturesque of the Bastides Landes (fortified villages), rich in heritage and authentic architecture, situated in the heart of Bas Armagnac.
Completely surrounded by vineyards, it’s not surprising that wine – and Armagnac – is pivotal in the fortunes of the area but, for us, the value of a visit to La Bastide is just ‘being there’ rather than visiting any particular attraction or distraction.
The whole ambiance of the village exudes history and the patina of medieval times permeates every wall, wooden truss and cobbled stone pathway – the place is simply enchanting.
A stroll around the village is likely to pass undisturbed by other visitors, or even locals, as the magnificent Place Royal, at its heart, has been virtually deserted on each of our visits. It’s so easy to imagine yourself transported back to a day when the Knights Templar held court here or you were simply bringing your produce to be sold in the market.
You’re perhaps unlikely to make a beeline for La Bastide as a stand-alone destination in France but it’s a must-visit location if you’re in the area and should form a part of every tour of western France.
We spent a month touring the western coast of France and La Bastide was one of the most memorable places we visited – not least of which was due in part to the hotel we chose and the Auberge we dined in – although they may have different memories of us!
We stayed in an old chateau which was notable for how tired it was and the extremely rich set menu of foie gras omelette for dinner, followed by a sleepless night of constant geese cacophony. The rooms were majestic and the scenery wonderful but we wouldn’t send you there.
There are numerous chateau, Chambre d’Hote and Auberge to look after your particular tastes and we put ours down to an amusing experience.
Just outside La Bastide we found a little roadside Auberge just as their lunchtime was finishing but they very graciously placed a sumptuous and delicious ‘dish of the day’ in front of us as we sat alone in their dining room whilst they cleared up. The three course meal was a delight and we gratefully asked for ‘l’addition’ with profuse thanks for their kind hospitality. Imagine our embarrassment when we proffered our credit card for payment to be told they didn’t accept plastic – and having no cash with us we sheepishly backed out of the Auberge with promises of returning the next day to pay – the owners didn’t look any too confident of our undertaking and bade farewell to us with the sceptical eye of someone who’s been ‘had’.
Needless to say we did return to pay the following day, having made a 20mile detour to find a bank with a ‘hole in the wall’ as it was a Sunday – and our payment was met with little thanks or concern as to whether we had bothered to return at all.
The French have been much maligned in terms of hospitality for the British (not all of it unjustified) but their ailing economy has transformed this generally and in our experience, people in the more rural areas have always been welcoming and gracious to us, with nothing being too much trouble to oblige.
Luxury often breeds disdain, both in the visitor and the supplier – so it’s often refreshing to step away from the groomed and refined perfection of five-star in favour of more simple and homely hospitality where genuine care and attention transcends the quest for style – and cash.
This region of France, as with much of its rural interior offers many opportunities to explore the true character of the country and its people. La Bastide d’Armagnac epitomises this rural charm and we cannot praise it highly enough.
Here are links to a couple of useful websites if you’re travelling to Les Landes; followed by a link to another of our reviews about the bay of Arcachon area which is not far from La Bastide d’Armagnac.
Just off the beaten shack – TLC review about l’Herbe in the Bay of Arcachon