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French Atlantic coast itinerary suggestions

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Nov 6th, 2018, 06:37 PM
  #1
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French Atlantic coast itinerary suggestions

Hi all,

Splitting up my threads for the various regions in France we plan to visit next July 2019. We are a family of 4 from Canada with two kids (ages 12 and 14). We have 8 nights free to spend on the French Atlantic coast. We will be coming from La Rochelle. We would like to visit the Basque country. We will need to double back a bit to drop off the car in Bordeaux to take the TGV to Paris for our return flight.

I have been doing a bit of reading and Saint-Jean-de-Luz seems like it will be a good "homebase" for 4 nights in terms of our interests (i.e., day trips to Bayonne, Sare, Hondarribia and going to the beach). At least one night will be in Bordeaux to return the rental car and also visit a cousin who lives there. My husband is interested in seeing the Dune de Pyla.

I am debating adding two nights to the Baie d'Arcachon area. - including to break up the drive from La Rochelle to Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Is that a good plan? Is there a particular part of the Bay that is best to stay at?

i have read that traffic is very bad in/around Bordeaux so wondering about taking the ferry between Royan and Saulac to avoid going through Bordeaux on the way south (since we will be spending 1 night or 2 on the return in Bordeaux in any event).

Thanks in advance for any information! We like to plan in advance so this will be helpful in booking our lodgings!

MERCI!
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Nov 6th, 2018, 11:42 PM
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When in July there is a national holiday and then the roads will get busy.
Driving around Bordeaux just means having your wits about you. Outside of commuting times the traffic runs freely and usually slowly as there are a lot of speed cameras. If there is an accident yes queues form quickly.
If you use Saint-Jean-de-Luz and use the A63 often then have a pocket full of loose change. There are numerous tolls on the road. Some are unmanned so chucking in the correct amount into the basket saves time and effort in trying to reach for the change.
I have found the area and seaside between Bordeaux and Bayonne to be flat, very boring and nothing of interests. Except Dune du Pilat. However that I would assume is going to be over touristed in the summer months judging by the size of car park and shacks/shops. I went during one wonderful January and had glorious sun and warmth. I was lucky!
Also note there is not a coastal road, as such, and to visit the many beaches will mean a lot of diversions.
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Nov 7th, 2018, 02:41 AM
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I agree that the stretch between Bordeaux and Bayonne is a real bore.

Le Bassin d'Arcachon is pretty enough, though crowded in July. The Dune du Pilat and Cap Ferret are worth a stop, but after that I'd just leave and head south as fast as possible.

Must you have a car for Bordeaux? There are easy train connections between La Rochelle and Bordeaux and between Bordeaux and Bayonne. There are regular trains from Bordeaux to Arcachon and mini-buses from Arcachon to the Dune du Pilat. You can take a ferry to Cap Ferret. Parking is a pain in Bordeaux and driving through and around it can be confusing. I wouldn't call it "very bad," but you do have to know where you're going, which lane to be in in advance when entering and leaving the city, etc. I would seriously consider not having a car for this part of your trip. You could pick up a car in Bayonne and make your way from there to St-Jean-de-Luz, which BTW is our favorite town in that area. We are probably going to spend Christmas there. From St-Jean-de-Luz it's a easy drive down into Spanish Basque territory.
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Nov 7th, 2018, 03:32 AM
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interesting question, we drove the Bordeaux to Spain part a few years back keeping to back roads and I can report that nothing happens for miles and miles.

Arechon, well for you can leave it, all a bit flat, lots of two storey buildings and a lot of mud flats when the tide is out. But pleasant enough when the tide is in.

In former times a lot of this land was just empty of people, you can see why.

Now between La Rochelle and Bordeaux the land is more interesting. I would take the ferry, the town of Royan with its famous fortress is worth a few hours stop. The Ile d'ole'ron is bit more wild than Ile de re, but very nice. Rochefort is ancient with an old wooden frigate in dry dock and one of the few travel bridges still operating in the world. Along the coast are mainly down at heel summer resorts but you can buy oysters and mussels at shacks all long.

