Great Waves and Wine: Surfing in France

I didn’t expect the weather and ocean temperature to be warmer in France than in Southern California. But as I emerged from the Easy Jet flight in Biarritz after a long flight from San Diego via Paris, it felt like a hot Santa Ana day back home.

About an hour later I found myself at the Cote de Basque beach in Biarritz packed with vacationing families, stand-up paddlers and about 50 kids learning to surf in the 1- to 3-foot low-tide sideshore-offshore emerald waves.

Just another perfect fall day in southwest France, the best place on earth for a surf trip that combines great waves, outstanding food and cool cosmopolitan surf culture.

Surfing in the fall in France means enjoying the change of seasons with sunny skies and ocean temperatures that keep surfers in spring suits or short-arm fullsuits through the end of October.

I was in France’s Basque country for the second time in a few months. In July my sons and I had combined a family visit (my dad’s family is French and lives in Paris) and took a Basque country detour for five days to sample waves I had dreamed about surfing since I first read a Surfer Magazine article about France back in the late ’70s.

This time I had been invited to speak at the inaugural Global Wave Conference that took place in Biarritz and San Sebastian Oct. 24-25, organized by the Surfrider Foundation Europe.

So along with surf conservationists from around the world, I found myself overlooking offshore barrels at Biarritz’s Grand Plage from the Bellevue Conference Center.

“You should have seen how good it was in September,” said Gregory Le Moigno of the Surfrider Foundation Europe, who had invited me to Biarritz along with surfer conservationists from South Africa, Australia, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, New Zealand, England, Japan and the U.S. “It was perfect almost every day.”

My time in France only reinforced my opinion that Biarritz has emerged as the European surf capital. There are plenty of surf shops, arguably the best “surf” restaurant in the world (Le Surfing), hundreds of outstanding surfers, and enough breaks along the coast to keep the crowds down (compared to California).

For surfers, this is the place for you to bring your significant other to divide time between the water and enjoying the sights of the Basque countryside and taste of some of Europe’s best food and wine (Bordeaux is a couple of hours to the north).

With their red-tiled roofs, aqua shutters, outdoor cafes, and a laid-back surf culture that is Laguna Beach meets Paris (but in a completely unpretentious way), the small towns that lie north and south of Biarritz, Saint Jean de Luz, Guethary, Anglet, and Hossegor, provide a great respite for surfers seeking to balance a surfing holiday with something extra.

My base at the Hotel Amaia, a simple surf boutique hotel (with free breakfast and high-speed free Wi-Fi) a few walkable blocks to the beach, was a perfect location for nearby surf and day trips.

“I love visiting the little towns up in the mountains,” said Zach Plopper of WiLDCOAST, who studied here while an undergrad at UCSD, and spent a lot of time living in his car in the seaside parking lots while competing on the European WQS circuit. “After a great surf in the morning, it is nice to get away to and eat good food.”

The sandbars around Hossegor provide endless opportunities for empty offshore barrels. If there is a crowd at one sandbar, just walk down the beach to the next one.

Saint Jean de Luz and Guethary are home to reef and pointbreaks waves with wonderful cafes that overlook the surf and stunning coast.

While in the U.S. the stereotype of unfriendly and rude service in France still persists, I was pleasantly surprised overall by how friendly everyone was and how when I attempted to speak in French  (I speak passable “surf” French), most everyone I dealt with immediately switched to English.

During my last evening in Biarritz, I walked around the nearby Les Halles district, a short walk away from my hotel. I wandered into the inviting, warm and colorful Le Bistrot de Halles, with colorful early 20th century posters. I took a seat at the bar and ordered a grilled steak and fish soup.

The owners hovered around me and the other customers, taking time to chat, pour wine and provide a perfect French bistro experience.

After a long day that had started out with a great surf in overhead offshore barrels, I appreciated the hearty and delightful soup, a perfect steak and crisp frites, warm smiles and attentive service.

So make your plans now to enjoy surfing France next year, the best surfing experience that fall has to offer.

You won’t regret it.

Note on Travel: I flew to Paris on Air France and Biarritz via Easy Jet. Air France doesn’t charge for surfboards if they are under 6 foot 6 inches, but you have to “register” your board in advance (check their website). The service and food on Air France was excellent.

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Comments

  1. 50 States Design Project says:

    Great Shots!

  2. the colors and clarity of the ocean/surf photos are truly beautiful!! The rip curl pro search is in SF now, as I’m sure you know, and I really hope to see it sometime this weekend!! Great photos!

  3. The Kittle Team says:

    Great Surfing Shots you got here! France beach is beautiful!

