Bordeaux and its Atlantic coastline may just be the best of France
HOLIDAYMAKERS are creatures of habit and we love heading to the Mediterranean sun. The southern European states which surround the Med are our traditional summer playgrounds. Spain, Italy, Turkey and Greece attract hundreds of thousands of Irish and British sun seekers.
And those of us who head to France are drawn to the south east like children to the ice-cream truck and that stretch of coastline from Marseilles to the Italian border.
It’s understandable, of course. The Cote D’Azur boasts some of the most beautiful and fashionable destinations in Europe. Nice, St Tropez, Cannes, Monaco and Antibes populate a coastline of super yachts, super wealth and holiday heaven.
It’s such a glorious place (and within a two-hour flight from Belfast) that it always leaves me wondering why so many fly past it to the sizzling beaches of the Spanish Costas.
Spain has its own wonders, of course, but they aren’t best experienced in the Irish and British bars of the Costa del Sol.
But you can have a sun and sea holiday in France without heading to the Mediterranean. The south-west coast has its own fantastic pleasures. I’ve just returned from a Eurocamp holiday in the Bordeaux region and I’m converted.
Think about the geography for a moment. Bordeaux sits on the majestic River Garonne and is less than an hour from the Atlantic Ocean. Two hours south will bring you to the Pyrenees and the Spanish border. The Basque region crosses the border and brings the delights of fashionable San Sebastian and Bilbao.
It’s just as southerly as Nice, albeit on the other side of France, 800kms away.
The south-west of France also has the significant attractions of the Atlantic, which creates dramatic coastlines, powerful waves and beautiful beaches.
We stayed at the majestic La Rive holiday parc about 50 minutes from Bordeaux airport. Conveniently, Bordeaux-Merignac airport is located on the ring road to the west of Bordeaux, which in itself is less than two hours flying time from Belfast.
La Rive is a wonder. It has the five-star standards of all Eurocamp parcs but also has some unique features. It has a bar, restaurant, spa, five swimming pools, some wondrous slides, a 100-metre-long river ride, an indoor-wave maker, a rather special tipping water bucket the kids will love, but also has direct access to a lake-side beach.
I hadn’t previously stayed in a beach-side parc and what a pleasure it was to have an on-site alternative to the pool. La Rive is doubly fortunate in that the lake sits directly west of the parc. Sitting on the beach in the evening watching the setting sun reflect off the glass-like lake was magical.
Biscarrosse lake (the second largest lake in France) is of such a size that it feels like you’re looking out at the sea. But if you feel like the lake and its watersports aren’t quite enough for you, then 20 minutes drive takes you to Biscarrosse Plage and the joys of the Atlantic.
Biscarrosse is a classic holiday resort, with its pedestrian streets filled with bars, restaurants, street food and entertainers. But the real attraction is at the top of the town and over the dunes down to the glorious beach.
At the edge of a nature reserve, there’s a gentle sweep of deep, soft sand almost as far as you can see.
It’s worth noting through, that the waves are substantial here and the lake may be a better swimming spot for smaller children.
But that’s probably the best thing about La Rive – it gives you options. There’s the parc’s facilities, the Atlantic coast, the Pyrenees, the Basque region and beautiful Bordeaux.
THINGS TO DO IN THE AREA
Even with the best weather, any holiday needs a few excursion days to see the sights of the local area and take you away from the pool for a while. If you’re staying at any of a number Eurocamp parcs in the region there are some great days out to be had.
The city of Bordeaux is about one-hour drive from La Rive and is a remarkable city. We parked at the main train station and explored the town by foot and on the efficient tram system. Much of Bordeaux’s beautiful city centre is a Unesco World Heritage Site and the narrow cobblestone streets and 18th century buildings make you feel like the French revolution may break out at any time. Things to do include seeing the city from the Garonne in the regular river buses, enjoying the Miroir D’Eau (water mirror) where 2cms of water on black granite creates a 3,500 square metre mirror, and visiting the Cite du Vin.
:: Cite du Vin:
Only opened last year, the wine museum on the banks of the Garonne in the middle of Bordeaux follows the style of many modern museums in that the building itself is as interesting as the exhibitions. Cite du Vin, which cost a reported €81 million, takes the shape of a decanter. It is a remarkable addition to the skyline and while the content is a little underwhelming it is certainly worth a visit. Don’t forget to take the lift to the top floor for a glass of very fine complimentary wine before you leave. Children, by the way, are very welcome, with miniature headphones for the tour and a glass of grape juice at the end.
:: Dune du Pilat:
A brilliant, half-day trip, the Dune du Pilat is said to be Europe’s highest sand dune. About 20 minutes from La Rive, it’s a remarkable sight at 110m high and 2.7km long. It’s quite a vertical climb and a little unnerving until you relax on the deep soft sand.
:: Biscarrosse Plage:
A very Irish looking beach. A broad sweep, backed by dunes and glorious waves coming in from the wild Atlantic. It’s the kind of beach you’d find in Donegal but with more regular sun. It’s also a classic holiday town, with pedestrian streets of restaurants, bars and entertainment. Highly recommended.
:: We stayed with Eurocamp at La Rive, on Lake Biscarrosse
:: Eurocamp has parcs across Europe – in France, Spain, Italy and seven other European countries. It has six parcs on the stretch of coastline from Bordeaux to the Spanish border. More information at eurocamp.co.uk
:: Getting there: A number of airlines fly from Dublin and Belfast to Bordeaux, including Easyjet, Ryanair and Aer Lingus. A number of ferry companies connect from Cork and Rosslare to ports in northern France. It’s approximately a seven-hour drive from there to Bordeaux.
:: Car hire is easy and reasonably priced at Bordeaux airport. We got a Ford Fiesta (which was plenty big enough for four of us and our luggage) for £120 for the week.
:: We didn’t encounter any road tolls on our travels around the Bordeaux area but you should account for toll charges if driving from the northern ports.