Dive into a wellbeing escape on the Atlantic coast in France
PUBLISHED: 12:31 02 September 2020
Take time out on a rejuvenating holiday in the popular resort of Moliets-et-Maa in Landes
Relaxing in a yoga pose on the decking of our villa, surrounded by a canopy of green trees with the wind rustling the leaves and birds softly tweeting, it occurred to me this was the perfect way to capture the zen of a fantastic few days away by the coast.
Setting off on holiday can be wearing with endless packing, travelling through airports and on to your destination. So, it’s doubly important to remind yourself why you are there in the first place – most likely to reboot, get away from the daily dramas at home and discover something new.
In recent years, however, it appears simply checking in for a week in the sun isn’t cutting it anymore. Instead, we want to maximise our time off by eating well, learning new skills and ultimately feeling restored. According to research by the Global Wellness Institute, wellness travel is one of the fastest growing tourism sectors and destinations offering ways to tap into your wellbeing are more in demand than ever.
Along France’s breathtaking Atlantic coast, between Bordeaux and Biarritz, Summer France has several luxury villa and apartment complexes in the chilled holiday resort of Moliets-et-Maa. Located within a preserved woodland, set between the sea and Landes forest, it is the perfect place for a revitalising escape.
Moliets’ large sweeping beach is the focal point, with the meandering Courant d’Huchet flowing down into the ocean, where several surf schools congregate. In the summer you can take a small boat trip up the river, a nature reserve known as the Landes Amazon because of the lush vegetation along its banks.
This popular stretch of golden sand with waves rolling in from the Atlantic runs for 30km from Moliets down to Soustons and Labenne in the south which has views of the Pyrénées and the Bay of Biscay, at the tip of French Basque Country.
Behind the sand dunes at Moliets, towering pine trees sit next to cycle paths which crisscross their way back to the Summer France villa complex which is 2km away from the shore.
Villas La Clairières aux Chevreuils are decorated stylishly with bright white walls, high ceilings and spacious living areas. They have fully equipped kitchens for self-catering groups and families and generous dining areas, including an outdoor terrace so you can make the most of the warm evenings.
Our villa had a large enclosed garden, with a heated, open-air swimming pool, backing on to woodland where red squirrels run up and down the trees and deer are sometimes spotted among the ferns (chevreuil is a roe deer in French). Not being overlooked made a daily swim outdoors in this natural setting, with the sun glinting through the leaves, an absolute delight.
If you like to stay put and enjoy the comfort of your surroundings, on the first morning of your stay you receive a breakfast bakery delivery service direct to your villa of freshly baked croissants and pains au chocolat. Cocoa and carbohydrates, I soon discovered, are just what’s needed before venturing out to explore the resort on foot or by bicycle.
The easiest way to get around quickly is to follow the undulating cycle paths. Bikes can be hired from Velos du Golf at Moliets beach for half a day up to three weeks, ranging from beach cruisers to mountain and children’s bikes. The network of cycle trails also skirts around Le Golf Club de Moliets, one of the top 100 golf courses in Europe. The 18-hole golf course, built on sand with sea views, was designed by English-American golf course architect Robert Trent Jones and can be played all year round (golfmoliets.com).
Going car-free for a few days and simply cycling to and from the beach and to the cafés and shops to pick up supplies in your panier is a dream compared with the daily commute. AmaZone Café on the main touristy Avenue de l’Océan in Moliets serves delicious smoothies and teas if you need a pit stop, as well as soups, tartines and a gâteau du jour and even caters for vegans.
If trying to eat more healthily is top of your agenda while you’re away, Summer France can organise cookery classes with a friendly dietician, Aurelia, who will run through the key steps of integrating a balanced diet into your lifestyle, before showing you how to create simple, healthy dishes such as quinoa salad.
This is France though, let’s not forget, so drinking wine is also perfectly acceptable. The Landes département is one of the only areas which has vignerons growing vines directly in the sand. Le Vin Landais Tursan has six hectares of vineyards right next to the ocean at Messanges, the next beach along from Moliets-et-Maa. You can visit a small shop on the Route des Lacs for tastings al fresco and to pick up a few bottles of its best whites, rosés and reds.
Make sure to stop for lunch at Snack de la Plage at Messanges Beach too which has a fantastic sun trap terrace where you can gaze out to sea. Open from the end of April to mid-October, its specialities include colourful salads, seafood and waffles.
