Magazine article The Spectator

Notes On. la Baule

Magazine article The Spectator

Notes On. la Baule

Article excerpt

The reaction of the chap on the door at Le Bidule told me that they weren't used to seeing English stag parties in La Baule. His eyes narrowed and a scowl spread across his face. Marching up to our sober stag, dressed for the evening in typical Gallic attire, he finger-wagged aggressively at the beret, fake moustache and string of garlic. 'Ça, ça et ça -- non,' came straight from the de Gaulle school of diplomacy. The response to my timid 'Pourquoi?' left us in little doubt: if we wanted our aperitif, the outfit had to go.

No, La Baule is not your typical stag destination. The 12km-long beach on Brittany's southern coast was a place of un-realised holiday potential until the late 19th century. With the arrival of the railways, casinos and luxury hotels were built and wealthy, stylish visitors began to stream in.

Now, following a spate of development in the 1960s and 1970s, it is -- to borrow a sporting cliché -- a town of two halves. From the seafront it looks like any other resort, with a string of high-rise apartment blocks, all with balconies from which to enjoy the evening sun. But venture one or two roads back and you could still be in the La Baule of the early 20th century, with extravagant villas nestled among the pine trees.

Madame at the charming Residence Les Sylphes was less alarmed than the unfriendly doorman at the sight of 11 Englishmen bearing down on her. That, I am almost entirely sure, was thanks to the Frenchman in our dozen: Pierre is a local, and La Baule was his idea for James's enterrement de vie de garçon .

And what an idea it was. …

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