My friend Kaitlin is a runner, and the rest of us don’t move all that much but like wine. So when she told us about a 10K race through the vineyards near Bordeaux in May, our tight-knit group of American chicas decided a weekend in France would be the perfect way to wrap up our year together. We signed up for the race, wading through a website entirely in French, and did a few “training” runs, as in I managed an extra five minutes on the elliptical one day.
We rented a car and drove four hours to Bordeaux, cringing at the cost of gas in Europe but happy to have freedom behind the wheel. (Sidenote: make sure one of your party can drive stick–automatic cars are much harder to come by in Europe!) Split between the five of us, the cost of rental, gas, insurance, and tolls was cheaper than taking a bus.
We rented the most perfect French apartment on a quintessentially French street through AirBnB, and immediately cluttered it with 60 pounds of clothing, hair straighteners, blow driers and shoes for a 2-day trip. Girls will be girls, especially in France.
On Saturday morning we woke up at the crack of dawn to drive 50 minutes to the tiny town of Blaye, where our race was held. We were clearly the only foreigners running—hardly anyone even spoke English, and turning in our medical certificates while miming was quite the spectacle. The site of the race was a fairy tale: the start and finish line was in the old citadel, and the 10 kilometers took us through rolling hills (damn those hills!) of vineyards, stone walls, even a graveyard marked with beautiful tombs that was oddly fitting at kilometer 9.
I ran track and cross country in high school, mostly to do something and stay in shape more than anything else. I’ve never been competitive in sports, and was even nicknamed “the caboose” by my high school coach. (I own the name: he had a point.) But running through French wine country brought back a feeling in me that I remembered from those days—no matter how little you care about winning, it’s still great to be a part of it.
This race was particularly fun because over half the participants dressed up in crazy costumes and took it all with a major grain of salt. There were people of all ages running, and although it depresses me to say it, I was surpassed by more than one retiree. But I completed the race WITHOUT stopping, my personal goal, and did it in under an hour without severe concern of cardiac arrest. And the best part? Each participant was rewarded a free bottle of Bordeaux after crossing the finish line. Cue the celebration.
After the race we had a day to explore Bordeaux itself. My friend Pierric, whom I met in Bilbao, is now living there, so he showed us around. What can I say about the city, except sigh virtually through this post with a wistful, “Ahhh, France.” It was like a mini, uncongested Paris, and it needs no justification nor description. Does anywhere in France, really?
The next day, heads pounding from the over-generosity of the race coordinators, we chucked our empty bottles and began the drive back to Bilbao. On a suggestion from Pierric, we took a detour mid-day to the Dune of Pyla, the largest sand dune in all of Europe. It absolutely did not disappoint. From the top you could see the Atlantic Ocean stretching far and beyond, and on the other side of the dune, a massive forest. We then drove into the neighboring seaside village of Arcachon for lunch, and fawned over all things French once more. Those shutters! Those macaroons!
Being based in Basque Country means Southern France is extremely accessible by bus, car, or train. A weekend visit is all you need, though of course will always leave you wanting more. And the trip was made all the richer in that we had a sense of purpose for being there—running a 10K felt like we were doing something meaningful, or at least different, with our vacation time, and was also a great excuse to eat double the chocolate croissants.