Updated: Jun 3, 2018
With the vineyards fading into the distance of our wing mirrors, we headed south towards the coast. As we had spent a bit longer exploring Bordeaux on our final day than we had originally planned (once again going with the flow), we found a campsite right on the beach in Le Saint Martin about an hour north of Biarritz.
Following picking up some groceries at the local store (expensive as expected given we hadn't had time earlier in the day), we parked up in the relatively sandy campground. We had read online to watch out for excess sand as people had witnessed van's getting stuck and having to be towed out. Luckily as it was still May and the low season, there were a lot of spots available and we got one with some fresh grass. TIP: It's definitely something worth checking out reviews to see any hidden gems like above from past travelers.
Furthermore this was another campground that used standard European household plugs rather than the more robust blue site hookup plugs which most campers use (see right photo). As this had happened at a few of our earlier smaller campgrounds (where the owners had simply lent us as adapter), and this larger campground wouldn't provide one, we rushed to the local store and grabbed one for €12 (see left photo). TIP: Pick up one of these as soon as you can - it will undoubtedly be cheaper, and you will definitely need it. We also recommend having at least 20m of cable.
Immediately following setup (which we are getting much faster at) we had whipped up a quick and delicious dinner: Chorizo Chicken Israeli Couscous (stay tuned for some posts on van friendly meals). Even though it was 10pm, we headed directly to the beach to enjoy a glass of wine and some chocolate. We had finally made it back to the coastline - something we would be staying as near as possible for the remainder of the five months.
Following an early night, we headed out towards Biarritz, and finally did our "big basics food shop" on the way, picking up a solid supply of basics like tinned tuna, canned tomatoes, pasta, etc - a great way to ensure we always had some "backup" meals on us, should we run out of time to pickup during the day. Ultimately this allows us to avoid paying inflated prices at local small stores, or have to head out for an expensive unplanned restaurant.
We then finally made it it Biarritz, and as Dan had been before, made the most of this beautiful location for a quick explore and home-made lunch. Here's a few tips, tricks and suggestions from our brief visit to Biarritz:
Markets - head to this local market for fresh produce, then down to the beaches or coastal walks described below for a picnic. The markets are open every day from 7:00 - 14:00 and 18:00 - 21:00.
Beaches - make your way to The Great Beach - but this is one beach we'd recommend keeping your wits about you and if you're not a confident swimmer, stay between the flags as the swell is huge. If you're a surfer, you will love Biarritz. If you're looking more to soak up some rays, then we'd actually recommend Plage du Port Vieux, a slightly smaller and more sheltered beach just around the coast. It's much calmer, has less people and is less touristy.
Coastal Walk - a really cool walk along the coast right in the city. Rocher de la Vierge is a unique rock formation with great views back towards Biarritz. The coastal walk is also a good way to get between the beaches above. End to end the walk takes about 20-30minutes depending on how many selfies you take along the way.
Parking - as Biarritz doesn't have a green zone, you can drive to the center. However it's a myriad of one way streets, and is quite twisty and windy, with very little parking. We therefore headed towards a parking building, as Gary with his retractable pop-top comes in at 1.98m which means he has fitted everywhere so far (maximum heights are commonly 2.0m). But not in Biarritz, where all the parking entrances had a maximum height of 1.8m! TIP: This is definitely something to consider when buying and using your camper - the width, height and length are all important. You may get more room, but with that comes less places you can go. In our case we have one of the smallest vans available, and even that was too tall. So our recommendation for Biarritz is probably to park a bit further from the main beach and then walk in. Alternatively, if you want to park quite central, we found this paid street parking, close to everything.
In short, the south-western coastline of France is wild and beautiful. Biarritz is worth a visit, especially if you surf, or even just to relax on the beach - but overall a half day is easily enough to explore it.
Bidi & Dan