THE BRIDES AND BLUES OF ANDERNOS-LES-BAINS

The first place I see when I arrive to explore Andernos-Les-Bains is a cool pine grove with a small white church standing in its centre, the pale blues of the sea and sky melting into each other behind it.

Saint Eloi in pines

I feel a surge of pleasure as I realise that a wedding is taking place – it is always lovely to see a bride – and it is wonderful to see the sea again after so long.  I hang around the periphery of the group to get a glimpse, then watch the couple posing for photographs by one of the pine trees.

Couple and bike

I realise that there is something else happening at the church door and another bride and groom exit.   A second wedding party is now mingling with the first and there are brides to the left and right.

The church is so small it is more like a fishermen’s chapel and its doors open out directly onto the seawall and bay. I discover later that during wild weather stormy waves can flood over the wall into the church aisle.

Church door outside

View from the church doors

View from the church doors

Church from bay

Andernos-Les-Bains is a small resort in the Gironde department, typically ‘French seaside’ looking with white and blue buildings and just a few streets of artistic tourist shops leading to a pier with a small ‘place’ before it.   It is on the northern tip of the wide bay, Le Bassin D’Arcachon, to the west of Bordeaux, famous for its oysters.   At the southern tip is its classier sister, Arcachon, with its 19th century ‘Belle Epoque’ villas and their charming art deco names over their doors.  Behind the bay the land is flat and, before the thick pine forests are reached, covered in sand dunes. In fact there is an enormous desert-like one here, the Dune of Pilat, the tallest in Europe, which falls over the land and spills onto the beach like a tidal wave.  It is nearly 3 kilometres long, 500 metres wide and depending on the year and the winds between 100 and 115 metres high.  Quite a remarkable sight.  It is a (protected) tourist attraction but I see it as a sad indication of the erosion and destruction of the coastline there.  It will evidently disappear completely in the future.

In the middle of the bay is the small ‘Bird Island’, L’Ile aux Oiseaux, which features on every French travel magazine or brochure about the area, for here one can see the last romantic remains of the old cabins which stand on stilts, the ‘cabanes tchanquées’,  formerly occupied by guardians of the oyster beds.   At low tide the tripping boats can navigate through the narrow channels which snake between the stranded dunes like something out of ‘The African Queen’ movie.

And Andernos-Les-Bains is of course on the Chemin de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle.

St Jacques

I happily watch the joyful wedding groups for a while until the space clears and I can enter the church.   And then I understand why the brides of Andernos-Les-Bains choose this location. For the multi-coloured rose window above the wooden door casts a kaleidoscope of angelic light into the church, at this time of day right in front of the altar.   Just imagine taking your vows whilst bathed in a rainbow. It must feel magical. It is a stunning sight, like nothing I have ever seen before. One feels like a child again, just laughing at the wonder of it.

Angel light

Rainbow altar 2

Rainbow and Christ

There are other treasures in this tiny church of Saint Eloi. The turquoise sea ceiling makes you feel like a fish about to be caught in its wide, painted net.

Ceiling

Then there are the pastel frescoes, a tree symbol and the faithful kneeling beside it, others in the nave of interesting birds and animals.

Frescoes 1

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And then one gasps at the metalwork – a lectern, the light covers, the font are what looks like copper etched and scratched with shades of pale blue, russet, green and gold. What delights. Who could fail to be uplifted in a place like this?

Lecturn

Altar

I walk along the fishermen’s quay with its quaint white-walled and terracotta-roof cottages, and spot another bridal party. I see the bride is about to throw her bouquet and am just in time to catch it, on film, myself.

Spot the bouquet.

Spot the bouquet.

The fishermen's wharf

The fishermen’s wharf

The sea shimmers in the sun. There is something special about the light here. The line between sea and sky is so blurred that they almost become one expanse of blueness, shades of cornflower, powder and a deeper blue broken only by the occasional fishing boat putting out to sea or returning to harbour with its catch.

Merging blues

Stilt man

Spot the stickman

Later at sunset all the colours change, there is a golden sunset and the little pier changes colour too … and looks like a painting.

Sunset

Colourful pier

I stay in a gîte which is a cabin in the owner’s garden, though comfortable enough and well within my tight budget at this time of year.

My gite

Amazingly I soon learn that my friendly host, a retired banker, is the very man who was in charge of the renovation project at St Eloi, managing it in its entirety over a ten year period. What a coincidence.

He tells me all the inside stories about the work, and shows me the book he has written about it, complete with before-and-after photographs which are hard to believe, for the building was in complete ruins when it was decided to rebuild it. This was clearly a very demanding project and my host has not had a slow or inactive retirement, quite the reverse.

There is a little story about every feature and each craftsman – they had no idea the ancient frescoes were there for example until they uncovered them to their delight; a local man designed and made all the stained glass windows, they are modern works of art and he only learned the skill quite late in life after seeing and loving stained glass windows on a vacation; and another local craftsman designed the fabulous metalwork.   The glassmaker wanted to fill the church with jewelled light so made his abstract windows with the brightest colours. He clearly succeeded, and they are so positioned that at every moment of the day at least one of them filters the sun into rainbows to fill the space and shower the occupants.

The Rose Window over the door

The Rose Window over the door

Stained glass 2

Stained glass 1

Rose window door

I enjoy visiting the beaches with their crashing, untameable Atlantic waves.  Because this is a vast estuary it is an important natural site. One day I go to the ornithological reserve of Teich where a large area of the bay is protected and home to innumerable local and migrating birds.   It is a long, hot walk around the dusty paths that twist for 6 kilometres between the water pools, saltmarshes, reed beds and observation hides.

The water park

Spot the cormorants

I leisurely watch dozens of birds and ducks – white egrets, herons, incredible spoonbills speedily vacuuming up the ponds, flights of sunbathing cormorants, water rails, plovers, redshanks, godwits, stilts and sandpipers, to name just a few and think how deeply satisfying it would also be to see another kingfisher having so recently seen my first. Could I possibly be that lucky?

I see three kingfishers. One is just a flash of turquoise but two stay within view on their dead-tree perches for a good while. One of them stays close and still for long, long minutes and even turns to show me his every pretty profile as if flaunting himself.

Aldernos-Les-Bains seems to be a place where everyone can experience its dazzling colours.

– + –

Rainbow feet

Comments
One Response to “THE BRIDES AND BLUES OF ANDERNOS-LES-BAINS”
  1. Little bro says:

    Beautiful and tranquilic – I thought you were going to say that you caught the bouquet yourself, careful!!

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