With its quiet campsites shaded by pines, its beautiful people and glorious Basque cuisine, South-west France offers more than just good surf and beaches. Head for Mimizan, Hossegor and Guéthary
South-west France has everything you could wish for in a surfing holiday, from super-relaxed, peaceful campsites, hidden in the shade of pine forests behind dunes, to bright lights and beautiful people eating gelato in Hossegor. South of Biarritz and well into the Basque country, Guéthary has a balance of lovely people, amazing food and a laid-back vibe where you become firm friends with everyone in the bar by the end of the evening. The surfing is suitable for all levels – though in Guéthary, it is a bit more technical with a long swim.
We began our adventure at Cap de l’Homy, a stunning municipal campsite near the small village of Lit-et-Mixe. It's a blissful spot where all the pitches are in the shade of the beautiful pine forest, lovely cool areas which definitely helped keep the kids asleep. We were never woken before 9am – a camping rarity! If you have problems finding the site, it is 10km south of Mimizan.
At the end of the site is a beach car park with an amazing café. There, dinner was a blessing of moules, big fresh sea bass and piles of prawns grilled to perfection – all at a price that made doing battle with the camp stove unnecessary for anything other than breakfast. There is also a great range of local Bordeaux wines.
Every day, sunset is an event. Everyone makes a beeline for the benches on the sand dune to watch the sun sinking into the sea, then back down the hill for more wine. There are some great cycle tracks and things to explore in the National Forest. If you fancy a different type of exercise, Mimizan and the lighthouse are an easy trip away.
Over the giant sand dune is the most beautiful beach – a long, unspoilt stretch of Atlantic shoreline extending for miles in both directions. So vast is it, it's impossible to make this beach too busy. The areas immediately around the lifeguards are more populated – and if you are swimming, you have to stay within these areas. Otherwise you face the wrath of the lifeguards, who are members of the National Gendarmerie and not to be messed with! Just a short walk away, the beach feels wonderfully empty even on a French national holiday.
When it's raining, or you feel like a day off from surfing, head for Bordeaux – a great little city and, of course, an amazing wine region. If you enjoy a hearty wine, just head for a château and dive in.
For somewhere a little more lively to go surfing, head for Hossegor. It's a great little town where you can enjoy the glamour, the beautiful people and the celebrity surfers (not to mention the best gelato outside Italy). Here, there is surfing to suit all ability levels. It is generally much busier than other places – but there is lots of fun to be had, and there are some top-class restaurants by the lake (albeit with prices to match). Hossegor is littered with much bigger holiday-park french campsites, so it's not really my kind of place – but we actually had a great time, and a recommendation from one of the barmen there led us to our next destination.
This was Guéthary – wow! Situated in the Basque Country, it has a small beach with a great consistent reef break, but a long swim out means it's not for the faint-hearted (welcome to daddy longboard!). It’s that kind of place: very cool, very laid-back, but lots of fun. As a novice surfer, I felt out of my comfort zone surfing here, but I loved hanging out, watching and meeting everyone.
There is a great beach bar where they mix a mean mojito. Then, as the sun goes down, you can head a little up the hill to Hetero Clito where the food is incredible. I'm still trying to recreate the amazing dishes we had there. The cooking style is Basque with a world twist, and they have a small menu that changes daily depending on what is available. I can't recommend it enough. Afterwards, at the beach establishment down the hill, we met the whole bar by the end of the evening – courtesy of the manager.
In Guéthary, we had a marvellous time. We stayed in a little old lady's b&b (the town is full of them) but there is another campsite south of there, towards St-Jean-de-Luz. Next time I get off the plane in Biarritz, Guéthary is the first place I’ll be heading. My surfing is better now, so I’ll probably enjoy that challenge a little more. People I’ve met along the way keep telling me to head down into Spain, towards San Sebastian. I’ll fill in that chapter when I make it…
Where to stay
Cap de l’Homy (the most beautiful campsite ever) – www.camping-cap.com/english.
Mimizan – www.wavefarersurflodge.com.
Hossegor – Camping VVF Vacances – Les Estagnots Foret, Seignosse.
Guéthary – a host of b&b rooms in houses; or try the municipal campsite towards St-Jean-de-Luz.
Ryanair (www.ryanair.co.uk) flies to Biarritz, where all the major car rental companies are represented at the airport. When driving, it’s a long trip if you take one of the cross-Channel ferries. Instead, sail overnight with Brittany Ferries (www.brittany-ferries.co.uk) from Portsmouth or Plymouth to Santander.