The west coast of Bordeaux running south towards the Spanish border is perhaps a corner of France you can do without, when out of season.
Fighting against a strong headwind and heavy showers we ploughed our way around the bay of Arcachon through miles of boarded up campsites and concessions, and huge estates of single storey houses in tiny plots, mostly empty.
Andernos-les-Bains itself was more of the same, but with an evidently active local and retired population getting in each other’s way in small cars along the small roads.
We returned to its harbour for cheap camping behind the colourful seashell stalls and oyster pools. In six years the price had gone up by 100% to 14 euros and for this we only had a parking space.
However, it was sheltered from the wind and rain and only a few minutes away from a very affable fishmonger who sold us a very reasonably priced bag of moules and clams.
As it wasn’t the day to venture along the bay to dig for razor clams, we stayed inside and tucked into a seafood feast instead, remembering our first visit in 2012 shucking oysters in a warm sunset.
On yet another soggy day of strong winds and pelting rains we continued south through the forested parklands of the west coast. Vast areas of marshland are home to millions of migrating birds each year and although we didn’t spot any, it’s popular with egrets, herons and cormorants.
The urban centres were again long estates of tiny bungalows in and around which the elderly French got in each other’s way at roundabouts, junctions and anywhere within sight of a boulangerie.
Empty children’s play-parks swung eerily with lonely swings, seesaws and sandpits. The iron frames of rows of pop up concessions looked ramshackle without their colourful marquees and broken signs advertising Fruits de la Mer and Moules a la Plancha mourned the lack of customers. It had a sombre feel in the never-ending mizzle.
The truth of course is that this is a wonderful stretch of wide and sandy Atlantic coast boasting endless beaches and towering sand dunes, attracting hordes of visitors, both winged and without, in the summer season. The miles and miles of tiny bungalows are full of happy holiday makers and the air sings with French pop music and children’s shouts of excitement and joy.
In search of big skies and wide seas we used the foul weather to get the miles done and pitched up at Soustons Plage, home to a wide shallow lagoon and designer waterfront developments. Its’ beach has endless golden sands and miles of emptiness.
A short walk over the dunes revealed crashing thunderous surf, five people, two dogs and a military jet fighter variously strolling, running and zipping along its length. Looking south we could make out the rugged hills of the Basque country and our eventual destination, Spain.