  4. Surfing is nice, but I’ll take my share of wine (and then some) any day! 🙂 Great post.

  5. Magnificent pictures! 🙂

  6. Carlie Chew says:

    My boyfriend and I have always dreamed of making it to Biarritz. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Stunning. the water looks magnificent.

    http://valentinedefrancis.blogspot.com

  8. Great photos. Sounds like a wonderful trip. I’ve heard Biarritz is a surfer’s paradise.

  9. I’ve heard some really great things
    about france as a travel destination.
    The culture in my state is hevily in –
    fluenced by french culture but the
    beaches are muddy, people serf
    there but the brown water is un –
    flattering. The muddy sand though
    does make for some world renown
    sand castles. Beautiful pictures, I
    don’t serf myself but really enjoy
    watching the sport.

  10. Awesome read. Came across this video today that you might enjoy, beautiful images and message! http://vimeo.com/24380083

  11. Ales Pogeler says:

    Great post and fantastic pictures. I haven’t heard the name Zach Plopper mentioned in years. I’m from Solana Beach and used to surf with him at Seaside beach back in the early 90’s when he was a grom. Glad to hear he’s still surfing and traveling to cool places.

  12. What great photos, looks like a really great holiday-surfing spot

  13. thats so amazing!

  14. Incredible pix — it just snowed here for the first time last night, SO I WANT TO BE THERE!!! 🙂

  15. I’m so jealous. This looks like heaven to me.

  16. Love it! I’m a long boarder off the coast of New Hampshire, but I travel to France every so often for work. Might just have to work in a surf trip one of these times! Thanks for sharing!

  17. awesome post! I’m sure you’ve heard of Longboard Vineyards…. Be cool to do a surfing post that entails you and the wine! Very cool! Happy Surfing and Wine Drinking! 🙂

  18. When I studied in Paris, I visited the southern coast of France and found that, like you said, the people there are much friendlier and open. Must be something about the warm weather!

  19. Ha…surfing in France?! That’s not something I even thought was possible. Awesome pics 🙂

  20. awesome, love surfing.

  21. Thanks for the great post! I am surfing in Costa Rica this January and you pictures made me very excited for it

  22. Love the post and booking my flights… haha

  23. Nice photos, and really informative. I was just over there a few weeks ago, Chez Pillou is great place to get a good burger in France.

  24. What more could you ask for, sun, sand, and surfing, and great pictures too 😉
    Great post and all the best
    -Ron

  25. really really nice and amazing story

  26. Very beautiful shot..

  27. Excellent collection with good contents. If it were in the World’s longest Sea Beach Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh!!!!!!!!!!!!

  28. Great photos. Sounds like a wonderful trip…Waiting for ur next blog having next trip experiences…

  29. wow! really? I was just in Paris and I don’t think i wanna go into the water with that temperature! It was still terrific weather though! I’m glad you got to surf!

  30. is the most amazing wave i seen in a long time. i like the off the top after the tube.

  31. Who knew that southwest France had great surfing?!? . . . Greatly enjoyed your post! Congrats on being “Freshly Pressed”!

    http://arabianmusings.wordpress.com/

  32. Wow. I will be going to Europe this winter and might have to alter my itinerary. Great post.
    http://www.theunderstander.com

  33. Great photos. We were along the Mediterranean in October –the same week –near Marseille, and the water was beautiful there as well. Crystal clear, gorgeous blue.

  34. Sounds amazing!

  35. the colors and clarity of the ocean/surf photos are truly beautiful!! The rip curl pro search is in SF now, as I’m sure you know, and I really hope to see it sometime this weekend!! Great photos!

  36. Great post and fantastic pictures. I haven’t heard the name Zach Plopper mentioned in years. I’m from Solana Beach and used to surf with him at Seaside beach back in the early 90′s when he was a grom. Glad to hear he’s still surfing and traveling to cool places.

  37. whatlifeforme says:

    great lifestyle. how do you afford this?

  38. ciaranaustin says:

    Nice post, and congratulations on Freshly Pressed! In my opinion, the Silver Coast in Portugal is also fantastic for the same reasons!
    http://ciaranaustin.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/portugal-in-photos/

  39. I didn’t know France had a surfing culture! That’s awesome! Great photos!!

  40. kellyrenae says:

    As soon as I saw you were blogging about France I had to follow immediately! I lived in the south of France for a year and am absolutely in love with it. Your pictures are amazing and make me miss it so much. Keep up the good work!

  41. So nice man , wish I get to enjoy that once in a while , nice photos but camera sucks man , get a better one.

  42. I had no idea there were huge waves off the French coast! Awesome photos 🙂

  43. wow surfing in france? who knew?!!!

  44. Really good photos!

  45. Awesome pics. When I think of surfing, I think of California. I would never put France & Waves in the same sentence until I read your post. Thank you!

  46. Looks like you had a great time. I love France, but I have yet to learn how to surf.

  47. An awesome place, will never forget my first visit there, dining at one of the beach front restaurants listening to the magic voice of Jesse Norman bradcast live and projected onto giant screens for people sitting on the beach to listen to for free while others paid to hear her in the concert hall.

    Never dreaming that 15 years later I would be living in France myself.

  48. Just gorgeous! I have some friends that going to be missionaries to the Basque people. This is wonderful information.

