Part 1
Bikes, Boards and Natural Wine in Les Landes
A mini-adventure along the stunning Biarritz coast with wild camping, natural wines, and a few good waves along the way!
'Take only memories, leave only footprints', is one of the most famous travel quotes of all time, and it serves as a reminder that we are just passing through this life on this planet, at this juncture.

In my accompanying video, I state; 'Leave only compassion, take only memories', to remind me that each day is faced emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally. Sometimes on a bicycle tour (or any adventure for that matter), we can become drained - emotionally tired through lack of sleep, those pesky imaginary bears lurking outside the tent, or physically tired through the long days in the saddle, walking through towns or climbing in the mountains, or maybe just the fear of the unknown as we travel through new lands and experience new cultures.

'Leave only compassion', is to invite the awareness of compassion into our waking life. This means to be compassionate to ourselves if we feel tired and cranky, and compassionate to others that we meet, for everyone has a different interpretation of the world, everyone walks their own path and that path often looks and feels very different from ours.

Those people who came back to the hotel room late, drunk, noisy, and then started banging their headboard (not sure what they were up to there) may have been long-lost/reunited lovers, they may have not been on holiday for years or maybe they were just regular drunk people just being a nuisance, but until we know what it is like to walk in their shoes, how can we judge?

Easier said than done obviously, and I know I have certainly been loud at times, and drunk at times too, so when I practice compassion, I believe it makes me a better person, someone who brings an awareness of self into the present moment, which by definition is harder to do with alcohol in your system, so if you participate in the odd glug of it, why not ensure it's as natural as can be, and contributes to supporting a family, not an industry!
Leave only footprints, became; 'Take only memories', this is a nod to not leaving any trace at all, in line with the 'Leave No Trace' policy, mainly in relation to wild camping. If we are going to leave any trace, let it be one of regeneration, of love, and of building compassion.

I think it better not to leave footprints at all if those footprints aren't leading to somewhere enlightened.

I like this story about the nails in the fence, it's called Echoes of Resilience.

Once upon a time, in a quiet village nestled between rolling hills, there stood a weathered wooden fence. It encircled a small cottage, its paint chipped and fading under the weight of years gone by. This fence, though aged, held a secret that whispered through the winds.

Long ago, when the fence was fresh and strong, a young boy named Samuel lived in the cottage. He was known for his fiery spirit, always eager to explore and seek adventure in the world beyond his home.

One day, after a heated argument with his father, Samuel's anger raged like a wild storm. In his fury, he seized a hammer and nails and began pounding them into the wooden fence, each strike a manifestation of his frustration. As the sun set, the fence bore the imprint of Samuel's tumultuous emotions.

Days turned into weeks, and the echoes of that day seemed to linger in the very fibers of the wood. But Samuel, a wise and thoughtful soul, came to realize the power of his actions. He vowed to turn his anger into strength, to channel it into something meaningful.

From that moment on, Samuel committed himself to learning the art of self-discipline and compassion. He nurtured his heart and mind, much like a gardener tends to his blossoming garden. He read books, sought counsel from wise elders, and practiced patience in the face of adversity.

As the years passed, so did the seasons of Samuel's life. The fence, once a testament to his youthful rage, began to transform. Through hard work and dedication, Samuel learned to channel his emotions into acts of kindness and understanding.

Whenever he felt anger rising within him, he remembered the fence and the lesson it held. Instead of nails, he would plant seeds of love and empathy in the hearts of those around him. His actions became a beacon of light for the village, illuminating the path to healing and forgiveness.

Word of Samuel's transformation spread far and wide, reaching even those beyond the village borders. Travelers passing through would seek out the cottage with the wise old fence, hoping to glean some of Samuel's wisdom.

And so, the fence that once bore the scars of a young boy's anger became a symbol of resilience and transformation. Its weathered wood stood tall, a testament to the power of choosing love over hatred, understanding over ignorance.

As Samuel's years grew long and his hair turned silver, he sat beside the fence, reflecting on the journey that had led him here. The imprints left by those nails had become a reminder that even in our darkest moments, we have the power to shape our destinies.

And so, the story of the nails in the fence echoed through the generations, passing down the legacy of a young boy who learned to turn his anger into something beautiful and enduring. The fence, weathered but strong, stood as a silent witness to the transformative power of love.