Once over the Gironde you will find more and more beaches with car parks hidden in the dunes, but if you head inland suddenly you are in the Haut Medoc with some of the most expensive vinyards you will ever see. (so I would hack along the river a bit, before Bordeaux.) The main bridge over the Gironde can be a nightmare or can be lovely, so I would avoid.

You will find a lot of cycling paths in the area with bike rental so if you want half day out of the car have a look.
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Nov 7th, 2018, 04:40 AM
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Originally Posted by StCirq View Post
I agree that the stretch between Bordeaux and Bayonne is a real bore.
We loved it! We cycled parts of the Vélodyssée and loved the Lacs de Biscarrosse, Mimizan, the beaches, the pine forests. This was early September when the crowds had gone. We'll be back to cycle further south up to Biarritz (have visited before, also St. Jean de Luz which we didn't find interesting at all). To each his own, I suppose.

We drove Biscarrosse Plage to Bordeaux on a daytrip (Aug. 30) ... 80 km which took us almost two hours to get there. No accidents, just huge traffic jams on the way to and from.
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Nov 7th, 2018, 04:47 AM
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Originally Posted by bilboburgler View Post
The Ile d'ole'ron is bit more wild than Ile de re, but very nice. Rochefort is ancient with an old wooden frigate in dry dock and one of the few travel bridges still operating in the world. Along the coast are mainly down at heel summer resorts but you can buy oysters and mussels at shacks all long.
We have cycled on Ile de Ré (end of August). It was over-crowded. We much preferred Ile d'Oléron which is far less touristy.
We didn't find Rochefort to be particularly interesting.
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Nov 7th, 2018, 06:23 AM
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Ile de re is worth avoiding in August (full of Parisiens)

We cycled through Rochefort and found all the old buildings fascinating, plus the frigate and indeed https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rochef...sporter_Bridge along with a rope walk. Traditionally it was always a source of pain to the British Royal Navy, but luckily only when the Paris gave it any money, which was seldom.
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Nov 7th, 2018, 07:00 AM
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I prefer going to France during low season. But when you have no other choice you just have to deal with the other tourists but it is going to be very beautiful anyways!!
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Nov 7th, 2018, 07:23 AM
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>> Rochefort is ancient with an old wooden frigate<,


The one you say is actually a new wooden frigate - a replica of the one Lafayette sailed to the USA to help us out in the Revolutionary War. It was sailed to the US east coast a few years ago for another visit.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French...Hermione_(1779)

Also in Rochefort, we enjoyed the Museum of Commerce of the Past. We spent a couple of hours there.



In Archanon, we loved the Winter Resort Villas. Several nice Chateaux in the region also.


Stu Dudley
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Nov 7th, 2018, 01:03 PM
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We're in San Sebastian now, having just spent a week in Bayonne, where we visited Biaritz, St. Jean du Luz, St. Jean Pied de Port, Sare, Ainhoa, Espelette, Hendaye (Beach), and Hossegor. All were worth visiting. To me, however, San Sebastian stands out above the others -- the architecture, the old town area, the beaches, the surf, the port, the food, the Urumea River area. If I had to do it again, I might even consider basing here (although getting into and out of the city by car can be challenging). En bref, if you're planning to visit the Basque Country, don't miss San Sebastian, even if basing in France.
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Nov 7th, 2018, 01:05 PM
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I like Arcachon and Hossegor.

And even though just about nobody seems to like Mimizan, I like it because it does not attract most foreign tourists and appears to me to be one of the most authentic 'French' towns along the coast. Nothing special about it -- just a place to relax for a day or two.
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Nov 7th, 2018, 01:49 PM
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I have to believe that cycling south from Bordeaux is an entirely different experience from driving down the A73 and E70.

August on the Ile de Ré is horribly overcrowded. So are Biscarosse and Mimizan. The lsle d' Oléron, while sort of the poor cousin to Ré, is a lot less crowded and pretentious (though getting over that bridge in July and August is quite the challenge).

