France is not the first country that comes to mind when one thinks of big wave surfing, however I would like to change that. There are several amazing spots that abound with beautiful breaks, ranging in difficulty from beginner to expert. These spots are concentrated on the Atlantic Coast, mostly around the Basque and Landes regions. There are some spots elsewhere, Brittany and Normandy for example have the possibility to surf, as does the sections of coast known as the Coast of Light and the Silver Coast but the best waves are arguably centered around the Southern half of the Bay of Biscay.
The ‘Côte Basque’ has much in common with the Spanish coast. Several reefs punctuate it, as do sandbars and shallow bottoms which serve to funnel the swell into some seriously scary and big breaks, often meters off the beach. The coastline curves from Anglet to Hendaye offering a diverse range of conditions, from sheltered and protected to exposed and windy. There are two famous reefs – Guéthary and Lafitenia, both of which helped cement this area as premium big wave territory. This happened in 2002 when the reefs were first surfed with help of a jet-ski at Belharra. Since then it has become a mecca for European surfers. One of the benefits of surfing in the Côte Basque is the availability of swell all year round and the variety of spots which provide a really different feel to suit each individuals preference. Whether you want left handers or right, beach breaks or reef, the Côte Basque has something for you, independent of the seasons.
Hossegor and ‘Les Landes’ comprise the area due north of the ‘Côte Basque’. Part of Europe’s longest beach, this heavenly stretch of clean sand and dunes is one of the most sought after breaks in France. This part of the coast offers no protection from the wind and is fully exposed along its length. Conditions can change rapidly, sandbars are consistently shifting, the riptide is a known killer, cross-current drift and currents are absolutely brutal at times. That aside, every summer the beaches closest to the towns and villages are thronged by tourists. This means that a short walk through the numerous forests and along the beach can mean you find yourself on a completely deserted stretch. Due to the shifting sandbars, there is a chance that your little private patch may be absolutely perfect, with clean, hollow barrels that stretch for kilometers. However due to the wind and exposure, the chances of everything aligning is up in the air. Still it is recommended to explore a little bit. Can I mention that here are the warmest water temperatures of France’s Atlantic coast? Definitely a bonus. When it comes to budgeting, this part of France is not cheap. Centuries of tourism mean you can plan on spending a minimum of 50 euros a day not including accomodation on simply food and water. In Hossegor’s only nightclub, one drink can be as much as 17 euros while entry is 20. Board rental is OK, at around 10-35 euros per day, however, look out for packages where accommodation includes free rentals.
To access the best spots, if flying from abroad look to fly to Biarritz Pays Basque Airport (BIQ). Alternatively Bordeaux–Mérignac Airport is a few hours north by car of the best spots. From either of these airports you can rent a car or find a bus/taxi that will take you to any of the beach towns along the coast. Renting a van will always be the best solution as it allows the flexibility to park up anywhere with space and just surf! Boards in the back, a soft mattress for sleeping and you have a perfect base to hit multiple spots in a short time. Otherwise, the whole coast is serviced by regular public transport. Buses are cheap as chips while taxis can add up very quickly and are not available in many places outside the main urban areas. The main population centre is Bayonne/Biarritz where you may find the Biarritz Tourist Office at the Square d’Ixelles, 64200, Biarritz or call (+33) 5 59 22 37 10. There you may inquire as to the specifics of the bus routes and times.
Where to stay –
Biarritz is a large town, part of the dual city of Bayonne/Biarritz. As such it offers plenty of budget and high end accommodation to suit all needs.
- Budget – Surf Hostel Biarritz offers board rentals, cheap rooms, a surf school and cool vibes.
- High-end – The Hotel du Palais is the gem that helped establish Biarritz as a premium resort in the days of the French 2nd Empire. It is lavish, luxurious and right on the sea.
Hossegor is a small town about forty-five minutes north of Biarritz. It has a large amount of rental homes and apartments, guest houses and camping grounds. There are a few secluded spots to park up the van. This is my personal favourite in terms of location as there are amazing waves just seconds from your front door, a buzzing part scene and a super chilled out vibe.
- Budget – ‘Le Surf Spot’ is a small villa converted into a hostel that offers board rentals, a school and cosy accommodation.
- High-end: Check out the hotel ‘Hortensias du Lac’ a beautiful four star hotel on the edge of the inland lake in the city centre.
Hendaye is a small town that offers several camping grounds, a hotel or two and several nice bars and restaurants right on the sea front.
- Budget: Try the Campanile hotel, its cheap, cheerful and has a great location.
- High-end: Try the Serge Blanco hotel and spa. Right on the beachfront, what more could you ask for?
St Jean-De-Luz is an established tourist town near the Spanish border. It is serviced by several high end hotels, guest houses and offers several camping grounds. St Jean-De-Luz is not cheap however.
- Budget-ish: Look for the hotel Colbert. It offers some of the cheapest rooms in town.
- High-end: The Grand Hotel Thallasso and Spa is the town’s premium offering, set on the waterfront in a grand old building.
Wherever you decide to stay make sure if you plan on surfing to check out: http://magicseaweed.com/France-Surf-Forecast/2/ for the most up to date information of conditions and weather.
Stay tuned for an in depth ‘spot’ review of the biggest, baddest breaks in the area in the near future.