When we bring an awareness of self into our waking lives, we bring with us compassion, we see the world as it is, not as how we want it to be.
European royalty, including British monarchs Queen Victoria and King Edward VII and the Spanish king Alfonso XIII, were frequent visitors, cementing Biarritz as a desirable destination for those wanting to indulge in the idea of laid-back opulence.
Welcome to the Basque country, a proud land where surfers, smoochy couples, jet-set travelers, and those in the know, all rub shoulders over the region's famed pintxos (pronounced "peen-choes"). At the heart of it all, perched on the shores just a splash away from Spain, on southwestern France’s Basque region, lies the jewel of the coast: Biarritz, where even the seagulls have a certain je ne sais quoi.

This delightful seaside town has a history as colourful as its sunsets. Empress Eugénie, Napoleon III's squeeze, fell head over heels for Biarritz's sandy shores and crashing waves, to show his love, he constructed the opulent Hôtel du Palais, a palace by the sea, standing now as a testament to timeless elegance and extravagance, truly the Beyoncé of hotels!

It remains a popular resort and is a major surfing destination, with long sandy beaches and surf schools. In 1962, Jo Moraiz represented France during the first surfing world Championship in Peru. Although surfing was just a “new thing” at that time, in 1695, he decided to open the first French surf shop in Biarritz. One year later, he inaugurated his own, now worldwide known, surf school, run today by his son, Christophe.

Legendary French fashion designer, Coco Chanel picked up her first needle and thread right here. Imagine, while you're strolling along the beach, you could be in the very place where Chanel's creativity first sparked!

Whilst there, I met an art teacher who runs a gallery that shows off the super creativity of local artists and photographers, with board swaps and DJ nights, it's definitely the kind of place that resonated with me and reminded me of some of the things I run in my bar in Westport. It's called Le Patisserie, a nod to the former bakery where it is situated, in the cool Beaurivage district in Biarritz, a stone's throw from the mythical beach of the Côte des Basques.

A famous symbol of Biarritz, the Rocher de la Vierge is a rocky outcrop topped with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Reached via footbridge, it offers sweeping views of the Bay of Biscay. We never actually made it here so have a good reason to return, Biarritz is a place that will seduce you to make a return visit, accessible easily via air or overland from mainland Europe, it stands as a gateway to the Pyrenees as well as south, to Spain and beyond.
I knew that I would be taking most of the gear, being the more seasoned bicycle tourer, so I did the final checks on the bikes and packed the equipment into the myriad of bags my sturdy Surly Troll was capable of carrying. It's always interesting packing for an unknown place, I had heard that the southwest coast received some of the most rain in France, so waterproofs were a must.

I had two fork bags, one filled with torches, spare tubes, a puncture repair kit, and a small emergency first aid kit, the other had waterproof trousers and overshoes as well as a high-vis jacket.

I lash the tent poles to the underside of my frame, my Lezyne (Micro Floor Drive HV) pump being neatly stowed on my seat tube post. I carried two bottles, a Life Straw water purification bottle, and a stainless steel flask that both live in the two cages behind my fork bags.

The tent, a 3-person ZearZero ultralight is stored on my Surly corner bars (handlebars), with a LowePro camera bag lashed simple to the front of this. (See photo above), this ensures suitable wobble at speed and if I go 'no-handed' on the bike this loaded, the grim reaper suddenly appears alongside me, grinning with anticipation.

The rear panniers contained the cooking gear, sleeping bag, inflatable sleeping mat, and a luxury item (a USB rechargeable mat inflator - actually pretty handy in so far as that it doesn't give a build-up of moisture from blowing mats up with our breath, which can lead to internal mold - not good.

The rest of the items were a pair of light running shoes, a solar charger, a power bank, and a few spare clothes, including a pair of Merino boxers, I cannot stress how amazing Merino wool is, it's pricey but well worth it.

For Ryanair flights, the maximum allowed weight for bicycles is 30kg, so if your bike is light enough, you can get away with packing a few extra bits in your bike bag and only take a carry-on that fits under your seat.

At the airport and even on the journey there, looking back, I felt a strong sense of self-centeredness, in terms of wanting to get the best car parking spot, to get through the gates the quickest, to get the best seat on the plane, to be first, and this and that. Some of this I accept is inherent within me, some of this will have been absorbed in the general vibrations of lumping so many people together in one place with the same (or at least extremely similar) objective - to get themselves and their luggage to their chosen destination as quickly and effortlessly as possible. I'd say a lot of this mindset is from years of programming and conditioning from schooling, adverts and movies, and TV shite.

