WANDERWEST FRANCE

THE PLACES

  • Paris - My home while in Paris was the neighborhood of Pigalle, located in the north on the boarder of the 18th and 9th arrondissment.  This neighborhood, know for its sex shops and the famous Moulin Rouge, is in the process of gentrification.  Music shops are everywhere, hip restaurants all over (my personal favorite is the beach vibe of Le Depanneur, which is two restaurants in one - delicious burgers or yummy ceviche, big salads and brunch), organic markets (Causses is small but great) and the nightlife scene booming.  But it's still a bit of a secret for outsiders.  The neighborhood was infamously called a "no-go zone" by Fox News and it's that ignorance that helps keep it from becoming too touristy, even though it's right next to Montmartre, which is uber touristy.  My spot in the hood is Pratz, the "cave a manger" (eating cave) that is featured first in the road trip.  You can go there to chill or get some apéro and natural wine to go.  Central Paris is tourist central with much of the classic attractions (not a bad thing at all, but definitely loads of people).  In there is a little island called Ile Saint Louis and I was surprised to find a very local scene happening there.  Check it out in the video.  The typical Parisian locations like Notre Dame and The Eiffel Tower are not to be missed if it's your first time, but beyond the typical Parisian locations, I recommend these neighborhoods: Le Marais (posh in all the right ways with boutique shops and one of my favorite Paris cafes, Le Progrés, which has the most tasty salads ever and probably the best tiramisu I've had), Saint Germain Des Pres (my first date with Eka was at Cafe Mabillion, which happens to be open 24/7), and Oberkampf (which is where I found the open mic spot featured in the video - Au Chat Noir - not to be confused with the original).  For more on Paris, check out my stay trip on the city.
  • L'Isle Sur La Sorgue - I didn't actually visit the town on the road trip, but I've been there before and you can see it in this video I made on my first visit to the region six years before this road trip.  The town is famous for its antique shops and festivals.  This was my first time outside of Paris and I got a real taste of the joy of life (joie de vivre) that is the French south.  More generally this is the region of Provence, which contains the famous Cote D'Azur (French Riviera), and is known for lavender and wine (I discovered the joys of dry rosé here).
  • Avignon - Also in Provence, this city attracts an international audience because the Palais des Papes that rests there.  I didn't pay the 20 euro toll to go inside, but the facade alone is pretty magnificent.  I only spent a few hours in the city, but the medieval charm is abundant and yet the city felt very modern.  Surprisingly, there is some great sushi here.  I randomly popped into Sushishop on the main drag, Rue de Republique.  It was inexpensive and delicious.
  • Saint Lon Les Mines - This is a little village where I stayed among corn fields and a chicken coop.  It speaks to the region, Les Landes, which is filled with small villages like this one.  I had a car for this part of my trip and driving on the country roads was entertaining as well as confusing.  Port de Lanne is another one of those small villages where I met artists / artisans Anne and Alain at their workshop.  The homemade meal I had with them is a famous French dish, but comes from this region in pre-revolution terms - Gascony.  Canard (duck in French) roam wild here and are a tasty dark meat.
  • Louhossoa - Like the aforementioned villages, this is a small place.  What separates it is that it is part of the Pays Basque, a region shared by France and Spain these days, but has a history all its own.  Right off the bat, you can see that in the color of the homes and buildings, which adhere to a strict Basque code.  The drive up to this was a beautiful, winding route in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  And here's a link to the workshop and showroom where I learned to blow glass.
  • Dax - Is the second largest city in the region and has Roman origins.  I visited the city to participate in La Feria, a cultural festival that happens every summer in many cities in southern France and northern Spain.  To me, they seem to be a spin off of the most famous version that happens in Pamplona, all featuring bullfighting, copious amounts of alcohol, and the red and white uniform with bandana (though I did see green replacing the red in the town of Peyrehorade).  
  • Bidart - Also located in the Pays Basque, this little beach town is one of many along this small stretch of land just north of the Spanish border, the most famous of which is Biarritz.  With a long, beautiful beach these mild-temperature waters are a good spot to learn how to surf and I saw a bunch of beginners in the water with their foam boards.
  • Hossegor - Rob, the owner of the Hossegor Surf Hostel where I stayed, claimed this to be the surf capitol of the Europe.  I'm not enough of an authority to confirm this, but I can say that I fell in love with Hossegor.  Truly international, it has everything you want from a surf / beach town.  There's a charming town center not too far from the beach with food and shopping and another series of eateries on the main beach, Plage Centrale.  Beyond that, there are a bunch of other beaches and breaks from Seignosse down to Capbreton.  Overall, the vibe is down-to-Earth and friendly.  On my first day, which was super rainy, I went to what equates to a surfer outlet mall with a ton of great mega stores from all the big surf brands and some good ones you've never heard of.

 

 Sacre Coeur from a Pigalle rooftop

Sacre Coeur from a Pigalle rooftop

 out in Pigalle with Eka

out in Pigalle with Eka

 basket of Lavender in Provence

basket of Lavender in Provence

 Basque country road

Basque country road

 Bidart town square

Bidart town square

 distant Eiffel Tour

distant Eiffel Tour

PEOPLE

  • Thomas Bab - They guy I interview at the onset of the episode.  I met him thanks to the recommendation by my friend Pam, who sent me to his spot in Pigalle, Pratz.  He is a native Parisian and you can find him behind the bar most of the week.  Stop in and tell him I sent you.
  • Emma Baychelier - Parisian native and social worker.  We met on the Ise Saint Louis picnic thanks to a mutual friend.  A lot of people give Parisians a hard time for their coldness, but Emma was a great example of the opposite.  She smiled from the start and within minutes was singing with me... as you can see.
  • Camille - Another random meeting via a random meeting.  She's the one who walked back with me from Au Chat Noir and another Paris native who bucks the trend.  I'm sensing a different trend.
  • Reinhardt Wagner - My Parisian songwriting partner and former Oscar nominee for his work on Faubourg 36.
  • Eloise Wagner - Paris based actress starting in the one-woman show about Kiki de Montparnasse.
  • Marianne, Cedric, Gils and Gisou - This is the family I spent my time in Provence with.  They own the house.  Marianne and Cedric are friends from the days in NYC where the worked as a part of the French Government's international internship program.  Gils, Marianne's dad, exemplifies a classic French image in all the right ways.  He's a big shot in the retail business, but when it comes to life in the south, it's all about letting time and stress go and just enjoying good wine and friends, new and old.
  • Jean Pol d Franqueuil - Paris based artist who's family I stayed with in Les Landes.  I taught his son music while we were both living in New York.