Vacances en France, Where do the French go?

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This month’s article is about holidaying in France, when you already live in France! Where to go this year? What do the French do especially with a very hot summer? They take a long break, often discovering a new corner of the hexagone or visiting a long distance relative or school friend, more often than not westside. So let’s find out what has Beth and friends have been up to ‘cet été’?

“As you’ll know, if you visit or live in France, August is the month when most folks take their summer vacation. Incidentally, there’s a salutary lesson here for anyone wanting work done during this period. It’s unlikely to happen. Much of the country is closed for business. So, where do the French go on holiday?

We live in the rural southwest among a farming community. While seasons tend to dictate when farmers can take a break, August is the month when most make time for a un changement d’air.

Flights and hotels are seldom booked. Instead, cars or motorhomes are packed, and the family, usually plus dog, will set off for a rented gîte or campsite. The three favourite destinations for our friends are l’Océan, la Mer or les Montagnes.

Among the Atlantic coast favourites are Cap Ferret. Adored by several of our friends, this gorgeous headland close to Bordeaux separates the ocean from Arcachon bay. Known for its unspoilt beaches, rustic cabins, bijou villas and a world-famous oyster trade, it is lovingly called ‘le bout du monde’, the end of the world.

Cap Ferret has much to offer for holidaymakers keen on more than bathing in warm sea and soaking up the rays. For the energetic, a walk up the 258 steps of le Phare du Cap Ferret, its historic lighthouse, is worth the effort, as is trekking to the top of la Grande Dune du Pilat – Europe’s highest dune. The views are outstanding.

Cap Ferret also has a bird sanctuary where numerous migratory birds en route to distant climes take a break and join the sedentary species. Viewing their antics is spellbinding. For holidaymakers in this area, dining on freshly caught fish accompanied by a chilled glass of Bordeaux wine after a day of healthy outdoor activities is a pleasure.

Other friends prefer the charm of ancient stone villages and fresh mountain air. They’ll head off to the Pyrenees, which forms a natural border between France and Spain. Their usual pursuits involve fishing, hiking, biking, nature watching or just relaxing and reading a book. A special favourite is the Vallée de Gavarnie.

Situated in the heart of the Pyrenees, with altitudes of over 3,000 metres, vast mountainous terrain and stunning countryside form the extraordinary landscape. The Vallée de Gavarnie, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is listed for its natural and cultural landscapes. And I’m not surprised. It features the extraordinary glacial Gavarnie Cirque pierced at its centre by one of Europe’s highest waterfalls. At 425 meters, that’s pretty high.

Incidentally, this area is also home to the Pic du Midi, Europe’s highest planetarium. A cable car ride takes enthusiasts to the observatory terrace and fantastic views. Being this high up, naturally, the Vallée de Gavarnie area is well-liked for winter ski trips and trekking.

Those preferring the calmer waters of the Mediterranean Sea will head off towards Perpignan and the French Catalan coast. For families, in particular, Argelès-sur-Mer, with its 11-kilometre-long sandy beach, is popular. With lots of campsites, a blue flag awarded to Argelès Plage for the quality of water, beach cleanliness, and safe swimming conditions, it’s a super family destination.

Some favour a more rugged setting. They enjoy the rocky coves of the Vermeille coast between Argelès-sur-Mer and the Costa Brava in Spain. Hidden beaches often tricky to access; snorkelling adventures, snoozing peacefully on la plage or exploring historic towns such as Collioure, there’s lots of variety.

And regardless of the destination, holidaymakers to this part of the Med can enjoy a fishy meal washed down by the famous local Banyuls wine. Happy vacations, with around 320 days of sunshine in this part of the Pyrénées Orientales, are practically guaranteed.

And what do we do? Well, we stay put in August. Come September, when life is quieter on the beaches; we’ll head west to l’Océan and Capbreton in the department Landes. Unsurprisingly, it’s another local favourite.

The Gulf of Capbreton is a 300-kilometre meandering submarine valley. It plunges to mind-boggling depths of three kilometres. This underwater canyon brings Atlantic wave power creating world-class breakers to challenge the bravest surfers.

On windy days it’s a place where seagulls fly sideways and halyards beat a tattoo against yacht masts. ’L’Océan turns grey and crests of waves become white horses with flailing manes as they race towards the beach. Imagineers can hear their pounding hooves as rollers crash onto the sand.

In conditions like this, berets are lost to thieving gale force winds, and people scurry for cover. But nobody minds. The wild theatre is spectacular, and everyone knows it won’t last long. Benign weather in Capbreton transforms the sea into a duck pond, with hotspots that feel bathwater warm. Swimming here in the cleanest water imaginable is delightful.

Chilly mornings vaporise into hot days, always freshened by a gentle breeze. Low tides reveal tempting rock pools crying out to be explored for oysters, crabs and other treasures. This is a time for long dog walks on groomed beaches and exploring the dunes. And that’s hungry work.

The inhabitants of Capbreton were formerly sea-faring folk. Many still are. Among their legacies is the tradition of providing lip-smackingly great seafood. Today, cafés, restaurants and bistros line the beaches. The staple diet includes moules fites, fruits de mer, and mixed shellfish served cold on platters the size of dustbin lids. And then there are sardines. That heady smell of those grilled beauties is enough to get any fish lover’s taste buds zinging.

And right next door to Capbreton, Hossegor is a beach resort snuggled amongst pine trees and much loved by the surfing community and boutique lovers. The endless sandy beaches stretch towards Biarritz, St Jean de Luz and Spain. With diverse choices like these, there’s little wonder that our French friends rarely travel abroad.”

The tourists are back in force and numbers from the travel and hospitality are very encouraging after a difficult couple of years, both for France and Spain. These are very welcome news and looks encouraging for next year, in particular for all those run gites and B&b’s.

For more related stories make sure you check Beths books, all about country living in her estate and her adventures in southwestern France, check out her lovely website.  If you are looking to move to France and start a new life or for a holiday home, please register or get in touch.

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