Slow travel, especially into areas of wilderness, allows one to reconnect with oneself and with the land and escape to some degree this conditioning.

Being aware of this allowed me to focus on the wonder of air travel, of what a miracle of modern times it is to fly, of what an achievement of planning and engineering it is to mass transit so many people, to get all of their bags weighed, checked, tagged and forwarded to the sunkissed shores they may be headed to. To focus on nurturing a state of gratitude for simply being able to do this right now. How blessed some of us truly are!

In my video I was going to include the following slide (see below), as a reminder that not all of us are lucky enough to experience such smooth transit, in fact, according to the latest Global Estimates of Modern Slavery (2022) from Walk Free, the International Labour Organization and the International Organization for Migration, 49.6 million people live in modern slavery – in forced labour and forced marriage.

This is equivalent to about 0.6% of the world’s population. In contrast, according to the Historical Estimates of World Population by the U.S. Census Bureau, there were about 1.8 billion people in the world in 1920. The League of Nations estimated that there were about 1.2 million slaves in Africa and Asia in 1926. This is equivalent to about 0.07% of the world’s population at that time. Therefore, the proportion of people living in modern slavery today is about 8.6 times higher than 100 years ago.


Once 'in the saddle', I was able to let go of all this self-centric thought and simply enjoy the surroundings, not being particularly bothered about being first, best, or getting anywhere in particular. This is one of the most rewarding things that I enjoy about slow travel. In 'normal' waking life, we are quite conditioned by society to act in a certain way, to be in competition, it kind of forms the basis of the modern capitalist structure, i.e. a system where the means of production and distribution are privately owned and operated for profit, and the market forces of supply and demand determine the prices and wages of goods and services.

Capitalism is based on the principles of individualism, competition, innovation, and consumerism, and is often associated with democracy, freedom, human rights, and economic growth. However, capitalism also has some drawbacks, such as inequality, exploitation, environmental degradation, and alienation, as opposed to, e.g. Marxism.

Marxism is a system where the means of production and distribution are collectively owned and controlled by the workers. The aim of Marxism is to abolish the class system and create a classless society where everyone is equal and free, (easier said than done). Marxism is based on the principles of dialectical materialism, historical materialism, class struggle, and revolution. Marxism is often associated with socialism, communism, solidarity, justice, and emancipation. However, Marxism also has some drawbacks, such as authoritarianism, violence, dogmatism, and stagnation.

What I like about the Warmshowers community is that, to me, it represents an evolving community-based society. In short, it represents the idea of a system where the means of production and distribution are shared and managed by the people who use them. The aim of an evolving community-based society is to foster a culture of cooperation, diversity, creativity, and sustainability.

An evolving community-based society can be associated with anarchism, libertarian socialism, horizontalism, and bioregionalism. However, an evolving community-based society also has some challenges, such as coordination, scalability, security, and resilience. In my ideal utopian version of existence, an evolving community-based society is based on the principles of mutual aid, self-organization, participatory democracy, and ecological balance.

If you don't know what Warmshowers.org is yet, look it up, it's a fabulous way of meeting new cyclists and making new friends, and it's great to be able to give back to a community too. Since joining a few years ago, I've hosted perhaps over a hundred people, many of whom are now good friends.

The bikes made it to Biarritz undamaged and I quickly set about putting them back together, not a huge undertaking, just putting the wheels back on, pedals reunited with the crank arms, and brakes readjusted as the handlebars are put back on or realigned. Seat posts were raised and then just to find a solution to storing the bike bags.

I had hoped that we could find somewhere stealthy and lock them up safely for a week but when we got there it made sense to find an easier, more secure option. A while back I had the genius idea of introducing bike box storage/hire in airports and train stations, whereby bicycle tourers could take their bikes with them and then leave the bike box at the airport for someone else to pick up and use, if there was enough bike boxes to begin the process, it could be rolled out across the world, saving a fortune on bags, cardboard and saving time for people using the service.

With this in mind, I was excited that a quick search on my phone revealed an app called NannyBag, a collaborative luggage storage network that allows travelers from all over the world to store luggage in local shops so they can enjoy their day hands-free.

I found somewhere literally a 3-minute cycle away, so within 20 minutes, we were on the road towards Biarritz.

My first impressions of Biarritz were very positive, the drivers in France are very cyclist-aware and treated us with amazing respect, probably a lot of the drivers are cyclists too and the abundance of a cycle-friendly road system also helped heaps!

