Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 25, 2021
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French wave

Sand dunes, surfers and cycling keep summer afloat in a seaside town near Bordeaux

Not far from glitzy, glamorous Biarritz, the lesser-known seaside town of Lacanau Océan shines under a different kind of spotlight. Set against a backdrop of gangly maritime pines and dunes, its white, sandy beaches stretch along France's Atlantic coast for 14 dazzling kilometres.

In the early summer season, locals populate the cafés on the main drag and sip a beer while watching European football on TV. But by mid-summer, Lacanau bursts at the seams. From dawn till dusk, surfers dot the beach, boardwalks and café terraces. This colourful surf culture reaches its climax in August during the Lacanau Pro, a 10-day leg of the world surfing championships. Campsites fill to capacity with tents and trailers — a popular choice of accommodation for the French, Dutch, German and British vacationers who come here to spend a week or two outdoors, close to the ocean, lakes and cool pine forests.

The long, wide beaches are roomy enough for sun worshippers to seek solace from the crowds. The Plage Centre, though the most crowded, is the closest to the action and the site of the Lacanau Pro and lively "surf village" in August. Refreshment vendors pick their way among the parasols and towels while selling chichis — strips of sugar-coated fried dough — sandwiches and cold drinks.

The Plage Nord has a younger feel. Twenty-somethings arrive by van and car, with nothing more than surfboards and swimming gear. A regional sports venture called CAP 33 sets up volleyball nets here and anyone can join a team and play for free (for more information and to register, inquire at the Salle l'Escoure, Place de l'Europe; tel: 011-33-556-263-891).

Further south, the Plage Sud stretches its legs, and the Plage Super Sud, a wild strip of dunes between ocean and pines is a safe haven for nudists. All four beaches offer supervised swimming areas out of danger from currents and surfers.

Hang Ten
Surfing is such a big part of Lacanau's beach scene that many visitors find themselves yearning to tackle the currents and swells. A number of well-established surf schools offer private lessons and weeklong group courses with bilingual instructors. The Lacanau Surf Club (Boulevard de la Plage; tel: 011-33-556-263-884; was started up by a few pioneering surfers in 1968 and was one of the first in France. The school even has lessons for aspiring surfers as young as five. Sign up at least one or two weeks in advance as the courses in July and August fill up fast. Bo & Co (5 Avenue Poincaré; tel:011-33-556-263-399; and Surf Sans Frontières (tel: 011-33-556-031-389; are also good choices. Most schools offer bodyboarding lessons as well — a less daunting way to get into the waves.

For a break from swallowing saltwater, you can rent a bike for the day and explore the elaborate network of cycling paths. The Lacanau Tourist Office (Place de l'Europe; tel: 011-33-556-032-101; www. has a detailed map of the trails, which is also available online. For rentals, try Locacycles (Avenue de l'Europe; tel: 011-33-556-263-099) or one of the two Garage Auberger locations (Avenue de l'Europe, tel: 011-33-556-031-935; Avenue Garnung, tel: 011-33-556-032-704).

A shady six-kilometre spin through pine trees humming with cicadas will take you to Le Moutchic, a quiet spot on Lac de Lacanau. Treat the kids to a few turns on the old-fashioned carousel while you sip pastis at Le Moutchico (64 boulevard de la Plage; tel: 011-33-556-030-005;, an inexpensive hotel, bar and fish restaurant across the road.

A short walk away, you can pick up ceramic knickknacks like olive bowls and strawberry colanders at the outdoor pottery store. There are several campsites along the road for those who prefer a quieter night's sleep.


Another favourite cycle path snakes past l'Étang de Cousseau — a nature preserve worth the small detour off the main trail — through a scorched, wild landscape of low-lying brush and the characteristic leggy-trunked pines that thrive in the sandy soil and heat. If you continue onward, you'll come to Maubuisson, a thriving town bordering the Lac d'Hourtin-Carcans. Here, a cultural centre offers jazz, classical and world music performances, as well as weekly films. A small gallery and posters advertising painting and drawing classes are evidence of a small but inspired arts community. The lake is your best bet as a sailing destination in the area. Though not very deep, it is large enough to sail from one end to the other in no less than three hours with stops along the way at deserted, white-sand beaches.

Distractions on Dry Land
Back in town, venture behind the camp-like buildings of the PÖle de l'Ardilouse and you'll find the Lacanau Tennis Club in full swing. The club will be hosting an international tennis tournament from July 12 to 29.

Around the bend, visitors can tackle Lacanau's par 72, 18-hole golf course (tel: 011-33-556-039-298;, blessed with 2300 hours of sunshine per year.

A neighbouring building hosts five-day painting and drawing workshops — a creative way to meet the area's artists and yearlong residents (the tourism office posts the workshops on offer).

In the centre of Lacanau, there's an indoor market, boulangeries and a handful each of supermarkets, bars, cafés, restaurants, ice cream stands, surf shops and clothing stores. Le Singe Rouge sells original items — paddleball, kites and hammocks — for the beach and backyard. Across the street, a popular stop is Makasi, a trendy accessories store that will chill out younger family members with surfer-style beaded necklaces, bracelets and rings.

After the sun sets, Lacanau is nothing short of lively. In the high summer season, even a weeklong stay is likely to overlap with a fête or fireworks. The most eye-popping nightspot along the main drag of Allées Ortal is Le Kontiki, a spacious karaoke bar with over-the-top decor — wooden boardwalks, palms and a floor of fine, white sand. The whole family is invited to catch the karaoke spectacle — mainly French teens singing nostalgic French rock. Though be forewarned; the amateur performances are interspersed by spicy dance numbers courtesy of the bar's staff.

For a more laid-back outing there are at least 30 restaurants to choose from. The beachfront pizzerias are perfect for watching the sun set over the Atlantic, behind the black silhouettes of the last few surfers still hoping to catch a wave. Fish and seafood are fresh-caught and restaurant Le Squale (Avenue Garnung) even sends out a boat for their catch of the day; the enormous fishing boat is parked right outside the door.

Is that the Sahara?
Lacanau certainly has enough to tempt the surfers, cyclists, beach bums and sailors in the family, but it would be a shame not to head out on a few day trips in the region. The gigantic Pyla Dune, Europe's highest sand dune at 117 metres, is a sight for sore salt-stung eyes. The climb is long and steep, but the view of Cap Ferret and the Bassin d'Arcachon from the top ridge — a whopping 2.7 kilometres long — is breathtaking.

A fishing village in the 16th century, nearby Arcachon became a popular seaside resort in the 19th century. The main reason to visit is its oysters. Head onto the side streets leading down to the water and you're bound to stumble on an oyster shack serving up a fresh haul with buttered slices of bread and crisp white wine.

Wine lovers need not venture far to taste the region's world-renowned produce. Every two years, Bordeaux hosts a wine fête in July in the serene expanse of the Place des Quinconces, the largest 'place' in Europe. Dozens of nearby châteaux proffer wine tastings and tours. Wedged between the estuary of the Garonne river and the Atlantic, the Médoc, Bordeaux and St-Émilion appellations are the closest wine regions.

Closer to home — and you'll most definitely find you've made yourself at home in Lacanau — local merchants come to town each Friday with their wines and regional produce. Stop off at the main square outside the tourism office for a taste and a chat before the ritual laze-about at the beach.


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