In this vibrant area, everything always leads back to the beach, so it’s no surprise one of the most popular pastimes for locals and visitors is surfing. There are upwards of 25 top surf schools on this beautiful stretch of coastline, which is world-renowned for its powerful waves and hosts the Quiksilver Pro France elite surfing competition every year (due to take place from 1-11 October 2020).
Whether the younger members of your party want to have a go for the first time or you’re a seasoned surfer looking for a challenge, there are many popular surf spots clustered around Capbreton in particular. For beginners, the main beach at Moliets and the quieter Plage Chênes Lièges are great places to take your first tentative paddles out to sea.
Camille runs surf school, École de Surf du Golf, at the latter beach and holds group and private lessons throughout the summer right up until November. I had never tried surfing before, so at 9.30am one morning with the beach to ourselves, Camille patiently explained to our group all about the rips and currents and how important it is to have a marker on the shore, so you don’t unwittingly start drifting along the beach.
After a warm-up in our wetsuits on the sand, we plunged into the brisk sea for some body surfing practice before we graduated to attempting to stand up, which it turns out, is a lot harder than it looks. It was an exhilarating couple of hours, learning a new sport with the rush of the waves in our ears, faces wet with salty water and thighs now tingling from trying to leap up (sometimes successfully) onto our boards.
Around a half hour drive from Moliets is the surfing mecca of Hossegor which is worth an excursion to shop in its boutique-lined streets and hip market which sells everything from espadrilles to handmade jewellery and basket bags. A walk around its vast lake is essential too, where oysters are farmed, as well as being a destination for leisure activities such as water-skiing and sailing.
Basque influences abound in this seaside town, just north of Biarritz, with a tapas bar inside the main market hall with wine barrel tables and stools where you can perch and enjoy a selection of tasty pintxos (bar snacks).
In the summer months in Moliets, you can also watch Pelote Basque every Tuesday evening in the village square, as well as browse a producers’ market and eat supper outside featuring local delicacies such as sheep’s cheese and Gâteau Basque, a traditional pastry in this area.
After a busy day on the beach, dining out is easy with many restaurants to choose from within striking distance of your villa. Just a few steps back from the sand at Moliets Beach is the Grill de l’Océan which has a wonderful open-air terrace, with trees growing between the tables, so you can feel the warm summer breeze on your cheeks as the sun goes down.
On the menu are cocktails which you can enjoy with oysters or carpaccio, as well as amazingly generous assiettes of grilled vegetables with avocado, olives and buffalo mozzarella.
On the last morning of our stay, it was another early start for an outdoor yoga session at 9am on the villa terrace. Yoga Nature, led by Laetitia, runs regular beach yoga sessions at the Plage de Messanges in July and August, as well as private one-to-one lessons. Laetitia specialises in Hatha, Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga and tailors postures according to her group’s ability. Stretching out on the terrace and taking deep breaths with the pool below us and the tall trees swaying in the breeze, this was the kind of relaxed state you dream about while caught up in the daily grind.
After an inspiring holiday, the difficult part is always trying to bottle a bit of bliss to take home with you and remain mellow when life’s dramas take over. It’s been a while since the flight touched back down and while the view in my gym studio might not be quite as calming, if I sit on a yoga mat and close my eyes with my hands to my heart, I’m straight back to that heavenly beach and those pine trees in the sun.
Lucy flew from Bristol Airport to Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport with easyJet. Flights from £19.79 one way.
WHERE TO STAY
Villas La Clairière aux Chevreuils
Tel: 0203 475 4756/Summerfrance.co.uk
Luxury villas which sleep from eight to 12 people and have a private garden with terrace and swimming pool, along with fully equipped kitchens. The premium service includes bed linen and towels and a delivery of complimentary pastries on the first morning. From £100 per person (£800 in total) for a week in a three-bedroom villa, sleeping up to eight people in May.
WHERE TO EAT
Le Grill de l’Océan, Moliets-et-Maa
Lovely restaurant a short walk from the beach which has an open-air terrace where you can watch the sun go down while enjoying a platter of oysters or a Grande Assiette Basco-Landaise. Plats from €14.
Snack de la Plage, Messanges Beach
Enjoy views of the sea and the long sandy beach at Messanges at this casual café/bar which serves jugs of sangria, fresh salads and seafood. Open from April to mid-October. À la carte from €11.
WHAT TO DO
Velos du Golf
Bike hire from €10 per adult bike for half a day.
École de Surf du Golf
Learn to surf on Chêne Liège Plage with surfer Camille. A two-hour session for beginners costs €35.
Take part in a yoga class at the beach at Messanges with instructor Laetitia Lacaze. Group lessons cost €15 or €50 for a private lesson.
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