Lac d'Hourtin-Carcans

We packed up the campervan after four nights on the Île d'Oléron and set out two hours south to find our base for the next five nights.

On the journey south we needed to locate a supermarket to take on supplies for the five-night duration; there are often no large supermarkets close to camp and if there are they tend to be expensive, so it's better to find a large Lidl if possible and buy as much as we think we'll need. An electric coolbox in Cleopatra's boot keeps meat and cheese fresh for a few days and vegetables do quite well in or out of the coolbox.

As it was we visited the Lidl just after the bridge from Île d'Oléron; we decided it was easier to visit the one we knew about than hunt out one nearer our destination.

We bought wine and beer, snacks, a few vegetables, some mince and a pack a large sausages. Our traveling larder would allow us to make meals from a little supplementary shopping; in fact we could have lasted just on the larder contents for a week or more if we'd needed.

We spent 40 euros for five nights. Had we been eating out, as per our holidays of old when we'd book room only, we'd have spent at least that per night in a restaurant. For me there's as much enjoyment cooking our own meals sitting outside under the awning with a few beers.

Back to the journey. Our sat nav offered two routes, one via Bordeaux and the other missing that out but adding in a ferry crossing from Royan. Not knowing the regularity or cost of the ferry, or likely queue of cars there, we opted for the roads around Bordeaux. At least we thought we had. As it became clearer we were on the ferry route we were too far to make it worthwhile backtracking.

As it turned out the ferry cost a little more than 40 euros and it took about 45 minutes from arrival at the port to board and cross. We quite enjoyed the journey and took lots of photos of Cleopatra's first ferry trip. She was first to drive on and first to drive off too.

We were half an hour early to Camping Indigo Lac du Carcans, but we're allowed to check in and find our pitch.

The first of two problems then presented itself. We were pitched right next to a kids' play area. The second problem came as Tony tried to mount the levelling blocks and overshot them. The front one punctured a plastic casing on Cleopatra's undercarriage. Fortunately it seemed only to be some kind of outer seal, perhaps to keep out cold in winter, so it wouldn't be a problem and could be fixed when we returned home.
Finally on the level and the usual setting up having taken place we set out to explore. We were going to do this on foot, but the sheet scale of the lake led to the decision to go back and get the bikes.

Equipped with pedal power we decided to head for the ocean five kilometers to the west. There was cycleway all the way, but at a crossroads we decided to ignore the sign to the beach, as everyone would have followed that, and decided to continue parallel to the sea and find one of several smaller roads indicated by Google Maps. What Google doesn't seem to appreciate is that these are not roads at all, merely strips where the ground has been cleared of pine trees and undergrowth to prevent forest fires from spreading. So as it was we pushed our bikes for over a kilometre through sand and pine needles towards the sea.

The map also doesn't indicate that once to reach the sea, you'll be standing on top of a huge sand dune with at least a 60 percent drop and no obvious route to the bottom. What to do now?

It seemed like we'd be able to make it down and possibly even back up if we locked up the bikes. That would require retracing the kilometer or so we'd pushed our bikes through sand, a prospect that wasn't particular welcome. The other option was to try to get our bikes down the dune and then later walk/or cycle along the beach to where everyone else would have entered it a couple of kilometres to the north. We chose the latter.

Pushing the bikes down the 60 degree slope of the dune proved easier than expected. With the breaks on, the bikes helped slow our descent and we made it to the beach below unscathed.

What we had achieved though, was to find a deserted section of beach - always our prime holiday goal. The beach on this part of France's west coast goes on for literally miles and miles and miles. It's bordered by dunes and forests that are protected and so, aside from the occasional town every ten or fifteen kilometers apart, there's nothing else but empty beach. Ninety-nine percent of holidaymakers are content to follow the proscribed path to the beach and sit within a hundred yards of where the entered it. As the day goes on, this small section of beach gets more and more full so they're sitting like sardines, when there's no need. So we leave them to it, find a convoluted route to a section of beach only us and half a dozen others will venture.

