Ocean, lakes, dunes, forest and vineyards too - the classic Aquitaine combo!
'Médoc Bleu' stretches from just north of the Arcachon Bay to the tip of the Gironde estuary at Pointe de Graves, taking in Lacanau-Océan, Montalivet-les-Bains and Soulac-sur-Mer along the way.
The coastline isdominated by magnificent ocean beaches, pine forestand shimmering lakes. There's a superb range of outdoor activities: surfing, cycling, golf, horse-riding, sailing and more.
And it's an easy excursion to sample the famous wines of Pauillac, Margaux and Saint-Julien.
OUR PERSONAL HIGHLIGHTS
Our five 'must-dos' when on holiday on the Medoc Coast:
1. An after-dinner stroll along a beach in any of the Médoc's sea-side towns, watching the sun set and listening to the surf
2. Tranquil lunchtime lake-shore picnic - best spots at Longarisse (near Lacanau) or near Hourtin - with baguette and cheeses of course!
3. A tour and tasting at Château Giscours - not just a vineyard, but an entire community, dedicated to wine-making of the highest quality
4. A surfing lesson on any Médoc Bleu beach - for over-40s, under 12s and everyone in between, just give it a go!
5. Forest cycle ride on the trail from Moutchic (near Lacanau) to Maubuisson, stopping at the Cousseau nature reserve on the way - a 20-25 km round trip, are you up for it?
This being the Côte d'Argent there's endless sandy beaches to choose from. All the main towns have supervised bathing areas but if they're too busy, without venturing too far along the coast you can usually find a quieter patch (though sometimes unsupervised - ocean currents can be strong so only good swimmers should venture out of the shallows).
Within cycling distance of most of the main sea-side towns Aquitaine's lakes ('étangs') offer a lovely alternative to the ocean, with sandy beaches and shallow warm water perfect for toddlers and with the added comfort of shady picnic areas close by. Try the lakes at Lacanau and Hourtin-Carcans. They are delightfully tranquil.
Aquitaine is Europe's home of surfing, and the Médoc Bleu region is no exception. Soulac, Lacanau, and Montalivet all offer good surfing, and have hire shops and surf schools. Sailing and wind-surfing are also popular, especially on the lakes.
France looks after its cyclists well, and the Médoc Bleu is no exception: it enjoys a 141km stretch of prepared trail along the Médoc coast from the northern Pointe de Graves to Cap Ferret, which has the additional benefit of being relatively flat! It's a lovely, safe way to get around; the main towns all have bike hire shops.
Half a dozen good golf courses near the coast, including the highly-rated Golf du Médoc and Golf de Lacanau-Ardilouse. Best times to go are May, June, September & October. The Médoc Golf Pass offers discounted green fees on these courses, plus others in easy striking distance near Bordeaux and Arcachon.
With all that forest and space, it's not surprising horse-riding is popular, with several 'centres équestres' (including in Soulac, Lacanau) offering courses and treks for beginners and more experienced riders.
The Médoc rouge, a short east from the Médoc Bleu, is home to the world's most famous châteaux, including Château Margaux, Château Lafite and Château Mouton-Rothschild. Many (but not all) offer tours and tasings by appointment - see opposite for some suggestions. The Gironde Tourist Office (link opposite) also publishes the excellent 'Trips to the Bordeaux Vineyards' which includes a detailed section on the Medoc - please contact them via their website for details.
Paths wind through the forest, around lakeshores and over dunes all along the coast.
PLACES & SIGHTS TO SEE
Here's a selection of the Médoc Coast's places and sights to give a lasting flavour of this surprisingly distintive area:
Panoramic views from Pointe de Grave
The Médoc's northern-most point - from the top of the dunes are panoramic views of the Gironde mouth, the resort of Royan on the opposite bank, le Verdon and, 5 miles out into the Atlantic, the lighthouse Phare de Cordouan. There's another lighthouse on the Pointe itself, and which has a small museum.
Phare de Cordouan
The lighthouse is said to be the world's oldest still standing. It's stone structure dates back to the 16th century. It was updated in neo-classical style in the 18th century and once contained a royal apartment and chapel.
Even if you're not a wine-buff, a tour of the Medoc's endless vineyards and baroque châteaux is an unforgettable experience. Pauillac on the Gironde coast is the place to start - this lovely market town and marina has a great market, some fine restaurants and an appealing, laid-back ambience. The tourst office there offers several possibilities for wine-tours whether it be by bike or organised tour, including the Route des Vinswhich sign-posts drivers past the major appelations and producers.
City culture in Bordeaux
The big city is just over an hour away and is a good option for a day-trip, whether it’s boutique shopping, sight-seeing or museums. The town has been revitalised by its forward-thinking mayor who has overseen the new tram system, extensively pedestrianised the centre, and undertaken a big clean up of the city's many fine monuments and buildings. Walking around the 18th century old town centre (Quartier St. Pierre), you can begin to imagine the city’s commercial and maritime past.
This popular and stylish area provides plenty of options for visitors. 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 beautifulBanc d’Arguin, a sand-bank nature reserve. The Banc d’Arguin sits at the foot of the famous Dune du Pylawhich at over 100 metres is the largest sand dune in Europe. A journey to the summit (try it without the staircase provided!) is a must; sunrise and sunset are the best times.
The Medoc Coast is a destination that caters primarily for French tourists, so traditional French dishes dominate menus, and standards are good, even in quite modest-looking establishments. The Medoc is also home to its own particular produce - starting of course with...
The Médoc Rouge, bordering the Gironde estuary a short drive east of the Médoc Bleu, is home to some of the world's greatest vineyards, the prestigious Grand Cru Classes, as well as smaller, newer but still quality producers in the northern part of the region. Seconds vins of the major chateaux are often more affordable and still very high quality. You'll also find Bordeaux's other regions (St Emilion, Graves, Sauternes, etc) well-represented on local menus.
Arcachon oysters abound, obviously - even if oysters don't normally appeal, they taste quite amazing here. Also look out for local specialities such as anguilles a la medocaine (eels cooked in a wine and prune-based stock) and lamprioe a la bordelaise (lamprey wrapped in jambon de bayonne, cooked in red wine and shallots). The Gironde is also a major producer of sturgeon, for steaks and caviar.
Sweet-toothed visitors to any local patisserie will spot the ubiquitous canelé, a delicious small Bordeaux cake made with egg yolks and a hint of rum, best when dark and crunchy on the outside, moist in. Impossible to eat less than two in a sitting - heaven!
OFFICES DE TOURISME:
Lacanau-Ocean - Carcans-Maubuisson - Hourtin - Montalivet-les-Bains - Soulac - Bordeaux - Gironde - Medoc -Pauillac - Bay of Arcachon - Sauternes, Graves, Langon - St Emilion - Aquitaine
ACTIVITIES & VISITS:
Bike hire Carcans-Maubuisson - Map of Gironde cycle trails - Cycling in Lacanau - Gironde golf courses and Médoc Golf Pass - Sailing Lacanau - Sailing Carcans-Maubuisson - Soulac horse-riding, cycle tours, surfing - Surfing Lacanau - Spa treatments Bordeaux
Medoc wine tours - Chateau Maucaillou - Chateau Giscours - Chateau Lafite