Welcome to the first leg of this Easter’s surf road trip to the Basque country as we hit Charente Maritime!
As I pack the van at home in Scotland, Proust’s epic quote rings around my head: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes”. Whatever it is, nothing beats the feeling of packing up home for a few weeks and taking off like a man reborn. Proust delighted in new eyes, but personally I’ll opt for new eyes, new landscapes and the ol’ van every time. So feeling ripe for some adventure, I hit the road encore une fois.
For me, it’s a familiar trek from Scotland down to the south of England in order to board the ferry to France, but this year feeling a little plush I opted for the Eurotunnel. The whole Eurotunnel experience is super slick, flexible on departure time and as easy as you like – you can even get in the back of your van for half an hours kip. The only trouble is that you are dumped at Calais, the very north of France, which means a longer drive south… but I’d say the £120 return price-tag for the tunnel was a price worth paying.
Tip Number One: Don’t be scared of the Eurotunnel!
Once we hit France, we headed straight for La Rochelle, escaping the toll roads which are known as péages wherever possible. It’s a shame to skip some of the seminal surf set-ups like La Torche in Southern Finestère, but with so much to see and such little time, you have to cut the odd corner and so it was destination La Rochelle. It is definitely one of those places to take the non-surf-soaked travelling companion – we arrived with it in full sunny splendour and the mix of the castle, 15th century towers and the mellow coastline is a brilliant introduction to France. Clean, chic and historic – definitely worth a detour if the surf is flat.
Alas, I am not one of the legion of the unjazzed and so having had my first spot of lunch in France (shamefully, “un subway”), I was itching to chase the small swell south of La Rochelle. Having bypassed the picturesque but too sheltered Pontaillac bay, we headed for La Côte Sauvage which is more exposed and so picks up more swell. Here you’ve got 15 kms of beachbreaks that can resemble the heavier breaks of the Landes further south so it’s up to you where you decide to explore. On this given day, the best of the bunch was the Pointe Espagnole or La Bouverie (both past the old lighthouse away from Royan). A bit of advice – hidden as they are from the forest, it’s not the easiest to check the breaks round here so you may have to be a bit more patient than you think.
Having surfed the small swell at La Côte Sauvage, we decided to make one final detour before heading further south and getting stuck into some serious wave-riding. In fact, it’s probably the best spot to head to when the surf is flat, as there is always some action no matter what the tides or winds are doing. Yep, just by the pretty town of Arcachon you’ll stumble across the biggest sand dunes in Europe at the Dunes de Pyla. A word of warning though – you think you’re local surf break is crowded? Then try this on a bodyboard… Grommets all over the place!
Hope you’re enjoying the ride so far – stay tuned for the next chapter as we head to the heart of the French Basque country!