Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Bayonne: Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition To Engender A World-Class Chocolate Industry

Bayonne, France 
November 2015
I didn't know what to expect visiting Bayonne. The only knowledge I had of the city was that it was home to several well-regarded chocolatiers, so of course we were required to investigate!
After parking we took a stroll along the river which brought us to le Réduit, a system of fortifications which had been destroyed in the early twentieth-century and rebuilt in 2005. This narrow wooden door led into the bartizan - an overhanging turret providing almost total protection from oncoming attacks while allowing arrow fire outwards. Bayonne has a long and conflict-filled history - one which I couldn't hope to distill here.
One aspect of its history I will cover is that of the chocolate. It's very important, trust me.

According to the chocolatier Daranatz (founded in 1890), the so-called "chocolate capital of France" got its start with the exodus of Jews from Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition. The city records stated that in 1670 they settled in Bayonne (among other areas), bringing with them coveted cacao beans from the New World and recipes for chocolat. By 1856 it was reported that there were over thirty chocolate factories in the city, which was an amazingly high number for the time period.
From Daranatz we procured a block of noir café. Delightful!

From Chocolat Cazenave (founded in 1854) we selected a block of noit vanille and a range of smaller bars to sample various other flavours. As we walked away from the chocolatiers, a gaggle of excited tourists pounced upon them, giddy and fawning over the elaborate displays. Phew! That was close.

The streets were absolutely beautiful with pale stone and bright shutters. Any foreigner would know immediately that the French are a romantic people simply by gazing upon the building facades in Bayonne.

We set our sights on the cathedral, which had a distinctive Lego brick type of vibe going on. That may be in part due to the drawn out construction of the cathedral. In the past, the cathedral has burnt down twice and rebuilt. The current version was begun in 1213 but only completed in 1615 - the exception being the two spires (one of which is shown above), which were finally finished in the 1800's. It has also been restored over the years, once by a man with the brilliant name of Émile Boeswildwald.

Before we managed to take this picture from within the cloister, we needed to find a way in. You see, at first we could only see the cloister from behind a large iron gate that didn't budge. We speculated that the cathedral (and cloister) may be shut at that time, but then a touristic couple wandered past in the garden and we would not let it thwart us!

We walked all the way around and found what looked to me like a back entrance. We were in! Theatrical tea drinking ensued.

For lunch we had our hearts set on crêpes. You should never really have your heart set on anything unless you know it's a definite, as the crêperie we selected had been converted into a burger joint. Oh the disappointment! Other crêperies in the vicinity looked like they were pandering to tourist crowds, so we skipped that plan and found a bakery. Never underestimate bakeries, especially in France. At the very least, you can always get a baguette.

Which we did! As well as two Basque cakes, one in the cherry variety and one with cream inside. It was our first experience of the petits gâteaux, but it would not be the last...

Munching on the baguette and cakes, we found ourselves on a street with three rugby shops. Apparently the people of Bayonne love their rugby. I couldn't help but pose outside one called the Otago Rugby Shop. World Cup victory, wooo! (Never forget: New Zealand claimed victory twice in a row you guys. Fingers crossed for 2019.)

On our way back to the carpark we walked a different route along the river and once again admired the shutters. Many restaurants faced the water and one had a spaniel giving the puppy dog eyes to patrons in an attempt to sympathy scam them out of their food.

More shutters! Last time, I promise. 

Today's post was almost called: Je Danse Le ‘Ka Mate Ka Mate’