An important date was approaching: José’s 40th birthday was falling right on the year of our trip. How convenient that we were not far from Bordeaux at that point, where we could meet his birthday guests and celebrate in style. José’s brother Jorge arrived from Portugal, to hike with us and spend some fun days in Bordeaux, his aunt Fernanda came with him to see her nephew and visit good friends in Rochefort, and our dear friends Suresh and Mariann traveled to Bordeaux to explore food and drinks in the wine region with us. Complex transportation logistics were required in order to coordinate our hiking and rest days, but it was certainly worth the effort and we had a fantastic time.
On day 328, we woke up in the house of friends of José, close to Rochefort. Martine and Pascal were wonderful hosts; not only did we enjoy being in their cosy home, they also took care of our laundry and lent us their car for the day, so we could explore the town and do some sightseeing together with Jorge and Fernanda. We ended the day with a long dinner and good talks; we could finally use our cooking skills in a real kitchen and return a bit of the hospitality we had received.
True to our rule never to skip a part of the track, we traveled by car, bus, ferry, and taxi back to Montalivet, our end point of two days before; this time, together with Jorge. It was not the most exciting trail, although we had quite a change of scenery on those 22 km. We walked through the woods, on dunes and along the beach – always straight ahead! At the end, we were still a bit far away from our lodging, so we hitchhiked with a friendly lady to Hourtin. Over dinner (we found a nice Breton place serving crêpes and cider!), the three of us figured out how to reach Bordeaux the next day.
As it turned out, buses from Hourtin were only running in the summer, so we had another logistical challenge. In those situations, paying for a taxi was our last resort, and even that turned out to be difficult the next morning, when the receptionist had to call about five different companies until one agreed to pick us up and drive us to the train station “on such short notice”.
That didn’t spoil our excitement to soon be arriving in the capital of good food and wine, where we would spend three days! In the afternoon, José and Jorge went for a walk to explore the city and later we met Suresh and Mariann, freshly arrived from Munich. We totally forgot that we were hikers on a low budget and splurged on wine, oysters, and fine food. But hey, one only turns 40 once and José deserved a great celebration!
The following day, the five of us went for a day trip to beautiful Saint-Émilion. We had picked the perfect day for that, as the weather was fantastic and the crowds were tolerable. There was a lot to do in this charming village in the Bordeaux region. We did some wine tasting, wine drinking and wine shopping. Mariann and Moiken left the boys in the afternoon to spend some more time in Bordeaux, and in the evening, we got together again for a pre-birthday dinner.
On José’s birthday, we had the brilliant idea to walk to the local market for some grocery shopping. We had a birthday toast with Favaios wine at the Portuguese stall, before we returned to our holiday apartment to enjoy four different Bordeaux wines and delicious snacks. Our birthday luncheon lasted the whole afternoon, but late in the evening, we were ready for a last dinner together to finish a wonderful weekend. Seafood was our choice and it was as good as it could get – outside of Portugal! We said goodbye to Suresh and Mariann and prepared for our departure the next morning.
During the next four days, 333 to 336 of our trip, we covered 87 km of the Gironde coast, hiking mostly on the beach, but also on country roads and through forests; sleeping in beach hotels, hostels and private homes. In Cap Ferret, while we were waiting for the ferry to take us over to Arcachon, we had a glimpse of the Dune du Pilat, the tallest sand dune in Europe. Although we would be passing really close to it the next day, it wasn’t part of our route, so we would be missing it. This was really a part of our hiking trip: Many attractions had to be left aside, because we couldn’t afford walking the additional distance to get there. At least, we kept a lot of ideas about what to visit in the future!
The ferry was a small boat for about 14 passengers. It was a rough ride, as strong winds were stirring up the sea and the boat couldn’t even anchor at the pier. So the captain continued until the sheltered port of Arcachon. That meant some extra kms to walk until our lodging, but for safety’s sake we were happy about the detour.
On day 337, we accompanied Jorge to the train station, as our hike together had come to an end. We went on in direction to Sanguinet, already in the next department – Les Landes. To get there, we had to do some road walking alongside a huge military airbase. We felt safe as never before, while the jet fighters were flying above our heads in endless rounds. At our destination, we got to spend the night in a pilgrim’s hostel, all for ourselves.