Tuesday, May 19 - Landes and Bayonne

Today we traveled to Bayonne through the department called Landes. We stopped midway to visit the Ecomuseum of Marquèze near Sabres . First a few (cribbed from the Internet) words about Landes.

This is in great part a vast pine forest southwest of Bordeaux. This is virtually homogeneous. Apart from a short stretch of coast on the Bay of Arcachon, it consists of pine forest, broken here and there by large agricultural clearings where crops such as asparagus are grown. Villages are often as much as 16 kilometers (ten miles) apart, which is unusual in France, where three or four is the average. For centuries this was a region of large-scale sheep-farming. The local shepherds, known as échassiers, used to follow their flocks over the flat, shrub-covered grazing lands on stilts, in order to keep their animals within view. This traditional way of life changed in the 19th century. Maritime pines were planted to drain the marshy land and to fulfill a demand for turpentine and rosin. The forests are still being exploited for their timber.

In January this year, there was an unusually severe storm that wreaked havoc with the trees, destroying 60% of them. We could still see them, in some cases uprooted and in some snapped off in the trunk. They are very spindly trees and they are looking for alternatives to plant there instead. Just the problem of removing them is tremendous and many remain. The disposal is also a problem and we later saw logs being loaded onto a ship in Bayonne for sale on the cheap in Asia.

The Ecomuseum at Marquèze is a faithful reconstruction of a traditional 19th-century rural Landes settlement. Access is via a tourist steam train from Sabres, We took this after a long wait at the near end. There was a small museum there that looked as though it might have been interesting but we had no guide and the signs were all in French. After that we took the train to the farm village where we had lunch and then were taken around by a guide. On the whole it was interesting but not overly special. I took lots of pictures, but forgot to do so of the forest and its damage.

After that we returned to the bus for the remainder of the journey to Bayonne. there we checked into the Best Western Le Grand Hotel, which was quite pleasant and conveniently located. We had dinner at the hotel restaurant.

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