After leaving our last Helpx near Niort in the Poitou Charente region we headed south beyond Bordeaux bound for the sea on La Côte D’Argent – the Silver Coast. The big draw for us to this area was the endless sandy beaches. We do like a nice good, long sandy beach. The Côte D’Argent covering more than 200km from Pointe de Grave in the north and Bayonne in the south, is, according to our Rough Guide to France, the longest, straightest, sandiest stretch of coastline in Europe which boasts La Dune de Pilat, the largest dune in Europe as well as Les Landes, the largest forest in Western Europe. There was also the promise of some nice, flat, easy cycling along traffic free cycleways through the forest.
For our first couple of nights we parked up at a free aire at Le Teich, east of Arcachon. Being one of the most important wetland areas left in France it was a perfect stop off for a couple of days of rest and relaxation to do a spot of birdwatching. The Parc Ornitholigique du Teich is a bird sanctuary and protected area and we enjoyed the peace and quiet of two different walks. The wetland area seems a world away from the approach to it as it seemed as if everyone was escaping to the coast from Bordeaux for the weekend.
We had intended to have a gander around Arcachon but decided against it after seeing the queues of traffic to get there. Instead we peeled off to the south to the Dune du Pilat. We caught a glimpse through the trees of a crowd of people on the dune not long before we got to the parking area. Tim said ‘oh look at all those people on that dune there must be some sort of event going on’. I said ‘Tim, the dune is the event’. Tim’s general modus operandi is to just punch in the co-ordinates to the satnav that I give him without asking where or what it is we are headed for. He is more than happy to wait for everything to unfold before him all in its own time. I think it must be a nice way to be but I’m too much of a control freak to be able to be like that as I need to know where we are going and why way before we have even started the engine. It’s fair to say we were both really impressed by the scale of the dune. We’d parked half a mile away from the main parking area which proved to be a wise decision as a footpath through the forest led to the bottom of the dune where we could make our ascent by ourselves without any company at all.
At over one hundred metres high, three kilometres long and five hundred metres wide it really was an impressive sight especially as we had the perfect weather for it.
A very gregarious French chap in the car park called us over just as we were locking up the van and advised us to scramble to the top, walk the length of the ridge, slide down to the beach, then walk back along the beach and to return to the car park via another footpath. It was good advice as it made for an excellent two hour round trip.
Numerous sea side resorts which are popular with surfers dot this stretch of coastline whilst inland a string of lakes draw in fishermen, boaters and families as they offer watersports facilities and safe swimming. We enjoyed a lunch time stop at Cazaux-Sanguinet lake on our way to our overnight stop at Gastes. It must get absolutely packed in July and August but we were able to enjoy a stroll along the lakeside with just a few other families.
I was absolutely chuffed to bits to watch three young otters feeding in between the moorings at the side of the lake opposite the aire in Gastes the following morning. Oh if only I’d had my camera with me but I was just returning from the early morning walk to the boulangerie with a baguette safely tucked under my arm so hadn’t even thought about taking the camera with me. C’est la vie!
We were fortunate with the weather for the ten days we spent on the Côte D’Argent as we could imagine the area could be a bit desolate out of season in inclement weather. Some of the resorts were completely closed up for the season whilst others just had a few cafes open even though we were still basking in sunshine in the low twenties.
Fortunately we were spoilt for choice with aires, which ranged from between 6 and 10 euros a night, spending a couple of nights at a time in one place giving us time to get out on the bikes to explore.
There isn’t a coastal road as such but there is a cycleway that winds its way through the forest and forms part of La Velo Odyssee, a 1200 kilometre cycle route linking Roscoff in northern France to Hendaye on the Spanish border.
Traffic free, smooth and pretty much flat we happily tootled along through the pine trees stopping in at a resort or two to have lunch and to watch the few surfers that were out.
The Landes forest is totally vast and totally manmade. Until a century ago the constantly shifting dunes made any attempt to settle or cultivate the land impossible. Pines and grasses were planted to anchor the dunes and they now extend to over 10 000 square kilometres and were declared a parc naturel régional in 1970. It’s an under-populated area but wealthy thanks to its pinewood and pine derivatives.
Our last port of call along this coast before we moved into the Pays Basque region was Capbreton. There is a large aire behind the beach which is really just a car park but convenient for getting out onto the beach and soaking up the atmosphere. It’s a popular area and much more lively with hundreds of surfers out.
A perfect evening for a bit of body surfing before the setting sun.
Next up, the Pays Basque.