It was rather a shock to the system when the alarm rang at 4am in the middle of the Easter holidays, for 21 Year 11, Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth Form students, but the discomfort was short-lived as Easter Monday heralded the start of the French department’s third study trip to Bordeaux, and the Modern Languages department’s fourth trip this Easter holiday.  Having landed mid-morning, our students were met by the French families whom would be their hosts for the next week, before the group met in the afternoon to explore a little the unmistakable centre of Bordeaux. The serenity that one always encounters on Easter Monday in France gave us the chance to enjoy clement temperatures and stroll around the iconic Grand Théâtre, Place de la Bourse – instantly recognizable in so many photos of Bordeaux, and the miroir d’eau, near to which we were entertained by some skilful street dancers. Then followed the first evening of full immersion in conversation and French cuisine with host families, which is precisely what makes such trips so beneficial.

Despite a long first day, Tuesday began with another early start as students headed from their host families to the language school, as they would each morning, negotiating tram networks, buses or maps on foot, for some intensive lessons targeting their respective, forthcoming oral exams. Reward: a relaxed subsequent lunch in the Bordeaux sunshine. Following a walk through time in the Musée d’Aquitaine, we confidently accepted the challenge of 230 steps to reach the top of the Tour Pey Berland; this 15th-century bell tower did not disappoint: arrival at the summit met with stunning views of Bordeaux, looking splendid in the spring-time sun. The following afternoon was spent at the World Heritage site, the utterly charming medieval village, Saint-Emilion. Renowned worldwide for its wine, the village, originally called Ascumbas, also offers beautiful architecture and a fascinating history. Our guide gave us insight into the legendary life of the 8th century Breton hermit, Emilion, who founded the first religious community, followed by others, attracted by the cult of Emilion. We then visited Europe’s largest underground monolithic church, so-called due to being carved out of limestone, which makes its survival all the more remarkable!

Still, on the theme of wine, the following afternoon provided a stark contrast from this medieval village, as we ventured to the newly-built, ultra-modern Cité du vin, a “world-beating wine museum” where the wine comes to life through all the senses. The deserted warehouses of former military barracks, a part of Bordeaux’s heritage, provided the stage for our next visit: the Darwin Ecosystem. Created by local entrepreneurs, the area is an incubator for sustainable development through fun eco-friendliness. The warm Bordeaux evening sunshine was the perfect backdrop to our taste of this rather unique example of urban culture.

Charming owners of a local restaurant, unspoiled by the tourist trade, in the quaint Saint Pierre district, were our hosts for a group lunch on the penultimate day. Students chose between noix de veau and fish, followed by excellent home-made sorbet. Comfortably fuelled, we headed off for a rather challenging afternoon: students were required to become detectives for the afternoon and piece together and solve a series of clues linked the crimes of Jacques l’éventreur in order to win the team-based escape game.

There just remained the traditional visit to the Dune du Pyla, Europe’s highest sand dune, nestled between the Atlantic ocean, an enormous pine forest and Arcachon. Previous trips have enjoyed the sunshine required to scale this dune which has a volume of approximately 60,000,000 m3 of sand and which offers the most spectacular views imaginable of the Atlantic coast. Unfortunately, interminable rain rendered our visit redundant; instead, we opted for a comedy at a local cinema in Arcachon. We did, however, triumph over numerous strikes that were taking hold of public services in France, to return home punctually after a tiring, but truly rewarding stay in one of France’s most beautiful and charming cities.

Written by: Ms Scarantino