For most, it’s been a long couple of years, with the ability to travel all but removed and our choice of surf destinations subsequently drastically limited. For those of us fortunate to live near enough to a quality surf break or two that might not have been such an issue, but nonetheless being able to take to the air in search of an overseas surf trip will be something that is welcomed back with open arms. In this series, we’ll take a look at some of the best surf trip destinations around the planet for surfers of all abilities, heading now to Europe, and the famous beach breaks of south-west France.
Surfing isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of France, but in the southern corner of its expansive Pacific coast, high-quality waves are every bit as ubiquitous as good food and wine. The most well-known break in this part of the world – and arguably in Europe at all – is Hossegor, but that break is surrounded by an incredibly straight coastline which stretches for miles and miles and houses plenty of similarly good breaks, while further south towards Biarritz there are also a number of good spots.
The campervans which are so prevalent here hint at the popularity of the surf/camp lifestyle throughout the region, and with so many great waves and plenty of delicious food and drink to consume between surfs, it’s easy to see why.
The glamorous city of Biarritz is your best way to access this part of the world, but getting there requires a couple of steps. If you’re within Europe or somewhere else nearby it’s easy enough; you’ll be able to find a flight to the Biarritz airport, or there are plenty of buses and a fairly major train station servicing it too. From places a little further afield like Australia, however, you’ll need to fly into a larger city first.
Paris is the obvious place to fly to, and though it’s a little further away as the crow flies from the south-west than some other major cities, a four-hour long train ride will take you directly from the French capital to Biarritz. Toulouse is a relatively close major city if you can find an international flight there, you can also fly into Barcelona and catch a bus, while Bilbao in the north-east of Spain is less than a two-hour drive away.
The waves in this part of the world are renowned for being some of the heaviest beach breaks in the world, and the breaks that fall into this category are clearly not for the faint of heart. There are, however, a number of more mellow spots – particularly closer towards Spain – meaning that there is a little something for everyone.
Let’s start with the wave that has made this region famous. Sitting about 45 minutes north of Biarritz, the waves at Hossegor are fast, hollow and heavy. There are a number of world-class spots to surf along here, starting with La Graviére, which sits virtually straight out from the town’s main beach. Looking to the north on a good day you could be forgiven for thinking that a machine was operating the waves along this stretch of beach, such is their perfection; every 100 metres is another peeling a-frame, each with its own subtle idiosyncrasies. Many of the waves along here break out the back, before flattening out over a channel which runs parallel to the beach and then reforming closer to the shore, on big days ending in barrels of consequence which spit you out almost on dry land. If there is any sort of size around whatsoever, this is unsurprisingly a spot best suited for intermediate to advanced surfers.
Situated about 20 kilometres north of Hossegor is Messanges, probably the most well-known surf spot in Les Landes once you get out of the Hossegor region itself. Realistically, however, whether Messanges, Moliets Plage, Vieux Boucau or one of the other numerous towns on this stretch of coast is best will depend on the day. It’s still well and truly part of the aforementioned long, straight stretch of coast which runs for hundreds of kilometres to the north of Hossegor, and there are banks everywhere you look. Messanges is a good place at which to park, however, and suss out the best place to go for the day.
La Côte des Basque
The aptly named La Côte des Basque – which translates to the Basque Coast, Basque being the name of the region which encompasses this part of south-west France and north-east Spain – is every bit as mellow as Hossegor is heavy. Overlooked by huge cliffs and with the edge of Spain sitting in the backdrop, this is a wave occupied predominantly by longboarders and beginners, often in droves. Crowds aside, this is one of the best waves for less experienced surfers and mal riders in the region, and situated right on the outskirts of Biarritz, there is plenty to do nearby once you’re out of the water.
Lafitenia might not have much in the way of global acclaim, but for those in the region, it’s well-known as one of the best waves going around. One of the few point breaks in the region, this is a long right-hander which breaks in a picturesque corner of a small beach tucked away about ten minutes to the south of Biarritz. Breaking over a reef that gets perilously close to the surface at low tide, the wave can be very fast and very fun on its day, while on others its ideal for a cruise on a mal. On other days still, you’ll find crafts of all sorts out here, and though the crowd can make it difficult to get a wave, it’s well and truly worth it when you do.
Anglet neighbours Biarritz to the north, and has an expansive beach that runs for about five kilometres from Le Phare de Biarritz (Biarritz lighthouse) through to the Adour River to the north. There are a number of well-known breaks here; Plage de Marinella and Les Sables d’Or are right next to one another in the main carpark, while further to the north the likes of La Madrague, Les Cavaliers and La Barre also draw plenty of interest. On small days these breaks can be pretty beginner-friendly, but once a bit of swell starts cannoning into the coast from the vast expanses of the Atlantic Ocean to the west of the beach, it can get very heavy very quickly.
The waves in the south-west part of France are known globally for a reason. This is the home of arguably the best beach breaks in the world, and though you need to be very comfortable with a board beneath your feet to navigate them on a solid day, there are options for less experienced surfers in the region too. With the popular city of Biarritz the jump-off point for this stretch of beach and mile after mile after mile of gold, sandy beaches to the north, it’s little wonder that so many choose to spend a few days, weeks or month trekking around this area in search of waves.