Bon voyage! A nine-stop tour showing off France’s Atlantic coast

The Rock of the Virgin Mary is a popular destination in France's Biarritz.
Golden beaches, charming harbours and lighthouses galore: France's Atlantic coast has much to offer. Here are nine stops that will highlight all it has to offer. And did we mention the Bordeaux wine?

Here’s a nine-stop tour through the south-west of France, from the historic port of La Rochelle to Hendaye, on the Spanish border:

One of the many lighthouses found on the roadtrip along France’s Atlantic coast is the one in La Rochelle.

La Rochelle: Harbour feeling

There’s no comparison to the flair around the Vieux Port, or old port, in La Rochelle. People gather at the quays against the backdrop of the historic Saint Nicolas and Chain towers, which have overlooked the passing boats since the late Middle Ages. There’s a third Lantern tower, built as a lighthouse and temporarily used as a prison.

The arcades of the old town, the market and the Gabut district with its modern street art are all worth discovering on a walking tour.

The charming Island of Aix has two lighthouses in the classic colours of red and white.

Island of Aix: Immortal memory

Trade the road for the waterways and hop on a ferry from Fouras to the islet of Aix. You can’t take the car if you’re not from here, but it’s still a lovely place to explore. From the pier, the only village on the island is hidden behind walls of the fortress.

Beyond the meadows are two lighthouses. Meanwhile, the houses you’ll see have their shutters painted in rusty red, blue and turquoise.

It’s a world of its own. You can rent a bike or stroll around the island, passing through woodland areas to reach small beaches.

Napoleon waited on Aix in July 1815 for the ship to Saint Helena, so this is where he spent his last nights on French soil.

Napoleon, who was defeated at Waterloo, was accommodated in the governor’s palace, which nowadays houses the Napoleon Museum.

Lacanau: Perfect for active holidaymakers

Salt or fresh water, sea or lake beach, forest path or promenade? Everything’s on offer in the town of Lacanau, between the Gironde estuary and the Bay of Arcachon. You can surf, kite-surf, hike, paddleboard, cycle, swim, sunbathe or stroll along the beach.

Bear in mind that if you venture into the Atlantic, the depths and currents are hard to predict, while the tidal range is several metres, so take care.

The Cite du Vin in France’s Bordeaux features interesting architecture from a distance, and up close is a museum and amusement park.

Bordeaux: Tasty wines

Bordeaux lies inland, but as the gateway to the coast and cosmopolitan capital, no trip would be complete without it.

Formerly rather gloomy, the city has since had a facelift, and there’s much to explore and enjoy, including the cathedral, the Basilica of Saint Michael, several markets and gastronomy.

Don’t forget to stop off at the Cite du Vin, an avant-garde wine museum that uses themed tours to show why the world-famous Bordeaux wines were so popular. The entry fee includes a tasting, of course.

At Le Teich bird reserve along France’s Atlantic coast, visitors can see all types of birds, both migratory and the more permanent.

Le Teich: Visit the bird park

Le Teich bird sanctuary is a nature reserve with wetlands east of Arcachon Bay. Visitors have access to shelters and six kilometres of trails to watch birds in the wild. The area boasts 323 species including cormorants, coots, herons and egrets. Some of the species nest here, while it’s a stopover site for several migratory birds.

France’s Atlantic coast between La Rochelle and Hendaye is especially popular for its oysters.

Arcachon: More than oysters

There’s the town of Arcachon and there’s its eponymous bay, like a miniature sea with a narrow outlet leading out to the Atlantic. Gourmets flock to the area specifically to enjoy the oysters farmed here, and some take boat trips to see the oyster parks and sandbanks.

In the background, there’s the Cap Ferret lighthouse, and other buildings of note can be found nearby in the Ville d’Hiver district.

The Dune of Pilat near Arcachon, along France’s coast, is the largest of its kind in Europe.

Dune of Pilat: Selfie above the sea

The giant dune near Arcachon is the largest of its kind in Europe. Measuring more than 100 metres tall, 500 metres wide and nearly 3 kilometres long, it’s not an easy climb. The best way up is barefoot, and the struggle is worth it for panoramic views of pine woodlands and the sea and bay from the top.

Biarritz: Jetset jewel

Biarritz boasts that it’s the “queen of beaches and the beach of kings.” Formerly home to fishermen and whalers, it became a seaside resort thanks to Empress Eugenie and Napoleon III, who built a summer palace here in the mid-19th century.

The imperial palace has long been established as a luxurious hotel, but there’s also a more down-to-earth side of the city, with its fishing port, surfing spots and the lighthouse, while the aquarium is a great family destination.

The French commune of Hendaye, towards the Spanish border, is a great spot to go surfing.

Hendaye: A wild end to your trip

Close to the Spanish border, Hendaye is a perfect spot to end your journey. It boasts a neo-Gothic castle, the Domaine d’Abbadia nature reserve, a marina near the Bidassoa border river and plenty of promenades. The 3-kilometre beach offers plenty of surfing.

Watch out for the tide though, as the beach completely disappears when it’s in – typical on the wild Atlantic coast.


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