L'Eglise de Mons La Reine Margot and Cazeneuve
'Petit Paris' -
The dynamic heart of Aquitaine is of course Bordeaux, or 'petit Paris' There are those that say that its three universities and 60,000 students make it the largest campus in Europe. It has a vibrant night life, theatres, concerts and bustling cafes. Broad avenues and spacious squares, like the Place de la Bourse and the imposing Esplanades des Quinconces, dominate the city and give it international cachet.
There are excellent museums displaying a wide range of international and national art. And, if you happen to like art and antiques, there are dozens of excellent antique shops and various well-known antique fairs for you to comb through.
Bordeaux has a renowned philharmonic orchestra and there are several annual festivals. Various of its historic buildings are well worth visiting, like the classically styled Grand Théâtre on the Place de la Comédie, which served as a model for the Opéra in Paris, and the majestic Cathédrale St-André, which can compete with Notre-Dame.
Every two years the modern exhibition center hosts the wine trade fair Vin-Expo, where connoissuers from all over the world come to meet. In short Bordeaux is a perfect complement to the peace and quiet of the countryside.
Bordeaux is the capital of Gironde department. Built on the banks of the Garonne where the river widens into the Gironde, Bordeaux was already an important center at the time of the Gauls. In those days it was called Burdigala, still the name of one of the most fashionable hotels in the city.
In Roman times it was the capital of the province of Aquitainia Secunda. After the fall of the Roman Empire, it was briefly occupied by the Arabs. In the twelfth century, following the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry Plantagenet, the later duchy of Aquitaine passed into English hands, only finally returning to France in 1452.
In the south, at the foot of the Pyrennees, lies Biarritz; in the north at the same time are Arcachon and Cap-Ferret. These are mondaine resorts, where wealthy Parisians have always had their weekend homes. Biarritz in particular, is and has been a favourite with the rich and famous - Princess Margaret, Mirielle Mathieu, Frank Sinatra and Gina Lollobrigida. Whether promenading, watching the world go by, shopping, swimming, surfing - Biarritz is the 'Capitale Européenne du Surf' - or waterskiing, in Biarritz you can experience French 'savoir vivre' at first hand.
L'Eglise de Mons
Half-hidden in the woods near Belen-Beliet is the eleventh-century Roman chapel 'L'Eglise de Mons'. It is still visited by pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Campostela in the west of Spain, where the apostle St James the Great is said to be buried.
It is said that the old church is located at a junction of magnetic fields and that visitors who are susceptible to them can feel the influence on the magnetic forces. Perhaps this explains the eternal fountain behind the church? This holy source, which was already venerated by the ancient Celts, is reputed to give those who bathe their eyes in its waters clear vision.
According to legend it also succours women hoping to be pregnant. No doubt it will remain a mystery what is truth and what is myth, but it is certainly true that there is an enchanting air of calm and serenity around the source.
One of France's most illustrious queens, Marguerite de France, spent much of her life in the charming castle of Cazeneuve, near Bordeaux. Margot, as she was generally known, was the daughter of Henry II of France and Catherine de Médecis and sister of no fewer than 3 french queens.
In 1572 she married Henry de Bourbon of Navarre, the future Henry IV of France.
Margot was infamous for her affairs, which she did little to hide. She would sneak off at night through a secret passage, to a cave on the River Ciron when she would meet her young lovers.
Her famous answer to her husbands reproaches can still be read above the fireplace in her sitting room: 'Est-ce crime d'aimer toujours? M'en punir est-il de raison? Point ne sont de laides amours, non plus que de belles prisons!' (Is it a crime to love? Is it right to punish me for it? There are no ugly loves, no more than there are beautiful prisons!)
Margot's secret passage no longer exists, but the grotte de la reine still keeps her secrets on the banks of the Ciron .......
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