  49. I’m a surfer in Southern California. You’ve convinced me that France is not just a place to enjoy fine wine, macaroons and an easy-on-the-ears, romantic language. I’m booking the next surf trip for Biarritz. Thank you!

  50. Love the post, photos say it all! What I had in mind on my recent visit to Watergate Bay, Cornwall, was that “just another perfect day” feeling. Instead I nearly got divorced and turned my arms to spaghetti while paddling through mountainous walls of crumbling surf…http://chairman-of-the-board.co.uk/2011/10/29/watergate-bay-surfing/ feel free to post some tears,,,,,

  51. อยากไปเที่ยวแต่ไม่กล้าลงเล่นแบบนั้น กลัวมาก ๆ…

  52. Congratulations on getting Freshly Pressed.

    Great pictures. Great post.

    There are alot of things about France and French culture that don’t fit what Americans believe.

  53. yogyatourandholiday says:

    very interesting!

  54. Lovely! Beautiful France. Great shots. Cool blog. Here’s my blog(if you wanna read it. :D)
    http://theladycakedesigner.wordpress.com/
    Just for anyone who loves sweets.

  55. Nice pics. Especially the first two!

  56. What a great post! When I think of France in the fall, I think of myself getting ready for another snowboarding season coming up in the Alps; but this post has given me a whole new perspective on France. Though I’ve only gone surfing in California, I’d like to eventually go for it in Biarritz!

  57. Thank you for sharing your trip. The surf reminds me of the oceans on Qalidrius which your planet calls GJ1214b

  58. thoraaron says:

    This looks terrific, I’d love to surf that side of the world…

    Not for tourists:
    http://www.cityarbiter.wordpress.com

  59. hatur nuhun

  60. Great post. Definitely an interesting read. Check this site out.
    NHL 12 tips, strategies and team reviews.

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  61. its interesting how france actually has a surf scene, when you wouldn’t think so on first thought! il de re has good surfing, i noticed–a little bit north of biarritz, you should check that out if you get the chance–it’s a gorgeous island to boot. nice photos!

  62. wooww!! those waves are awesome!! i love the pictures..:-D

  63. Great post! I liked that you described this as somewhere you could bring your significant other and divide your time between surf and other activities. I get sold this spiel everytime my boyfriend books a surf trip, and always end up somewhere with bad weather watching a whole series of House! ahaha. I will definitely not vetoe Biarritz next time Rob suggests it! He is going to love your photos…….

  64. Adding this trip to my wishlist

  65. I really enjoyed your post and it gave me an idea for my own blog. LOL Thanks.
    I also wanted to add that my last visit to Paris 2 years ago was a pelasure with everyone we met happy to speak with us in English because my French is too stale for more than a simple start. But I agree, the attempt to speak the language is usually a key to opening the door.

  66. This looks amazing and fun. The waves are huge! 😀

  67. How about surfing in Malta, any observations? Good, bad?

  68. Sweet!

  69. gelaikuting says:

    i love the shots & waves! i can’t wait for my surfing lesson this coming december 🙂

  70. h3ndr1ko3 says:

    Nice shots!
    Also the wave is spectacular!
    But my interest comes from the BAR!
    Look historical…

  71. Very nice capture of the waves. Hope to travel soon.

  72. beautiful waves! 🙂

  73. I challenge you to surf in Nicaragua. Great waves (that you don’t have to fight for with many surfers) and delicious RUM – sorry its not wine (there is wine, but rum is the country’s specialty).

    See you in Central America where it is ALWAYS sunny and time to surf.

  74. dont forget, surfing at Bali and west sumatra .. 🙂

  75. Great pic, France is an amazing place to visit.

  76. I remember reading about France in Surfer Mag in the 70s. Would be great to go there next year on my wife and I’s second anniversary, maybe I’ll surprise here, we went to Cozumel last year for SCUBA…

  77. Great post! I spent a great week in Anglet about 5 years ago, the article reminds me to go back. There is a lovely campsite and nearby hostel that stays open until late september, really enjoyed it.

  78. Spending pretty all my summers since 2001 in Biarritz and Hossegor, i can tell you descride the whole thing very well!

    Miss it so much!

  79. Beautiful Pics.

  80. I guess it’s time for a trip to France. My husband can surf and I can…. be in France.

  81. I’ve never surfed but I have watched surfers often on the North Shore of Oahu when visiting Hawaii. The whole surfing culture is so cool, and so are your pictures.

  82. What a Fantastic Trip, look forward to your next one

  83. Beautiful photos!
    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!
    Have you ever surfed in Pal Mais Costa Rica? It is amazing there!

  84. i’m not a surfer, but you make me want to go there! great photos!

  85. i always want to do water sporting

  86. Great Blog i come again to your blog …..:)
    see this
    http://www.allitreview.com/

  87. NYC Posers says:

    Get pitted!

  88. very nice photossss>>>>>>>>>>>!
    http://www.omnibazar.com/

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