Saintes and Royan are also worth a visit. Dax, BTW, is by far the biggest spa town in France. It doesn't have much at all else going for it, but if you're into spas in the midst of sand forests, it's an interesting destination. And you might come across shepherds on stilts.
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Nov 7th, 2018, 03:02 PM
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We were underwhelmed with Saints. It seems the only "attraction" there is the Roman Ruin. The village/town itself was not interesting - in our opinion.



The exact opposite for Royan. I had read & read in the many tour books that it was mostly destroyed in WWII, so I didn't expect much - but our drive up the coast took us through Royan The center of town looked like it had been destroyed and then rebuilt. But south of town center along the coast there are many, many interesting Belle Epoque mansion where my wife took dozens of pictures (she is a "follie" junkie).


Stu Dudley
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Nov 7th, 2018, 03:19 PM
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Look into the eco-nusée in Marquèze in the Landes between Bayonne and Arcachon.

https://flic.kr/s/aHsjvsgfDP

You ,might also be interested in the la Rhune cog railway. I wrote and trip report that accompanies the pictures (or vice versa); click on my name to find it.
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Nov 7th, 2018, 04:58 PM
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Thanks very much for the input all.

Re the Royan ferry - this driving day will likely be Tuesday July 9. Since it's high season, will we be likely to have to wait a long time to get on a ferry? If we have to queue for hours then i think we are better off taking the A10 to what looks like the ring road around Bordeaux.

thx!
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Nov 8th, 2018, 09:27 AM
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Book train tickets back to Paris or direct to CDG from Bordeaux as early as possible - to get limited in number discounted tickets much cheaper than full fare - book at www.oui.sncf or www.trainline.eu - same fares but some say latter is easier to use. General info trains - www.seat61.com (sage tips on booking own online train tickets; www.ricksteves.com and BETS-European Rail Experts.
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Nov 8th, 2018, 10:00 AM
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Royan France atlantic coast, the ferry Royan-Le Verdon, schedules and tariffs,

Blaye https://www.bernezac.com/passages_ea...amarque_uk.htm

Tuesday in early July will not be too bad, look at the timetable and the speed up the roughly the week you need to use them. Delays are shortish but I cannot promise anything. Have a look at what else is available in the area, Blaye has an amazing castle and restaurants just near the port so if you have to wait... it aint so bad. Royan has a chip and burger stall while you wait.
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Nov 8th, 2018, 11:46 AM
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We own a family home in St Palais sur Mer and regularly fly in and out of Bordeaux. Honestly I think you will find that the ferry will not save you much time. From Royan it is about 1 1/2 hours to Bordeaux and the drive is pretty easy. The first part is actually really scenic through smaller villages-slower, but in total about the same time as the ferry without the cost or hassle.

As someone mentioned above, the really bad traffic times around Bordeaux are the commuter hours-otherwise getting into and out of Bordeaux is really easy.

July is busy but not as bad as August. We are partial of course to our area around St. Palais and Royan and if you get there be sure to visit Talmont sur Gironde, which is a lovely little village and not as overrun as some areas. Ile de Re is great but honestly there are lots of little cute villages in the area that you can visit and don't need to take a bridge or ferry to.

Also, if you haven't booked your round trip ticket yet from Paris, consider flying from Bordeaux-we find it much easier to leave by air from there to Gatwick and then on to the US in our case. Or you might consider even just flying to CDG from Bordeaux-that way you avoid the much harder check in and security lines at CDG-and Bordeaux's airport is super simple to get in and out of and with 4 of you, air tickets are likely to be as cheap or possible even cheaper than train tickets.
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Nov 8th, 2018, 12:11 PM
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Yes if going from Bordeaux to trans-Atlantic flights great suggestions by jpie. Train Bordeaux to Paris if staying in Paris before flight but optimum is what jpie proposes.
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Nov 8th, 2018, 12:40 PM
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As someone mentioned above, the really bad traffic times around Bordeaux are the commuter hours-otherwise getting into and out of Bordeaux is really easy.

Not as I experienced it a few years ago; terrible traffic, and as I recall, a lot of trucks.
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