While I haven't been travelling Europe far and wide this summer, I have been lucky enough to discover some new gems right in my 'back yard'. Last weekend, Joseba showed me yet another treasure that I didn't know existed. We set off Friday afternoon for a region of France called Les Landes, which is part of a larger region aptly named the Silver Coast (Cote dÁrgent). Borrowing his brother's van, we were excited for a weekend of camping, bike rides and beach - all of which are highly recommended for this area.
When we arrived in Capbreton, a small beachside town, we were sad to learn the camping lot was already full, so we traversed the many
roundabouts back to the main road and en route passed the main square and saw dancing and heard Basque music and decided to postpone the campsite search and stop and enjoy the celebration. Along with accordion music and Euskera singing, a group of 6 danced atop stilts. I was shocked! I mean, we learned to walk on stilts in elementary school, but dancing! Impossible! Turns out, before the re-divisioning after the French Revolution, this region used to belong to Basque Country, and has since held on these roots. Walking on stilts used to be a large part of life because the area was about 65% soggy. Shepards of the area would
monitor their flocks from stilts, not only not getting wet, but also maki
ng it easier to walk long distances each day. Eventually pine tree forests were planted to solve the drainage problem, but the stilt tradition lives
on. I later found out, a young man named Silvain Dornon became one of the most famous people from Les Landes for his stilts! In the Spring of
1891 he began a trek across Europe on his stilts and after going over the
rivers and through the woods, he didn't end up at Grandmother's house, but Moscow! Fifty-eight days after this young baker started, he had managed to walk more than 2,000 miles!
The impressive stilt dancing was followed by an adult group who danced in a circle with their white clothes and red belts and scarves (almost like Pamplona's Running of the Bulls outfit). Being a very old and traditional dance, Joseba of course knew all the words and sang along. Even though this part of France used to be Basque and still practices many customs, the Basque pronounciation and even words are quite different from the
region I live in. After the festival we piled back in the van and drove through the pine forests towards the next closest town - Seignosse - and found a nice camping ground along the way. Once parked, we unloaded the table and chairs and started making dinner! The van has a little propane tank, so we were able to dine quite nicely for camping. Also inside is a bed the width of the vehicle, that made for a comfy sleep! Although there were curtains, we still woke up pretty early the next morning and unloaded our bikes from the back door and pedaled to the beach.
While the beaches around here all have lovely promenades and terraces with views of the sea,
the Silver Coast is untouched (think Long Beach, WA) and for us it was a surprise to see dunes
followed by endless beach. Ok, it's not endless, but with over 65 miles of sandy beach (whose sand more feels like you're walking on flour), you get the impression that it goes as far as the eye can see.
With very high temperatures, we baked in the sun for awhile then decided to walk along the waves. The areas monitored by lifeguards were packed so we found a more deserted area without supervision, but I quickly found out why it wasn't an appropriate swimming area -when I tried to go under a wave and ended up getting somersalted within it, almost losing my bikini bottom and somehow doing the splits underwater. After that, with sand in every place possible, I quickly decided I was no match for the current and would much rather gaze out at the sea from the safe, warm beach hahaha.
Bad planning led to hungry us and no sandwiches, so we left the beach and cycled leisurely back to camp for lunch and then decided to drive to a new spot. Along the way to Saint Girons, we drove beside a bike lane the entire time. They say you can drive from the top of Les Landes to the bottom all on bike, but we only had the weekend, so we reserved that for another trip, but it sounds amazing. With wide bike lanes and practically no hills at all, it is an ideal place for bike rides that just ooze the essence of summer.
Our next stop was not a beach, but instead Lac de Léon, a lake nestled right next to the beach.
We pulled into the last spot at the camping site and with our swimming suits already on from the beach earlier, we hopped on the bikes to ride to the lake, only to find we only needed to cycle
for about 30 seconds until we were in sand. Quite a different atmosphere from the surfer-filled beaches from earlier, the lake was calm and as it was becoming late afternoon, not very occupied. After my 'traumatic' swimming attempt earlier, I was happy for waveless water and we took quickly to doing jumps, flips and the such in the lake like summer campers. When our energy ran out, so did the sun's and we watched a gorgeous sunset over the tops of the trees.
For our last day in Les Landes, we loaded up the van one last time and instead of dedicating ourselves to the beach, we instead headed to Hossegor, a beach town famous for surfing. On the way we picked up a pizza - our only non camping cooked meal of the trip - and gobbled it up at a woody picnic area on the side of the road.
Self-proclaimed capital of Europe's surfing (San Sebastian also likes to use that claim to fame as well), Hossegor is the best place for surf brand shopping. While brand names don't interest me much, Hossegor has become a hotspot for outlets and discount stores, so we got our shop on in the posh seaside town. With many more surf contests, I suppose it could be a better surf town, but even more, it's name suggests the opposite! The hydronym osse (meaning a body of water) along with gor (from Basque's gorri - meaning dry or red), the name actually suggests dry water...which doesn't sound like a surf spot at all! In reality, it was so named when the area was drained and without the marshy land, the town got a new name along with it.
Without seeing a cloud all weekend, as soon as we crossed the border into Spain, droplets of water fell on the windshield. Welcome back to Spanish Basque Country!
Bisou (kiss in French)