Active Holidays and Fun Things To Do on France’s Atlantic Coast
With vast stretches of sand that are battered by surf and backed by fragrant pine forests peppered with fresh water lakes, France’s Atlantic coast is well geared towards an active holiday. Quieter than the Mediterranean, but still lively in summer, you’ll find a laid back pace of life synonymous with south-west France and an emphasis on getting outside and enjoying nature.
Stand up paddle boarding is becoming more and more popular and fun to do if the surf’s too small for a shortboard. Beginners can give it a go on one of the many lakes and lagoons along the coast.
Cyclists are spoilt too with an expansive network of cycle lanes running parallel with the beaches and through the pine trees. Away from the cycle lanes this is fat bike territory with forested sand dunes providing a huge playground to explore.
For paragliders the Dune du Pilat in the Arcachon Bay needs no introduction. This is where sea breezes sweeping over the 110 m dune allow pilots to perform some amazing maneuvers above the surf. If the idea of soaring over the dunes rocks your box, there are lots of companies along the Route de Biscarrosse offering tandem flights.
If you love your surf to be world class, mountains to be wild and rolling, beaches endless and local villages charming look no further than the French Basque Country. Surf crashes in from the Bay of Biscay and the craggy hills of the Pyrenees form an impressive backdrop, inviting the intrepid to climb, hike and bike. Stylish seaside resorts rub shoulders with traditional Basque towns giving a nice mix of old-world allure and modern glitz.
The beach resort of Arcachon, known for its fine weather, wind sports, paragliding and oysters is located just 45 minutes from Bordeaux and makes a top holiday destination for enthusiasts of the great outdoors. Its big attraction is the extraordinary Dune du Pilat, Europe’s highest sand dune, which at 114 m high and 3 km long offers breathtaking views over the Bassin d’Arcachon tidal bay and pine forests inland. Arcachon is well served by public transport and makes an easy day trip from Bordeaux.
The classy coastal town of Biarritz manages to blend surf-cool with chic. Its large sandy beaches and boutique-lined hilly streets have been drawing the great and the good since way back when. These days, Biarritz is graced by artists, surfers and good time chasers from around the world. It’s a story of two halves; with its belle époque mansions standing tall on the cliff top and road-trippin’ surfers, the sun-bleached summer destination is a cultural mash-up of 19th-century opulence and grass roots cool. Though once known as the ‘queen of resorts and resort of kings’, the fact Biarritz has some of the best surfing in Europe means it’s now more commonly referred to as ‘la Californie d’Europe’, or Europe’s California.
Biscarrosse Plage is a popular summer seaside resort with world-class waves that attracts a throng of surfers and water sports enthusiasts. Its huge sandy beach, freshwater lakes, endless pine forest and rolling sand dunes make it a great destination for an active holiday. Located midway between Bordeaux and Hossegor, Biscarrosse also makes a great stop for travelling surfers. Your time will be split between the beach, the lakes and the town, and an active day spent in the surf or cycling the forest trails can be rewarded with a delicious seafood dinner at one of Biscarrosse Plage’s many restaurants.
Bordeaux is a hotbed of culture, but just a stone’s throw from the city centre you can go canoeing, wakeboarding and mountain biking through vineyards. Called the ‘Petit Paris’ thanks to its neoclassical architecture, sophisticated café culture and high-spirited student population, Bordeaux is widely regarded as the beating-heart of France’s south-west. Bursting at the seams with architectural gems, a huge chunk of Bordeaux is labelled a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If that’s not enough, it’s also home to some of the world’s finest wines and has some of the best restaurants in the country.
Regarded as the maritime heart of the Landes region of south-west France, Capbreton is a bustling fishing town ripe with open air fisheries, clear blue waters and renowned for its barelling waves. Set across a small estuary overlooking the town of Hossegor, Capbreton offers up an authentic Atlantic Coast experience. Our guide will take you through Capbreton’s cultural and outdoor activities, the best places to stay, eat and drink, and all the highlights this beautifully located surf town has to offer.
Cap Ferret is a smart seaside resort at the tip of a peninsula that separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Bay of Arcachon. Hidden among pine trees with serene lapping sea on one side and crashing Atlantic waves on the other, this laid-back strip of land is renowned for its delicious seafood. Cap Ferret is popular with surfers who head to famous breaks like Le Truc Vert, l’Horizon and La Pointe. But with over a dozen named spots on the peninsula there should be no reason to have to surf a crowded peak.
Hossegor is a beach resort set amongst the pine trees of Landes about 20 minutes north of Biarritz in south-west France. A continuous stretch of fine golden sand extends from here 150 km north to Arcachon. Hossegor’s main street looks more like California than France with a surf shop on every corner and boardshort-clad dudes in beaten up VW campers laden with surfboards. Our guide covers Hossegor’s highlights, including the surfing and outdoor activities, plus where to stay, eat and party.
South of La Rochelle, the windswept Île d’Oléron is tethered to the mainland by an impressive tollfree bridge. A popular Atlantic coast holiday destination, the Ile d’Oléron is France’s second largest island after Corsica. An adventurers playground, the island is criss-crossed with cycle tracks and packed with watery things to do including surfing and kitesurfing, and all set to a backdrop of rugged, Atlantic countryside.
With fine sand beaches, winding cycle paths and photogenic fishing villages, the Île de Ré is one of the most delightful places in western France. This little island of sand dunes, salt flats and pine forest gets more hours of sunlight than anywhere on the west coast, and being just 9 km west of the centre of La Rochelle makes a great day trip from the mainland. Surf the Atlantic-facing beaches, kitesurf the calmer eastern beaches and feast on glorious seafood each evening.
Situated on France’s glittering Côte d’Argent, Lacanau is a gem on France’s Atlantic Coast. A picturesque holiday destination backed by pine trees and protected by sand dunes, this laid-back, surfing outpost is a contradiction of calm, shaded woodland and pumping surf and summertime parties. Bordeaux’s nearest beach, Lacanau Océan is split between its beautiful lake and the beach front famous for its world-class waves. Watersports enthusiasts can enjoy a whole host of activities both on the lake and in the ocean, including SUP, surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing and sea kayaking.
La Rochelle is a laid back yet lively city in the Charente-Maritime department of southwestern France. La Rochelle is famous for its bustling port steeped in maritime history, medieval towers and glorious seafood. Stretching out to the sand peninsular of Ile de Ré, La Rochelle’s watery geography makes it a hot-ticket destination for water sports enthusiasts of every stripe. Our guide to La Rochelle will give you the lowdown on visitor highlights, including ideas for getting active and the best places to stay, eat and party.
With wind, waves, sandy beaches, great seafood, historical architecture and easy transport links, Royan is a top spot for an active holiday! With the wild coastline catering for surfers, kitesurfers, windsurfers, paddle boarders and sailing enthusiasts, the water’s edge is bustling with skipper schools and hire companies offering affordable lessons and high-quality rental equipment. Royan is also reputed for its great food and after an energetic day spent on the water, it’s hard to beat a lip-smacking seafood dinner.
With its spectacular Atlantic coast setting and thriving action sports community, Saint-Jean-de-Luz is a top spot for an active holiday. Backed by the foothills of the Pyrenees and with superb sandy beaches it’s easy to see why this beach town has been rated as one of the top destinations on France’s south-west coast. Our guide to Saint-Jean-de-Luz will take you through all the outdoor activities to get your blood pumping, alongside the best local-approved places to eat, drink and relax in this must-visit Basque Country town.
Please leave a comment below if you need specific advice for your trip to France’s Atlantic Coast, or if you have any recommendations to help us improve this guide. Happy holidays!