Monday, March 26, 2012

France's Southwest Coast. Sun, Sand, Surf and Laidback Locals

Thinking of a motorhome roadtrip in France? If it's summertime, the coast is the place to go. France's most famous coastlines are those of the French Riviera and the peninsula of Brittany (Bretagne). Both of these are beautiful parts of the country, and if you are looking for glamour, the Riviera is where it's at! However, they are extremely popular as holiday destinations, and there is the degree of commercialism and crowds that come with that. If you are looking for a hidden gem, try the southwest coast. This is the coastline of the Aquitaine region that extends from La Rochelle down to the Spanish border and Basque region.

Beach of the Southwest

This coast is a favourite for those in the know- many of its visitors are from Germany and the Netherlands and return every year! It is a chilled out part of France, and the locals certainly don't have the stereotypical snottiness attributed to Parisians and other city-dwellers. Most you meet are surfers, and in the summer the population swells as the fun-loving seasonal workers arrive. These are multicultural, well-travelled young people who work hard as chefs, wait staff, surf teachers and bar staff and play just as hard. And the area is a natural playground- the coastline is one long stretch of surf beach broken only occasionally by rivers and estuaries, and backed by charming pine forests.

At the north of this region is the city of Bordeaux, known for its wine and beautiful architecture. It is on the UNESCO world heritage list for its outstanding urban architecture, so take a day to wander around and take in the best of urban France. It has recently undergone a clean-up, with buildings being sand-blasted clean by mandate- this has made for a lighter and fresher city. Trams make it easy to get around.

Place de la Bourse with Mirror Pool

Dinner in Bordeaux

A bit further south is Biscarrosse and its seaside partner, Biscarrosse-Plage (beach). Surfing is great at the beach, and it's great for kids too- bring a bucket and spade, and head to the inland lakes for tranquil waters. The town and beach town are a sign of things to come if you are heading down this coast- long stretches of sand, friendly and fun people, forest tracks for cycling and walking, a relaxed and unsophisticated air.

Beach at Biscarosse
by Julen Iturbe-Ormaetxe Flickr Creative Commons

The resorts keep coming as you continue down the coast- the large town of Mimizan and its beach resort, and the wonderful small town of Contis-Plage, where the endless beach is broken by an estuary. Here you can have lessons at the friendly Ecole de Surf, get a beer at the bar run by english Contis convert Dan, do some stand-up paddle on the estuary or climb the distinctive black-and-white lighthouse. Contis is a must-visit!

Market at Mimizan


Ecole de Surf

Beach at Contis

All down this coast the food is great, with a lot of seafood being used in the restaurants- a favourite dish is moules-frites, and foie gras and duck dishes are also a specialty of the area.

Further down the coast is the seaside town of Moliets with the same relaxed vibe, great beaches and surrounding forests. You can also get a game of golf in here! An estuary called the Courant d'Huchet flows into the Atlantic here, and there is a lake which is popular for fishing.

Lake at Moliets
by Alain Crespo Flickr Creative Commons

Beach at Moliets
by Gerard Flickr Creative Commons

Continuing down the coast, you will find the side-by-side cities of Hossegor and Capbreton. These are not as small and friendly as places like Mimizan, Contis and the like, but retain the relaxed and sunny atmosphere. Hossegor is known as the surf capital of France and is beloved by surfers the world over for its consistent breaks. It is a bustling place during the summer months, and there are many other activities to be done there and in Capbreton- horseriding, golf, tennis, sailing and much more. Restaurants and bars are plentiful and the nightlife is lively.


Beach at Hossegor

Labenne-Ocean is another beautiful small beach town that swells in summer. The pine forest is omnipresent, and the nearby March of Orx is a protected natural reserve. It is home to many birds, and twilight birdwatching visits are often organised in summer.

The city of Bayonne along the river sprawls to meet with the stunning city of Biarritz in the Basque region. Here, place names are in both french and basque giving the area a unique culture. Biarritz is an amazing city bordering a craggy part of the coastline, with beaches, inlets and protruding headlands such as the famous Rocher de la Vierge. Surfers cross paths with businessmen on the streets of Biarritz, and you could be forgiven for imagining yourself in Surfer's Paradise, Australia, rather than France. Wandering amongst the cosmopolitan streets of Biarritz, you will be continually catching glimpses of the Atlantic- it is a city not to be missed!


Beach and Rocher de la Vierge

France's southwest coast is often overlooked by those who haven't been before, but is an excellent alternative to the glamorous cities of the Riviera or the quaint touristy Brittany. If you want a laid-back road trip with friendly people, surf beaches and beautiful small towns and cities, give the Atlantic coast of Aquitaine a go- it won't disappoint!

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Author: Doug Brown+

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