A peaceful, natural retreat - refresh yourself!
An area of over 300 sq km and a population of just 350,000 - the Landes Forest regional park is somewhere to get back in touch with nature. Visitors here invariably leave with a renewed sense of peace and vitality.
For more active days there are lakes for boating, swimming, picnic-ing or just observing the wildlife, and several centres for horse-riding, canoeing, cycle trails, rambling along marked routes or discovering local history.
Join in village festivals in summer - lively, friendly, great fun! For days out, within easy reach are vineyards, ocean beaches and Gascony countryside and culture. All in all, a natural haven.
OUR PERSONAL HIGHLIGHTS
1. Watch a course landaise exhibition then join the town party afterwards
2. Lunch or dinner in an unpretentious village restaurant - eat royally for the price of a pizza
3. Late afternoon forest walk, or cycle ride, enjoying the myriad sounds of wildlife
4. Day-out at a magnificent Landes Coast beach
5. A day at the lakes - picnic, cycle, sail, bathe. Bliss
The Landes Forest regional park is a natural playground for people who enjopy nature and the outdoors and who don't want towns, cities and crowds.
Cycling and walking trails
The larger Landes Forest villages usually offer local walking and cycling trails. Moustey and Morcenx are good examples. The Mios-Bazas trail (from the Bassin d'Arcachon south eastwards towards Gascony) is a lovely prepared forest cycle path which passes through the north of the Landes National Park. Landes National Parkcentres at Belin-Beliet and Sabres offer a booklet with a wide selection of suggested routes.
Horse-riding centres in the region (including at Pissos, Sore, Trensacq) offer treks & lessons, usually for all ages, in what is an ideal environment. The Landes Horse-riding Federation has addresses and details.
This offers an unforgettably different perspective of the region. On the Leyre river, known locally as the Petit Amazone, people of all ages and experience can take canoe and kayak rides from various spots along its shore. Look out for otters along the way. There are canoeing centres at Commensacq, Pissos and Belin-Beliet. Nearer the coast (towards the south) there is also canoeing on the courant d'Huchet at Leon.
Being a Departement of mostly wide-open space, nature is everywhere in the Landes National Park. An excellent place to enjoy this is the Domaine Departemental de Loisirs at Hostens at the northern end of the region, a woodland park with cycling and wildlife trails set around a beautiful lake with beaches and suitable for swimming (supervised in summer). There are also walks and trails at Arjuzanx lake, near Morcenx. For bird-watching, the Marais d'Orx on the southern tip of the region, is a staging post for over 250 species.
Experience local history & culture
The Landes National Park is culturally quite distinct from the regions around. One tradition is stilt-walking - when the Landes was mostly marsh, this is how the locals got around. A list of demonstration events is available from the Landes Folklore Society. Another is course landaise, the Gascon version of bull-fighting (highly skilful, and doesn't involve killing the animals). Events take place across the region, including in Dax, Parentis, Mimizan, Sainte Eulalie. More details from the Course Landaise Federation.
Music & festivals
The people of the south-west are renowned for their festivals (locally known a heste), and the Landes is no exception. Each year in mid-August the small village of Uzeste hosts a jazz festival, known world-wide for a fantastic atmosphere. Expect to hear the distinctive, infectious melodies and rhythms of the bandas, Landais brass bands. Nearby Luxey also holds an annual street music festival in August. Bigger events also take place in Mont-de-Marsan (July), Dax (August) and Parentis (July) - you'll need some stamina, they last five days and five nights!
The Landes Gascon-influenced heritage means food is an important part of life here too. Traditional markets take place weekly throughout the region, including in Labouheyre, Luxey, Magescq, Morcenx, Sabres, Sore. Best to check days with property owners.
On the southern tip of the region is France's spa capital, Dax, known for the therapeutic value of its hot springs since Roman times. One of the best-known is Thermes de Borda, an extensive pool complex, for treatments, or simply for fun!
PLACES & SIGHTS TO SEE
Many visitors to the Landes Forest go 'native', unwinding with walks and cycle rides close to where they stay, enjoying the place they are staying in and visiting not much more than the local boulangerie... If you do wish to go further afield, here are a few suggestions:
Ecomusée des Grandes Landes
A 'living' museum where traditional 19th century Landais farm-buidlings have been sympathetically reconstructed and brought to life by demonstrations of rural life back then. It is reached by a 6 minute train ride from Sabres and is worth making a day for, especially for those with children.