That also means there's no need to get tan lines. If it came to it we both have tan-through swimming trunks. Tony's are better than mine, which seem to be tan through because they're almost see through. But if we don't need to wear anything at all, why would we?

After a few hours on the beach we thought it best to head back. Having not been on this beach before, and with a couple of kilometres between ourselves and where we imagined everyone else was, we didn't want to run the risk that the tide would leave us stranded.

We cycled across some sections of reasonably hard sand, but much of the distance required walking. Arriving at the designated entrance we found mostly surfers. They were packing up to leave too, and there was no gap in the dune like we'd expected. There was however a diagonal path at perhaps a thirty-degree rather than a sixty-degree angle. Pushing a bike through deep sand is hard going; it hurts your calves. Add a hill to climb and it's the complete opposite of a good time.

Our future trips to the beach would see us cycle to Carcans Plage, a small seaside tourist village, lock our bikes up and walk five kilometres down the beach, where we'd see perhaps 20 other people all day.

Our first evening on the campsite was somewhat noisy with children playing in the playground we were in close proximity to. The only redeeming feature is that mostly they were shouting to each other in French or Dutch, which for some reason is less annoying than when it's English. As it grew dark we looked forward to the little darlings going to bed. Darkness was met instead with the opening credits of a movie.
I was puzzled about where the sound was
coming from and why it was so loud.  'Where's that coming from?' I asked Tony. He pointed and said: 'From the movie screen over there.' This got me cross and I snapped: 'There's no point pointing. I can hear which direction it's coming from. What is it?'

As it turns out, right in the middle of the playing area, where a basketball net had been, there was now a large outdoor movie screen, and from all over the campsite like rats following the pied piper, children and adults brought chairs to watch I've no idea what did the next hour and a half.

The next morning we went to reception to see if we could move pitches. It made no sense to locate two adults without children where they'd put us. I was even more annoyed that last year Camping Indigo proudly boasted that they offered simple camping without entertainment.

The site was fully booked and they couldn't move us. We'd just have to put up with kids and whatever 'entertainment' was scheduled for four more nights.

I suppose the good thing about having a number of bases for camping holiday means that if you end up with a duff site or rubbish pitch, at least it's only for a few nights.

As it was, the first night turned out to the the worst and either we started to tune out the noise, or the kids were quieter. The second night there was what was described as 'Jazz'. It sounded a little musical, but I couldn't help but wonder if Jazz was the name of a clown rather than a musical genre. I couldn't be bothered to look. There was no entertainment on the third, fourth or fifth nights.

On our final full day by lake Hourtin-Carcans we decided to cycle north along side the lake. There were beaches along the shore and no roads to get to them so it seemed highly plausible we'd be away from the masses.

The cycleway here, and another similar one along the coast of the ocean, are narrow strips of concrete. Very narrow. 'Piste cyclable' say the signs and they're kind of correct, in that you'd be better off cycling if you were pissed. If anyone were to be coming the other way, one of you would have to stop and stand off the side. Tony joked that our next step would be cycling on a tightrope.

After a time, a sign declared that the path was no longer suitable for cycling and it was for walkers only. We ignored the sign and continued. I'd only just said to Tony that the path couldn't possibly be any worse than it had previously when we both came screeching to a dusty halt where the concrete was now just huge boulders for twelve feet. There'd be plenty more sections like that but we made it to the north of the lake.

Along the way we stopped at many deserted little beaches and if it hadn't been cloudy, would have stopped to swim our sunbathe.
At the top of the lake we decided to cross to the ocean path five kilometres to the west. This took us to Hourtin Plage where we have in to a display of large donuts sandwiched with Nutella.

We cycled south parallel to the ocean until we thought we'd gone far enough to try a clearing through the trees to the beach. It was deserted as we'd hoped, but of course, there was the 60 degree dune to scale. Not to worry, we'd locked our bikes to a tree a way back so it would be easier to clamber to the top again later.

We ordered pizza from the campsite food truck that night as it was our last before moving on the next day. The pizzas were expensive but made fresh and completely delicious.

The next morning we were up at 8.30am and on the road by 9.30am, heading south once more.

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