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My two youngest daughters often give us Smartbox trips for Christmas where you get a voucher for a night’s stay in a hotel as they think that we, particularly their father, don’t go away enough.  Since my husband is very Scottish in some ways they know that one way of guaranteeing that he’ll leave the property is the thought that something might go to waste if he doesn’t.

So much happened last year, one way or the other, that we didn’t get to use Christmas 2010’s present.  Come January this year we realised that the voucher would run out soon so we had to get our skates on.  I suggested that we go to Biarritz, where I’d never been, which the other half reluctantly agreed to (he’d been round the outskirts of Biarritz and wasn’t impressed) and looking at out of the window at the rain sheeting down (this was mid January) said, ‘I’ll book it for early February, the weather should be better then…’

Ha, flaming ha.  It was minus 8 on the morning we were due to leave, the snow was making the roads around us, shall we say, interesting and the pipes had frozen.  We got them sorted satisfactorily quickly, though we had to give up on the washing machine whose inner workings had frozen solid. Fortunately we’re all well supplied with socks and knickers and I pointed out to the girls it is possible to wash things by hand.  They looked surprised at this news.  Surprisingly we left only half an hour later than planned.

We stopped for lunch in Pau, which is supposed to be lovely.  It was also very, very cold.  The sort of cold that makes you go straight into the nearest eaterie without even looking at the menu of the one two buildings away.  The sort of day which makes you decided to do most of your sightseeing through the car windows.  Not something I’d usually recommend but when there’s a severe risk of frostbite it has a lot to be said for it.

We took a nice circuitous route to Biarritz which was very enjoyable, the car has an excellent heater.  As we approached the sea the outside temperature actually rose to a plus figure.  Biarritz wasn’t precisely warm but at least we felt up to walking the five hundred metres or so from our wonderful little hotel to the restaurant the receptionist had suggested.  If it had been as cold as Pau I think we might have decided we weren’t very hungry.

I love seaside towns in winter and though perhaps I’d have enjoyed Biarritz a bit more if it had been a little warmer I still think it’s delightful.   It’s all hilly so there are loads of interesting vistas, it’s full of wonderful old houses and splendid old ladies done up to the nines, I saw more fur coats than I’ve seen for years.  The beaches are gorgeous, we didn’t feel like taking a brief walk along them though the surfers were out.  It was 2°.   Various words such as bonkers, stark and raving come to mind.  And I want to have a holiday flat here:

preferably in the tower.  It’s built right on the cliff edge high above the sea and has a view of the Rocher de la Vierge.  Admittedly it’s not very convenient for the shops (steep climb up a hill, then down another) but who cares.  If you can afford that place, you can afford someone to do the shopping for you.

Since we had to get out of the car sometime we went to the museum of chocolate where we were given a little bag of sample chocolates as we went in, and a cup of really delicious, artisanal hot chocolate as we left.  The exhibits were fun too.  We had a good lunch in a bar in the middle of town and my husband announced he’d changed his mind – not something that happens readily – and that Biarritz was a really nice place.  We should come back again, when the temperature is in double figures, he added quickly.

So we headed back home again, meeting the snow halfway there and being greeted with the news that not only was the washing machine still kaput but the central heating had broken down too.  At least we still had electricity…