Biarritz has several Art Deco buildings, which are aesthetically pleasing and culturally significant, reflecting the influence of Russia and Greece on Biarritz’s history and identity. Russia and Greece have both played important roles in Biarritz’s development as a resort town. Russia’s connection with Biarritz dates back to the 19th century when Emperor Napoleon III and his wife Empress Eugénie built their summer palace there. Eugénie was of Spanish origin but had a strong affinity for Russia. She invited many Russian aristocrats and artists to visit Biarritz, including Tsar Alexander II and his family. Biarritz became a popular destination for Russian elites who enjoyed its climate, scenery, and entertainment, and most likely partied hard, like a lavish scene out of The Great Gatsby, although they probably didn't rock it to Beyoncé back then.

Greece’s link with Biarritz goes back even further, to the ancient times when Greek sailors and traders explored the Atlantic coast of Europe. They established colonies and settlements along the coast, including one near Biarritz called Lapurdum (now Bayonne). They also introduced their culture, language, and religion to the local population. Many Greeks remained in the region after the Roman conquest and assimilated with the Basque people who inhabited the area, evidence of which can still be seen today.

The influence of Russia and Greece can be seen in some of Biarritz’s churches:

  • The Orthodox Church: This is a Russian Orthodox church that was built in 1892 by Fyodor Schechtel, a prominent Russian architect who also designed many buildings in Moscow. The church has a traditional Russian style with a wooden structure, onion domes, and colorful icons. The church was consecrated by Bishop Nicholas of Warsaw, who later became Patriarch of Moscow. The church serves as a place of worship for the Russian Orthodox community in Biarritz and hosts various cultural events.
  • The Byzantine Church: This is a Greek Orthodox church that was built in 1898 by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the famous engineer who also designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The church has a Byzantine style with a brick structure, arched windows, and mosaic decorations. The church was dedicated to Saint Alexander Nevsky, a medieval Russian prince and saint who fought against the Mongols. The church serves as a place of worship for the Greek Orthodox community in Biarritz and hosts various cultural events.

Biarritz’s art deco buildings and churches are not only architectural landmarks but also symbols of Biarritz’s diversity and cosmopolitanism. They show how Biarritz has embraced different cultures and influences over time while preserving its own identity and charm. They are part of what makes Biarritz a unique and attractive destination.

We stopped briefly in the town to admire the ocean views and I was stoked to see such good surf right in the town centre (OK how do I move here was my immediate thought!). Alas, even though we were participating in slow travel, we were still against the clock to some degree, wanting to reach some undefined point along the coast to pitch up our tent for a night in the dunes was the plan, and I certainly didn't want to be doing that under a cloak of darkness.

We were struggling to agree on a place to stop (being against any fast food places) and then quickly ran out of choice as we trudged up the hills climbing out of the city, and soon left the main town and the hustle and bustle of the highway. Being aware this was Olya's first time on a bike in a while, I was constantly looking over my shoulder to see how she faired. She was doing great but it was a slower pace for sure than my last tour with my Ozzie mate Gus.

Coasting through Anglet, Bayonne, and as we crossed the Ardour we stopped to put on some bike lights as we were already losing the light, better seen than a broken spleen! We hand-railed the train tracks through Boucau and were getting rather 'hangry' now after two very early mornings and not much sleep the night before in Dublin, we really wanted to eat!

Almost magically, we cycled through a very small town and there happened to be a bar and a pizza place open. I fancied the bar and some food and a beer, Olya liked the look of the pizza place, which after a short discussion ended up being the best choice by far. We happened upon 'Pizz' a Kiki' which served us up one of the nicest, tastiest pizzas I have ever had. The couple running the place were very friendly and I highly recommend a journey here, even if you're not passing through!

Fuelled up on great grub and the confidence that our unknown doss spot was only about another 30-minute cycle, we carried on towards Labenne. Google Maps then pulled a blinder and sent us on a crazy pine path which, with fully loaded touring bikes, turned our easy running tarmac into a sandy endurance test, not exactly ideal after a long day, but part of the reason I enjoy adventures, no matter how they present themselves.

It got to a point where I was actively looking for a place to pitch, away from potential morning people and on a flat piece of ground, after some scouting and heated debating, I pitched the tent and we crawled into our sleeping bags.

Part 2 coming on Tuesday 24th October
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Take only memories, leave only footprints
Chief Seattle
Follow Toms adventures and musings on his Sacred Spokes YouTube channel and website.