Landais village life is quiet and traditional - a reminder of how much of France lived pre-1939. There are numerous villages worth visiting in the region, including Luxey, Moustey, notable for being home to two churches built side-by-side, and Mezos. There is also the small village of Uzeste to the north is the unlikely home to 12th century gothic church containing the remains of Pope Clement V. On your visits look out for 'cercles', traditional Landais cafés originally the refuge and meeting place of the privileged classes after the Revolution.
Visit Chalosse Country
To the south of Dax and Mont-de-Marsan you start to enter rural Gascony, which means several things: foie gras, floc de Gascogne (a sherry-like aperitif) and a pleasantly slow pace of life. The food is marvellous (salade landaise is a must-try), the towns are half asleep except for market days, and the countryside is highly relaxing.Montfort-en-Chalosse, Mugron and St. Sever are good stopping points.
Visit the coast
Several lovely coastal resorts are easily reachable from the Landes Forest, including the Bassin d'Arcachonjust north of Biscarrosse - ferries run from Arcachon to a host of destinations including Cap Ferret, a smart resort on the other side of the Bassin d’Arcachon and to the beautiful Banc d’Arguin, a sand-bank nature reserve. To the south, Hossegor and Biarritz also have a lot to offer: boutique shopping, great bars and restaurants, world-famous surfing beaches.
City culture - Bordeaux
Just over an hour from Biscarrosse and is a good option for a day-trip, whether it’s boutique shopping, sight-seeing or museums. In the other direction, Bayonne (a lovely, under-rated city) and even Bilbao in Spain (and famolus for the Guggenheim museum) are in manageable day-tripping distance from the southern parts of the region.
In this part of Aquitaine, as with all the others, food plays a very important part in people's way of life. Here's a selection of what you might find:
A wonderful mixture of fresh cold salad, locally-grown asparagus and warm salty meat - various, hard-to-identify (best not ask), fried cuts of fowl. The Landes is renowned in France for its poultry, especially, capons, ducks and geese, and parts of some or all of these are to be found in the landaise salad. Makes a perfect lunch with a glass of rose.
A Landais-style apple strudel whose pastry recipe substitutes butter with (can you guess?)... goose fat!
Confits and patés
This isn't the place to explain the differences between the two, just to say that the Landes duck and geese populations are raised in a laudable purpose, maintaining the local tradition of making fine accompaniments to toast and a glass of chilled white wine.
Cèpes and girolles
There are a lot of words for 'mushroom' in French, a testament to the depth of its culinary heritage. Look out for these delicately-flavoured fungi in September/October, either in the forest itself, or on the local restaurant's 'specials' menu.
Wine, Armagnac and other tipples
Vins de Tursan, Floc de Gascogne and Armagnac all come from the area just to the south of the Landes National Park.The Armagnac region isn't far away - the ecomusée de l'armagnac is just south of Labastide d'Armagnac, situated in the château Garreau.
Where to eat
If this has whetted your appetite and you'd like more details and even a few recipes, visit Qualité Landes, a site promoting local produce.
To try Landes cuisine while you are there, twenty establishments in and around the region, brought together by the three Michelin-starred chef Michel Guérin, offer very high quality, authentic Landais cuisine. Details available at the Association des Cuisiniers Landais website - click on a place name for more details.
OFFICES DE TOURISME:
Landes - Landes Forest Regional Park - Castets - Dax - Mont-de-Marsan - Morcenx
ACTIVITIES & VISITS:
Ecomusée de Marquèze Sabres - Mont-de-Marsan Golf Course - Horse-riding centres in the Landes - Commensacq Canoe Kayak Centre - Belin-Beliet Canoe Kayak Centre - Hostens Nature Reserve - Marais d'Orx Wetland Centre -Landais culture and history - Course Landaise Federation
FOOD AND DRINK:
Guide to Wines of the South West - Landes gastronomy - Landes cuisine restaurants - Landes Recipes