Vamos : Guethary, France

The red, black and cream tiles are stuck in my mind. An immediate attraction, somehow, to the row of apartments on the cliff of Guethary.  The tiles of the balcony are framed by red railings, but the building itself is a drab cream concrete with only a number above each door. And it immediately caught my attention.

Guethary lies not far from the Spanish border. On the surface it seems to be one of those generic seaside towns on the at-times-white-trash, at-times-breathtakingly-beautiful lower French côte.  But I found something drawing me to it—a rugged Basque sensibility, combined with a wide open rocky beach. An old tavern with a few rooms above it and seaside resorts whose better days have seen better days. Old Basque dinghies so photogenic it was almost tacky.  

An intense love affair with what was, originally for us, just a stop on a road trip.

I would love to say we stumbled upon Heteroclite by accident. And we sort of did, but I had heard talk of a restaurant built into the side of the beach in Guethary. I was looking for something special, and I knew I would know it when I saw it.

Some places are so French. And some places are just so perfect.  It doesn’t matter that the menu is ridiculously simple, consisting only of a few snack plates like paté and hummus and a dish of the day. What matters is the location, the surprise, the perfect thrown-together aspect of it all.

For lunch it was a plate of cured ham, topped with delicate shavings of red onion and pickled guindillas. Octopus with potatoes and paprika, in a nod to southern siblings. I found myself concentrated on scraping clean the plate of paté, however. Maybe it was the obligatory Lillet, maybe it was you, maybe it was me…or maybe it was just Guethary.

It’s so hard to sum up the feelings I have about this place in words, so I thought maybe leaving this picture with you would work. This building appears in my dreams. It suggests history. It hints at mystery, even horror. Falling apart and overrun with spiderwebs on the bottom, the top clings to its last shred of Havisham dignity. This place, mes amis, has a story to tell. 

And I'm going back, even if it's just for another chapter.