Conor Power and his family discover the delights of camping in the Landes
There comes a time in the life of every family when the older ones are getting a bit too old to really want to come on a camping holiday in France with their parents.
No more can they be fobbed off with some ice-cream and a day at the beach or by the pool. They need something more. With boys in particular, you need to offer them activities that will occupy them physically. Their hearts and minds will follow.
With three teenage boys of our own – all growing at an alarming rate – we decided to bring them for one last go of the French family camping holiday experience to the south-west of France. Following the advice that had been imparted to us on a couple of occasions, we decided to go to Biscarrosse Plage.It’s a small purpose-built resort on the Atlantic Coast in the Landes district. This area used to be farmed by incredibly hard-working rural entrepreneurs who got around the swampy land in stilts (I kid you not). About 150 years ago, however, the arrival of the railway changed the way people looked at making money in these parts and they discovered that tourism was a far easier way to turn a franc than stilt-walking farming.
That might sound like an overly short and trite version of this area’s economic history, but that’s about it in a nutshell.
Of more immediate importance to the average Irish family with a bunch of hard-to-please teenagers is the fact that the camping experience in Biscarrosse is second to none in terms of the activities available.
For start, there’s the cycling. France in general has absolutely exploded in cycle lanes over the last decade and this flat sandy corner of the country has been one of the leading areas in this field for some time. There is a superb network of safe cycle lanes bringing you all along the coast, through the woodlands and along the shore of the magnificent Biscarrosse Lake – a large body of water where much of the French water-boat aviation industry started out.
We chose the La Réserve campsite. It’s an ideal location being very close to Biscarrosse Plage but having all the advantages of being just a little bit away from the noise of the main drag. It’s also on the shores of Lake Biscarrosse, where there are watersports available to residents in the campsite. The superb local network of cycle lanes begins right on the edge of the campsite too, so you can literally get on your bike and head off to explore as much of this coastline as you want.
You can spend lots of your time at the campsite itself. The facilities are excellent and the quality of pitches and mobile homes is a good cut above the average, with leafy spacious surroundings everywhere and plenty going on both around the pool and by the lakeshore.
Venturing a little further afield, however, is highly recommended because the area abounds in fun activities for teenagers.
We began by renting bikes at the campsite and following the neat bicycle lanes that skirt the lakeshore. You can really start from here and go as far as you want. If 30km or 50km a day is your thing, then the world is your oyster. Is doesn’t get too hilly in these parts but the heat can be a challenge.
We stuck to a leisurely 3km ramble to the nearest restaurant, where we stopped for drinks. We had a busy schedule planned for the following day.A short drive away is Biscarrosse Plage. It’s a modern resort town which, while pretty, is lacking in any Vieille France charm. That doesn’t matter a hoot, however, because it’s buzzing with young people engaged in all manner of water-based activity.
The enormous sandy beach is very inviting and the water begins to fill up with surfers soon after sunrise.
We hooked up with Clément at KiwiSurf, whose well-appointed timber offices and lounge area are set up on the beach.
Clément has a fondness for Irish folk. The former rugby player was once offered a contract to play in Limerick. Surfing was still very important to him, however, and when he saw the thickness of the wet suits we have to wear in Ireland, he decided to remain in his homeland, where the Atlantic is far less chilly.We were taken onto the beach to go through our warm-up sessions with a very cheerful and chatty young man who spoke English with decidedly South-African tones and who played the ukulele. The lads seem to acquit themselves reasonably well, managing to get standing up on the surf board while it was moving. Despite the fact that I’ve now tried surfing in four different countries and about eight times, I’m still a complete dunce at it. Still, the great thing about continually failing at surfing is that it’s great fun. It leaves you exhausted in a very positive way and glad that you’ve spent some time getting intimate with the sea.
Just outside Biscarrosse Plage (on the left as you enter the town) is a great accro-branche place called Bisc’Aventure. Essentially, it’s an obstacle course up in the trees where you can take on your fear of heights. There are different levels depending on how much of a daredevil you are. The three boys were full of enthusiasm to get going. I was trying not to let my fear of heights get to me but I managed to get up to levels I didn’t think were possible. The system works very well, with safety harnesses making you feel like there’s no height you couldn’t go to and there were plenty of entertaining trials too, such as the one where you’ve to cycle a bike across a rickety piece of timber several metres above the forest floor.We also checked out the lakeside resort of L’Idylle Café. It’s at a sandy beach by the shores of Lake Biscarrosse where a sub-tropical atmosphere reigns, featuring a bar that wouldn’t look out of place in Tahiti, palm trees and inviting lounges and sofas with curtains placed about the copious beach area.
They also rent kayaks, pedalos, windsurfers and stand-up paddles and various other forms of so you can get active on the water before chilling out at the bar.
Oh, and if you ever wanted to see what the tallest sand dune in Europe looked like? This is the place to do it. It’s an easy enough hike up to the top of the Dune du Pilat (about 18km north of Biscarrosse Plage) but the thrill of standing on top of a mountain of sand and the great 360-degree views it gives you make it well worth the effort.
Siblu also have the rare service called “Hand-pick your holiday home” – a simple idea but one that none of the other campsite companies thought of before they did. See the YouTube video below.