Off the Beaten Track, Cal­i­for­nia Dream­ing in the Mé­doc

South west France’s ‘Sil­ver Coast’ is a mag­net for surfers from all over the world. Sev­eral At­lantic beaches along the penin­sula con­jure up a laid-back Cal­i­for­nian am­biance, youth­ful and care-free

Bordeaux J'Adore - - Contents - CLARE O’HA­GAN

Cal­i­for­nia’s land­scape has long been syn­ony­mous with the dream of per­sonal free­dom and in­fi­nite

space. Its tow­er­ing, jagged cliffs, pur­ple hills, windswept dunes and the roar of its myth­i­cal surf were im­mor­talised by writ­ers like John Stein­beck and Jack Ker­ouac. France’s Mé­doc, as­so­ci­ated for over 10 cen­turies with the pro­duc­tion of the world’s finest wines, may seem to em­body the tra­di­tions of olde world Europe. Surely this flat, vine-dom­i­nated, cul­ti­vated coun­try is the an­tithe­sis Amer­ica’s rugged and wild west coast? The Mé­doc is all ven­er­a­ble châteaux, dusty wine cel­lars and long af­ter­noons spent quaffing grand crus classés, right?

The Call of the Wild

Well, stray a few kilo­me­tres off the beaten track of the penin­sula’s D2, the Route des Châteaux, and you’ll soon dis­cover sparsely-pop­u­lated, un­tamed coun­try in which the sounds of bird-song, of breezes gen­tly stir­ring the pines, and of surf crash­ing ashore, reign. The Mé­doc boasts a vast ar­ray of nat­u­ral riches, huge fresh­wa­ter lakes, dense forests and 120 miles of pris­tine coast­line. There’s enough here to keep the most ac­tive fam­ily con­tented for a whole sum­mer. It would be stretch­ing the truth though, to claim that the Mé­doc has al­ways been na­ture’s play­ground. Much of its di­ver­sity is ac­tu­ally man-made. Un­til the 17th cen­tury, most of the land in the penin­sula was salt marsh, but then res­i­dent Dutch wine mer­chants ap­plied their knowl­edge of marsh-drainage to re­claim the land, with the back­ing of Napoleon III. Thanks to the high gravel con­tent of the soil, this land was ideal for cul­ti­vat­ing vines, and many new wine es­tates sprung up along the Gironde es­tu­ary. Huge forests were then planted to pro­tect the vines from strong south­ern winds.

Des­ti­na­tion: Surf

Surf­ing was only in­tro­duced to France in the year 1957. Dur­ing the shoot­ing of the movie of Ernest Hem­ing­way’s novel ‘The Sun Also Rises’ in Biar­ritz, mem­bers of the Amer­i­can pro­duc­tion crew had their boards flown over from the States so they could en­joy the waves. They taught the lo­cals, who got hooked and soon be­gan to carve their own boards. Since then, south west France’s ‘Sil­ver Coast’ has been a mag­net for surfers from all over the world.

Sev­eral At­lantic beaches along the penin­sula con­jure up a laid-back Cal­i­for­nian am­biance. Ven­days-mon­tilivet is a prime ex­am­ple. Here, the lo­cal surf­ing com­mu­nity or­gan­ise tra­di­tional long­board com­pe­ti­tions on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Dot­ted along the 12km beach there are life-guard’s cab­ins painted a dreamy shade of turquoise blue, mod­elled on the iconic Art Deco cab­ins on Mal­ibu Beach.

Har­ley David­sons and re­fur­bished VW camper vans line Ocean Av­enue. Clas­sic car-meets are a reg­u­lar fix­ture in sum­mer, and there’s a bustling daily mar­ket, boast­ing some 240 stalls, where you can treat your­self a few oys­ters whilst browsing the fresh lo­cal pro­duce.

The town is backed by 6000 hectares of pine for­est, criss-crossed with walk­ers’

trails, per­fect for pony trekking. The for­est is also the lo­ca­tion of one of the big­gest Na­tur­ist Re­sorts in France, Hélio-marin. If you’re feel­ing ad­ven­tur­ous, why not give it a go? Please note - Na­tur­ism is not as strict as nud­ism, clothed, or par­tially clothed - guests are warmly wel­comed!

The Great Lakes

La­canau, an­other par­adise surfers boasts beaches backed by Hop­per-es­que dunes. But surf isn’t all that’s on of­fer. The town is also po­si­tioned on a huge lake of­fer­ing every kind of wa­ter-sport known to man, from kitesurf­ing and wind­surf­ing to wa­ter-ski­ing, wake-board­ing and ex­cur­sions in cata­ma­rans. Per­haps the re­cent craze for Sup’ing or Stand Up Pad­dle Board­ing is more your style? It’s said to be one of the best ab­dom­i­nal work-outs go­ing.

The lake at Car­cans-hourtin is France’s largest fresh­wa­ter lake. Fringed by dense pine for­est, much of which falls within a na­tional park, and mea­sur­ing 57 kilo­me­tres squared, this is Europe’s an­swer to Lake Ta­hoe. Come here to fish, sail or spend a whole day idly hug­ging the shore­line in a kayak. If wa­ter-sports are not your idea of per­sonal nir­vana, then maybe fish­ing is? Lo­cal an­glers brag about the gi­ant spec­i­mens of carp, perch and other fresh­wa­ter fish lurk­ing in the lake’s depths. In the vil­lage of Hourtin is a camp­site with a dif­fer­ence. Per­haps more of a ‘Glamp­site’, it’s en­tirely Wild-west themed. Stay in either a tee-pee, a clap­board bun­ga­low, or a mo­bile home in one of the ‘vil­lages’ - ‘One Horse Town’, ‘Lit­tle Louisiana’ or ‘Prairie Band Reser­va­tion’, then sad­dle up and ride off into the sunset. West­ern has its own eques­trian cen­tre, and long treks along the lake­side or into the for­est are par for the course. The camp­site is done up to look like some­thing straight out of the gold rush, and of­fers a range of ac­tiv­i­ties in keep­ing with the theme - like Na­tive Amer­i­can-style drum­ming, archery, totem-carv­ing, and you guessed it - pan­ning for gold.


Cata­ma­ran sail­ing trip on the lake at La­canau.




Top right: Clas­sic VW Camper­van. Be­low: Cy­cle paths through the for­est. Left page: Stand-up Pad­dle Board­ing on lake Car­cans-hourtin.


Top left: Life­guard Sta­tion at Ven­days-mon­tal­ivet.

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