Unwind and Indulge by the Ocean in Stunning Capbreton
This month, Beth and her furry friends go on a late holiday and relax by the waves of the ocean in stunning Capbreton, the Jewel of the Landes, in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region in south west France.
“Les grandes vacances are over, and the children are back at school. Most have been on holidays since July, and September is a fun time for pals to get back together and exchange gossip. This month is fun for us because we’re about to pack our buckets, spades and dogs and head for l’océan.
Our favoured holiday spot is Capbreton, a quirky little seaside town on the south-west coast. But before I tell you about this jewel in the Landes, let me give you an idea of our surroundings.
The coastline here is relatively straight and lapped by the Bay of Biscay, a wide inlet of the North Atlantic Ocean indenting the shoreline of western Europe. The French call it Golfe De Gascogne.
Heading north towards Bordeaux are charming seaside towns, including Hossegor and Mimizan. Both are known for their laid-back ambience, superb beaches and gorgeous natural settings; I’m not surprised they’re such popular vacation destinations. Just a little farther is the famed Dune of Pilat, and honestly? It packs a huge wow factor.
At over 2.7 kilometres long, 500 metres wide and up to 110 metres high, the Dune of Pilat at the entrance to Arcachon Bay is the tallest in Europe. Created over thousands of years, this outstanding phenomenon, recognised for its unique beauty, is frequented by visitors worldwide. If you’re ever in the area, you should really take a look.
Heading south from Capbreton, along the Basque coast towards the mountainous region of northern Spain, perhaps the first notable landmark is Biarritz. This elegant seaside town with splendid buildings became particularly popular when European royalty began visiting in the 1800s. Queen Victoria famously vacationed here in 1889 and didn’t pack light. Accompanied by an entourage of 57 people, she caused quite a stir.
The queen is reputed to have toured the town in a little carriage drawn by a donkey, which she drove herself. It’s a story more associated with her trips to Nice on the Riviera, but I’d love it to be true of Biarritz, too. The town continued to be favoured by the royals through Queen Victoria’s son, Edward VII, who was a regular visitor until his death in 1910.
Close to the Spanish border is Saint-Jean-de-Luz, one of my favourite places. The pretty harbour settlement with a royal connection of a different kind is Basque through and through. Louis XIV was married to Maria Theresa of Spain here. The town’s proximity to the frontier was considered an ideal location for the marriage.
Saint-Jean-de-Luz, known for its seafaring people, was the hub for swashbuckling pirates. But it has other idiosyncrasies, one of which my husband, Jack, and I have never got to grips with. And that’s the ancient Basque language.
Also called Euskara or Euskera, Basque is predominantly used in an area comprising approximately 3,900 square miles (10,000 square kilometres) in northwest Spain and France. To our untrained ears, it sounds more like Spanish than French, with a guttural twang.
Basque speakers are fiercely proud of their cultural identity, so road signs, public notices, and menus are often bilingual. At first glance, it can be confusing and has caused us many wrong turns when navigating signposts and streets at speed. For similar reasons, we’ve had several unusual meals. Usually delicious, but not at all what we thought we’d ordered.
Another expression of the Basque people’s individuality is seen in a much-loved game. Ever heard of Pelote? Also called pilota by the Basques and likened to squash, the game is often played outdoors using one of a range of strange-looking rackets or one’s hand. The idea is to hit the pelote ball at a tall, wide wall called a fronton. Points are won when the ball is hit between two vertical lines marked on the wall. It’s fast, furious, and we’ve never seen a game like it. Ever.
Whilst there are pilota courts in Capbreton, a desperate need to have a go isn’t on our agenda. The little town bordering the Atlantic Ocean is home to one of the world’s best surfing areas. The gorgeous, pristine sandy beaches are endless, the dunes enormous, and when conditions are right, those cherished rollers are downright spectacular. And there’s a reason why they’re so big.
Just out to sea, there’s a vast underwater canyon. Called the Gulf of Capbreton and between 3-10 kilometres deep, it’s comparable in size to the Grand Canyon in Colorado. Just imagine the creatures that might be living down there.
On windy days, we’ll watch surfers negotiate the whitecaps before strolling around the old port. Bursting with activity, jetty berths are crammed with pleasure craft and gnarled seadog fishing boats. And with a busy dockside fish market selling fresh catches daily, it’s the perfect stop-off if you’re in the mood for seafood.
A historic pier with a lighthouse guards the ancient harbour’s entrance. Capbreton was a renowned whaling port up to the 12th century. Standing on that knotty wooden pier next to the lighthouse, watching immense waves barrel towards the dock, makes one realise how perilous that occupation was for both beast and man.
With the schools back, September has far fewer holidaymakers about. We can let the dogs play on the beaches to their hearts’ content. Forget pilota; this is the perfect place for our Aussie Shepherds to play their fave game: Frisbee. Afterwards, we’ll examine rock pools, swim in the still-warm shallows, and trek south, spotting the coastline of Spain way in the distance.
At the end of each blissful day, ravenous, we’ll amble along the seafront, calling ‘Bonjour!’ to passers-by. Capbreton has that relaxed, bohemian feel to it. We’ll catch whiffs of freshly cooked foodie triumphs on the breeze. Everything smells and looks so enticing it’s a job to make a choice.
We’ll eventually select a favourite bistro and be welcomed with open arms. The dogs will settle under the table with their complimentary ‘dog bar’ while we savour world-class food al fresco overlooking the beach. Sometimes, a pod of dolphins will come close to the shore, intrigued by evening swimmers. They want to play. Watching their antics is mesmerising.
And then we’ll enjoy our wine as we watch the sun sink beneath the waves in a dazzling multi-coloured finale that lights up the sky. And the next day? We’ll probably do exactly the same thing!”
We hope that you've enjoyed surfing and oysters Beth, do the dogs have any?!!! For more real-life stories about the good life in rural France, check out Beth's news and her lively FatDogs on Twitter.