Bay of Biscay - An Atlantic Coast Road Trip
For many, a camping and caravanning holiday is not a holiday unless a beach is involved. And none more so than a French camping holiday.
The archetypal beach holiday in France includes the obvious sun, sea and sand for most; for others, it’s dramatic, blustery seascapes and clattering pebble beaches, perhaps with a few secluded little coves for good measure.
Here is the Alan Rogers suggested itinerary down the Atlantic coast, with campsite recommendations and ideas for stop-off places of interest. We start in Finistère in western Brittany and head south.
Famed for its seafood and Celtic traditions, some parts of Brittany remain resolutely untouched and wonderfully old fashioned, especially on the beautiful southern coast. This stretch of Brittany coastline is gentler than the rugged cliffs and jagged inlets of the north: here you’ll discover long sandy beaches and winding estuaries. As you run along the coast roads, explore the little fishing villages with their harbours and jaunty fishing boats.
Tucked away in an attractive forest setting but still only 400m from the beach.
Douarnenez lies at the mouth of the Pouldavid estuary and maintains a fishing fleet, although nowadays the town is more important as a tourist centre, renowned for its fine beaches, marinas and interesting maritime museum.
An ancient walled port with great restaurants, surrounded by wonderful safe sandy beaches. Bénodet and Beg Meil are popular with beach lovers and sailing types too.
Fun Fact: Concarneau is the birthplace of Michel Desjoyeaux, the only sailor to win the Vendée Globe race twice, first in 2000/01 and again in 2008/09.
A well-tended and immaculate site, ideal for young children.
It is only a short walk to the village centre with all its attractions and services. It is also close to beautiful countryside and the Carnoët Forest which are good for walking and cycling.
The timeless standing stones of Carnac are incredible, especially as the sun turns golden and gently sets over the alignments. A drive down the sub-tropical Quibéron peninsula is lovely – all white sails and blue sea.
Fun Fact: Three fields of standing stones – Ménec, Kermario and Kerlescan – contain around 3,000 megaliths, which are around 6000 years old.
Attractively laid out with plenty of flowering shrub and shady trees.
Since the site opened in 2002, it has developed into one of the prettiest campsites in the Morbihan region. One visitor remarked that it is like camping in a garden.
Vendee and Charente
From south of Nantes, down to the Gironde, runs a flat, sparsely populated region that attracts more holidaymakers than anywhere else on the west coast of France. The fine sandy beaches explain why the Vendée and Charentes are such holiday hotspots. Picturesque little fishing ports, historic towns and sleepy white-washed villages all make up a fantastic holiday experience. With a sunshine record that’s on a par with the French Riviera, it’s not hard to understand why holidaymakers have long flocked here for their hols.
The traditional bucket and spade is the must-have accessory for every youngster here – and with good reason. From St Jean-de-Monts to Royan the coast is virtually unbroken with fragrant pine forests leading down to gently shelving sandy beaches.
A large site in the forest close to St Jean-de-Monts and the beach just 700m away.
Les Sirènes has a good location with easy pedestrian access to the beach, and to lively Saint Jean-de-Monts with a good choice of shops, bars and restaurants plus a daily market.
Les Sables d’Olonne
Les Sables d’Olonne was once a whaling port but today offers all kinds of watersports and superb beaches. Seafood fans stop here for oysters, mussels and succulent lobster, and the salt marsh lamb from the Marais is a local delicacy.
Fun Fact: The town is the starting point and finish line for the Vendée Globe yacht race, which takes place every four years.
Set in the forest and just 150m from the beach this is a great location with a peaceful atmosphere.
La Rochelle is an ancient port dating from the 13th century. The harbour quayside buzzes, the locals browse the market and restaurants vie for customers along the bustling walkways. It’s a gorgeous setting, with an atmospheric ambience drawn from centuries of slowly weathering stone buildings.
If you can find time to visit the Ile de Ré don’t miss it – cross the bridge north of La Rochelle and discover white-sand beaches, oyster beds and little villages with traditional houses, hollyhocks and cycle paths.
This southern stretch of the Atlantic coast is vast. It’s an epic sweep of endless sandy beach, backed by huge shady pine forests, running 110 km down all the way from the Gironde to the Pyrenees and the chic resort of Biarritz.
Wherever you get the chance take bikes and explore the network of forest paths and trails running through the Landes forest. This is where many Parisians go for their holidays, and with huge lakes, delicious oysters and sensational beaches, it’s easy to see why.
Dune du Pyla
Near Arcachon stop off for sunset views at the Dune du Pyla – the highest sand dune in Europe.
Clamber to the top and watch the sunset over the Atlantic ocean while behind you the sprawling Landes forest stretches into infinity. It’s all very other-worldly.
Set back from the sea in a pine forest, with its own lake beach and loads of activities.
The site has direct access to the sandy beach on the freshwater Lake Biscarosse and its own bar/restaurant with amazing lake views.
The fashionable resort of Biarritz sprang up in the Victorian era, attracting monarchs, stars and aristocrats.
Today it is something of a 'grande dame' who still cuts the mustard, with the elegant seafront and pounding waves a perennial attraction for surfers from around the world.
If making a decision on which stretch of coastline in France to head to, why not be radical and try a selection? The vast sweep of the Bay of Biscay - the Atlantic coast of France – will give a taste of everything.