Serious Surfer Vibes – Capbreton & Hossegor, France
We’re staying at an Aire by the ocean, dunes right behind us and miles of beach with waves that crash and crunch in a crazy shore break just a short walk away. It’s a simple spot, and there are lots of other motorhomes around, but what catches my eye is the guy just a few rigs down.
This Is Where Beach Lovers & Surf Hippies Hang Out…
Our neighbor is a hippy, surfer-type and he slots into the vibe of the place like a psychedelic flower.
He’s traveling in an old beat-up motorhome and he’s got the perfect beach-bumming van-dweller look. Long flowing blond hair, tied up in a bun of course, a nose ring and a bronzed body that’s sculpted to surf-perfection and tattoo’d in intricate detail right down to full sleeves on both arms. He’s wearing baggy trousers tied with a string, and nothing much else. He’s a fine sculpture of a man (which I certainly appreciate), but what really draws me is his dog.
He’s got a lanky dog with stringy fur and the most crazy intense gaze I have ever experienced. The pooch is lying outside when we arrive and stares directly at us the whole time we’re setting-up without flinching a muscle. It’s unsettling and not-at-all-doglike, but also completely captivating. Plus she stays so still that I can’t read her at all with my usual doggie senses. Of course being the sucker I am, I can’t resist getting closer and when I do she lopes towards me with a smooth-as-silk gait and then goes all gooey and sweet, licking my face and wrapping her lean body around mine. What a fascinating creature!
Some time later, the owner catches me fawning all over his dog (for which I apologize immediately!), but thankfully he’s just as cool as he looks. He shares that his dog is half-wolf (that explains it!) and that he’s been traveling fulltime with her for a while. He turns out to be the sweetest guy, just like his pooch, and we chat for a while in French about life, travel and (of course) dogs. It’s the kind of road meetup that could have happened anywhere in the world, and I love it because we get to connect with people (and dogs) that we might never otherwise have encountered. Isn’t this what motorhome travel is all about?
This Is A Major Surfing Destination
Our neighbor is just one of many surfer dudes and dudettes hanging out at the Aire. You see this area is known to have some of the best beach surf-breaks of the Atlantic Coast.
At Capbreton a narrow offshore canyon ensures incoming swells are large and consistent, while next-door Hossegor boasts a famous shore-tube-break which can near 6 m of perfection, depending on the shifting sand bar & season. The latter has been voted one of “ten waves every surfer should ride” and became famous back in the 70’s when it was featured in several popular surf movies. When it goes off it’s crazy dangerous, and of course crazy cool to behold (you can see some video HERE).
These days both Capbreton and Hossegor are still hopping surf destinations, with waves for every level and endless surf schools & surf shops (Rip Curl & Billabong both built their European headquarters here, back in the day) as well as several international surf competitions (e.g. Quiksilver Pro France) that are held here every year. If you’re a surfer (or as I am, just a lover of watching others do it) this is the place to be.
But First We Stop At Biarritz (Kinda…)
Before we make it this far however, we take a little sightseeing side-trip.
The drive from St Jean De Luz to Capbreton is less than an hour in total, but it passes by one of the ritziest towns on the Atlantic coast, Biarritz. This is an upscale place, that’s been a popular resort for the rich and famous ever since European royalty began visiting in the 1800s. It’s super fancy and probably well-worth visiting but there’s no official motorhome parking downtown, and we’re not really motivated to try and force it. However there IS a lighthouse just north of the city which is much more our speed, so we decide to give that a try instead.
The lighthouse turns out to be a gorgeous white lady from 1834 that towers 73 metres above the sea on a rugged cliff. She’s a beaut of a girl, but unfortunately she’s closed when we arrive (she only opens in the afternoons….arghhhhh!) so we don’t get to see the inside. However her prime location means that she’s got an amazing view of Biarritz, made even more stunning by the early morning light. An acceptable recompense, perhaps?
The main parking area is also closed, but we snag a lucky spot right next to the lighthouse and enjoy a good half hour walking with Polly around the grounds and enjoying the fabulous panorama before we move on. It’s a beautiful spot and admittedly the town IS gorgeous, even from afar, so perhaps one day we’ll come back and explore it. Plus we can see Les Landes (our destination for the next few weeks) from here. The lighthouse sits at the exact crossroads where the rocky cliffs of Basque Country in the south give way to the sandy coastline of the north. It’s quite a dramatic view and worth the stop alone to see.
The Aire Is Simple (And Has Baguette Delivery!)
After our stop at the lighthouse we motor the short 40 mins or so further north to the Aire at Capbreton. The main reason we’re staying here (rather than at a local campground) is because it’s in a great location, and it’s cheap & easy.
France operates a wonderful system of Aires De Camping, which are basically approved places for motorhomes to park with limited services (typically waste water disposal, garbage, sometimes toilets and a bit more). They’re simple and inexpensive and cater to folks traveling through who just want to stay the night (or perhaps a few nights) and then move on.
What I love about them is that they’re almost always in great locations (near to towns, beaches etc.) and they’re all first-come-first-serve, so you just have to show up and park. They’re perfect for travelers who just want to “wing it” without a plan. Of course they have some disadvantages too. Parking is typically pretty tight (no real privacy in most Aires), and they’re popular, so they do tend to fill up by the end of each day (arriving before lunch is best).
This particular Aire is huge (133 spots), and very basic (just a bunch of parking lines), but it’s got electricity and the advantage of being RIGHT by the beach (just over the dune) for only €12 per night. Plus it’s on a bike trail into town and BONUS…a little van drives through every morning with fresh baguettes for sale. Oui, oui, oui!! This is the kind of Aire I can go for!
We arrive around 11am and have no problem finding a site and getting an electrical connection. We walk around to explore the beach, have some lunch and then get out our bicycles for a ride into town.
Hang Ten Baby….
The bike ride into Hossegor from the Aire is an easy 4 km or so along a lovely bike-trail and once I get there I am in Surfer CENTRAL.
The downtown walkway has literally every kind of surf shop known to mankind and the place is bursting with surf-outfits and surf-themed everything. You’ve got bikinis & flowery tops, cool T-shirts and board shorts and everyone is dressed like a surf-shop fashion dream and seems to be riding either skateboards or super-fat tire bicycles (what else?). Plus of course there’s plenty of places to eat including the standard “beach fare” of burgers, beer and pizza.
I feel a bit like a fish out of water in my old hiking fleece riding my purple grandma bike (I generally look more like crazy-girl-on-the-mountain, than hippy-chick-by-the-beach if you know what I mean), but I looove the atmosphere and it takes me on a complete nostalgia swing back to Southern California. Yeah, I dig it….
Another Day, Another Sunset
Back at the Aire we eat a sumptuous dinner of steak with fig/goats cheese salad and then take Polly down to the beach (dogs are allowed outside of “lifeguard on duty” hours) for a sunset walk. It’s a HUGE area with miles of open sand, and apart from a few surfers we have practically the whole thing to ourselves. As we walk in the golden light we discuss our travel plans. This is a lovely place and we’ve had a fine day, but we decide that we’re ready to move on.
The surfer vibe is cool, but we’re both yearning for something else. Something more profound, something that touches our souls. To be honest it’s a long-shot, and we have no idea if such a place even exists where we’re going, or anywhere in France. Are we simply chasing the nostalgia of a dream?
And yet, as it turns out we’re on the cusp of discovering exactly that. Our next stop would be kind of place we’ve been looking for ever since we arrived in Europe. A soul-reviving place where we finally, completely connect with nature in a way that is deep beyond words and feels oh-so-right. Of course you’ll have to wait for my next post to find out exactly where that was 🙂