The twinkling Mediterranean is often hard to beat, but when surfing is on your mind, it’s best to give this beautiful stretch of coastline a miss. You’ll get a tan and a small swell on France’s southern shores but sadly, in surfing terms, that’s about it. Instead, the west coast of France – encompassing the Silver Coast, south Brittany and the Coast of Light – is without a doubt the place to catch a wave.
The final stretch of western France’s coastline, La Côte d’Argent (the Silver Coast) meets the border of Spain just past Saint-Jean-de-Luz and is the most spectacular spot for surfing in France. From the tip of the Landes de Gascogne Regional Natural Park down to the famous swells of Biarritz, these beaches, with their golden sands and pretty backdrops, pack a punch when it comes to their surf. It’s no wonder that the Silver Coast – especially Biarritz – holds the number one spot for this sport in France.
From north to south along the Silver Coast, then, let’s start with Lacanau, which can be found in the north of the Landes de Gascogne Regional Natural Park and is by far the most popular surfing spot in the Gironde area. Its 14 kilometres of sandy shoreline and beach breaks, which are powerful and hollow, work well in all tides.
Towards Biarritz, Bourdaines Beach in Seignosse is one of the hottest spots for surf breaks in the country. There are back-to-back beaches (Les Casernes, Les Estagnots) but Les Bourdaines is perfect for experienced surfers looking for that big wave.
Surfers from all over Europe flock to the swell of Hossegor during the autumn and winter months. La Gravière Beach is by far the most celebrated for its big waves, ranking up with worldwide surf spots like Hawaii when the going is good. Unless you’re an intermediate or advanced surfer, though, at these times of the year, it’s best to leave the swells to the pros.
Biarritz is Europe’s historic surfing capital and people flock here for the waves, but also for the relaxed, upmarket coastal vibe, which made it a favoured spot firstly with Napoleon III and his Spanish wife Eugénie and then, the likes of Hemingway. It is home to year-round surfing competitions, such as the Roxy Pro in July and the Quiksilver Maider Arosteguy in April, and some of the sport’s most prestigious brands like Billabong, Quiksilver and Rip Curl are based around Biarritz. For experienced surfers, the water is best enjoyed in the spring and autumn when the crowds have died down. For beginners, however, and those who are there to bask in the Biarritz holiday glory, summer can be just as sweet.
South of Biarritz, the old fishing town of Guéthary puts up a few great beaches to rival its famed neighbour. This is the place to go for off-season surfing, with its best waves rolling in between December and March. Parlementia Beach is number one in Guéthary, located just to the right of the harbour.
The stretch of coast from Quimper to Quiberon is considered to be the best for waves in Brittany. These beaches are mainly vast stretches of sand, edged by grasses and sand dunes and a lot of them don’t even feel the heave of tourists in the summer months.
La Torche sits at the top of the surfing list for southern Brittany. Located in southwest Finistère, it’s a huge, west-facing beach that has earned its crown due to the frequency and quality of its ocean rollers. Behind the headland of La Torche, a little village of crêperies and surf shops has sprouted up over the years. It’s worth getting up early or hitting this beach during off-season as in the summer months, its popularity makes sure it is always fairly packed.
Port Blanc on the Quiberon Peninsula is a spot for experienced surfers with breathtaking views of its wild coastline. With particularly great waves in September and October, Port Blanc is a beautiful beach, dominated by a three-metre stone arch that has been weathered by winds and golden sunsets to write home about. A quieter spot on the coast than La Torche, Port Blanc shares its waves with ease. Another less frequented beach that is great for surfing during the warmer months is Plage du Kérou, which is so expansive that even its busiest periods don’t overwhelm it in the slightest.
La Côte de Lumière, or the Coast of Light, stretches from southern Brittany down to just past La Rochelle along the shore of the Vendée department. Slightly less on the map than the Silver Coast and the Breton peninsula, but nonetheless teeming with surf schools and cool hang out spots, it offers incredible untamed stretches of beach with waves exciting enough to tempt surfers back year after year.
Situated between La Palmyre and Tremblade, La Côte Sauvage is the stretch of coast that surfers head to in the Charente-Maritime department. There are 15 kilometres of west-facing beach breaks at your disposal here and the beaches stay relatively crowd-free for the whole year.