On France’s Atlantic coast “
THAT doesn’t sound very interesting,” says my fiveyear-old son with a frown. I’ve just broken the news to him that we’re going on a vineyard tour. “To find out how they make wine!” I say, as if we’re going to see a spacecraft, hoping he’ll catch my enthusiasm. He doesn’t. He’s struggling to compute that holidays aren’t just about what he and his three-year-old brother want to do. It’s a tough lesson.
Planning a summer trip to meet the needs of my two energetic sons, my super-chilled husband and somewhere-in-the-middle me was never going to be easy. For the kids, the beach has to be safe for paddling and sandcastle building, yet I like beaches with waves strong enough for surfing. My husband likes sea swimming, surfing and sandcastle building too but he also craves the chance to unwind with some decent food and wine.
Luckily we all love cycling, so we decided to come to the Médoc-Océan region, northwest of Bordeaux, to see if it could meet our various holiday needs. We based ourselves at Village Western, a lovely, forested campsite in Hourtin Port, which is not on the sea but by Lac d’Hourtin, France’s biggest freshwater lake. With shaded pitches for tents and comfy mobile homes, it was quiet, particularly for mid-August, and had a cowboy theme, with on-site horse riding, teepees and totem poles aplenty. The mostly French clientele flocked to evening classes in making lassoes and dreamcatchers. Our kids loved the pool and the fact they could cycle everywhere (there was bike hire on site): from our pitch to the pool, to buy woodfired pizza in the evening and pains au chocolat in the morning.
The campsite was just 5 minutes’ cycle, via off-road paths, from the lake, one-and-a-half hours by bike from the Médoc vineyards and an hour, according to Google Maps, to the Atlantic Ocean surf beaches.
Eager to hear the roar of the ocean, we set off first to Hourtin Plage on an off-road route through ancient pine forests. It was 13km, so we put the kids in a trailer – great for them as they told Gruffalo stories all the way, but a little harder on our legs. We emerged from shaded forest to the bright skies and buzz of the popular surfing town an hour and a half later, dunes stretching into the distance on either side.
We grown-ups tag-teamed a quick surf each, the eldest caught his first waves on a bodyboard, and the youngest jumped small but strong waves with my husband in the lifeguarded section. Refuelled by pizza at Le Grillon in town, we rode back to the campsite as the early evening light slanted through the pines.
The next day we headed out for our first wine tour, the children baffled as to why we weren’t going back to the beach. The 30km cycle, often on busy roads, took well over two hours, and we arrived at Chateau Lynch Bages near Paulliac, hot and sweaty and with the kids already restless. The tour (US$10) was, perhaps, a little too formal, the wine a bit pricey.
Château Larose, which we visited a few days later, proved more of a success. We cheated a little by driving to Paulliac, hiring bikes there and riding through pretty vineyards on quiet country roads to the stunning 19th-century chateau, which was the first European vineyard to win awards for sustainable development. Staff greeted us and our children with smiles, and I watched the boys play in the children’s area while my husband went on the (free) tour and tasting, and bought a crate, a seal of approval.
To save the kids from wine boredom, we limited more tastings to friendly local wine shop Cave l’Atlantide in Hourtin town and spent the rest of our time on ocean beaches, exploring pine forest trails, and at the nearby lake, where the water was as warm as a bath and super-calm, though it was lifeguarded too.
The children loved charging about in the soft, squelchy sand and swimming in the seemingly neverending shallows. They played for hours, building sandcastles and watching older children on dinghies, stand-up paddleboards and windsurfers.
I’m sure they would have been happy at the lake or the campsite pool all week, but as we sat amid the pines while the children looped around us on the bikes, we raised a glass of our local wine to a holiday that ticked a few parents’ boxes, too.
– The Guardian