Europe,  France

Peace and tranquility in the woods

Vivier Plage - campsite
Do you ever feel that sometimes things happen for a reason? We definitely felt that on this next leg of our trip. We had left Bordeaux in the morning and it was now 2pm and we still hadn’t got pitched anywhere. We were hot and tired. We were hungry and needed food. So far the day had involved hitching and un-hitching the caravan three times, twice to get off the pitch in Bordeaux and once to turn around at a campsite later on where the office was closed for lunch!  We had also almost got stuck trying to find a pitch at the campsite we had chosen to stay at – it turned out to have very narrow and impossibly steep ‘roads’ (more like paths) around it with lots of obstacles (trees) everywhere and no-where to turn around. It was only thanks to Andy’s expert towing skills that we managed to get back up the 1 in 5 sandy slope without hitting anything and we duly abandoned the site in favour of finding one on flatter ground further down the coast.

As I mentioned earlier, the next campsite we picked was closed for lunch, so we pressed on only to find ourselves on another wild goose chase where the sat nav tried to send us down a road that was signposted ‘unsuitable for caravans’! After this we went back to the previous site to wait for the office to open. Nearby we spotted a Vival supermarket where we thought we could get something to eat. As with many shops in small towns in France, it was shut for lunch from 12:30 until 4:30pm. But, luckily for us, next door was a small restaurant with a take away pizza counter.  We ordered two pizzas and sat at some picnic tables nearby to eat it.  As we sat and ate, we all relaxed after our nightmare journey and started to feel differently about the place.  And the funny thing was, a few minutes later whilst we were still sitting there, the take away counter closed, followed by the restaurant. We ended up staying at this campsite for a week and we never saw either of them open again! It was as though it was meant to be – somehow the the place had still been open just when we needed it and it worked its magic on us to convince us to stay! It turned out to be one of our favourite places so far.

We haven’t pitched in a forest before and it was wonderful. Not only did the trees provide shade, but they also deadened the sound in an incredible way that made the whole place feel so peaceful and calm. And in the background, audible because of the quiet of the forest, there was this low roar, in the distance but still unmistakable – the sound of the sea. We got the caravan set up and went off to follow that sound. There was a gate out of the back of the campsite straight onto the path to the beach and 5 minutes later we were treated to the most incredible view ever – a wide, sandy beach backed by dunes with waves crashing onto the shore and hardly a soul around. Not only that but the beach was so clean – just soft sand all the way to the sea, with nothing but a few strands of wispy seaweed deposited on the water line. No shells, no stones and no litter. We stayed a while, paddling at the edge of the waves, sometimes getting wet as the breakers came up higher than we thought they were going to, the girls squealing as they ran from them up the beach.

Vivier Plage
Vivier Plage – we had the place to ourselves!

Our days here allowed us time to think, to do school work, to stroll up to the beach for a drink at the little bar/restaurant, to lie on the beach and watch the sunset or look at the stars and to go for a few early morning runs in the edge of the waves. As I said on Facebook at the time – “Some things are worth getting up for!……I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to do my morning run along the beach, splashing along in the edge of the water, and now I know……it’s not only good for your body, it’s good for your SOUL!”

Vivier Plage - early morning
The beach in the early morning light – some things are worth getting up for!
Happy memories – I had some company one morning for my run

And this place was good for all of our souls! We didn’t do very much whilst we were there as E had a really bad mosquito bite on her foot that swelled up so much she couldn’t put any kind of footwear on for several days. But just being there was enough. I enjoy visiting cities like Bordeaux, but I always feel happiest in quieter, more rural or coastal areas – the quieter and more low key, the better.  And Vivier Plage fitted the bill perfectly! If we wanted a bit more going on, we could walk the 20 minutes or so into the town of Biscarrosse Plage where there were shops, restaurants and bars. But mostly we were happy with our little supermarket and tiny beach café.

Simple pleasures! Relaxing at the beach cafe at Vivier Plage and watching the sun go down
Vivier Plage - beautiful sunsets
We saw some beautiful sunsets over the Atlantic

Towards the end of the week dramatic storms passed across virtually the whole of France and we took shelter inside our little caravan as the water flooded into the awning and rose so high that the front legs of the caravan disappeared. Despite all of this, I still loved being there. When the rain subsided, we went out to see the thing that had drawn us down to this area in the first place – the biggest sand dune in Europe.

Dune du Pilat_3
The Dune du Pilat is 2.7km long, 500m wide and between 100 and 115m high.

Dune du Pilat

The Pilat dune is enormous! Nothing quite prepared me for how tall it is, nor how steep the climb is to get to the top. It is 2.7km long and 500m wide and its height varies between 100 and 115m. Its height changes because it is not a static feature – its 60 million cubic metres of sand are always moving. Just offshore from the dune are a series of sandbanks and on the other side is forest. The dunes are gradually covering the forest, moving inland by between 1 and 5 metres a year. Sand dunes have a particular shape, formed by the wind. Sand is blown inland by the wind and when it meets an obstacle (such as a stone or vegetation) it accumulates and a dune starts to form. On the ocean side, the slope of the dune is fairly gentle (5 – 20 degrees) whereas on the forest side the face is protected from the wind and has a steep slope of 30 – 40 degrees. This is because the prevailing wind (off the sea) blows the sand up onto the dune and the grains climb the gentle slope until they reach the top, where they fall by gravity forming a steep slope on the other side.

Dune du Pilat_1
Hiking up, and down, the Pilat sand dune

And we really felt this prevailing wind!  We climbed up from the forest side and as we got to the top we almost got blown off our feet by the strength of it.  It was incredible!  Even more incredible was the view from the top, out across the Bay of Arcachon with its many sandbanks and the waves continually breaking on the beach and out across the tops of the trees in the forest, that now looked like dwarfs standing below us. The dune itself stretched on for miles and we could see hang-gliders gracefully circling at its far end. We could also see people, like tiny ants, walking along its ridge far off in the distance.

It was very windy at the top of the Pilat Dune

We had parked at the north end of the dune where there is a huge car park and visitor facilities (shops, restaurants, toilets etc). Here there are also steps to get you up onto the dune if you can’t manage to climb on the sand itself. You can also access the dune from various campsites and other points along its forest edge, all with a very steep climb up to the ridge, or I guess you could walk along and approach from the beach side. There is no charge to get onto the dune, just a fee for the car park at its foot.

Altogether we had a wonderful time along this section of coastline and, had the campsite not been closing, we would possibly have stayed longer. It is an area that I had never heard of before, but it is definitely somewhere I would love to come back to one day.

Vivier Plage - camping in the forest
What a difference a day makes!!! We loved camping in the forest here, but when the storms came through, our pitch flooded and we did wonder if we might start to sink!

Campsite: Campéole Camping Le Vivier, near Biscarrossa Plage (on the Atlantic coast, just south of Bordeaux)

Duration of stay: 6 nights

It was the very end of the season down here and the campsite, beach and town were very quiet, but we loved feeling as though we had the whole place to ourselves.  Our stay here was one of contrasts – we experienced peace and tranquility in this natural woodland setting, but we also had violent thunderstorms that flooded our pitch and awning! Occasionally military jets flew overhead and we experienced a sonic boom as they broke the sound barrier – it made the whole caravan shake when it happened.

What we liked:

  • Natural forest setting and the feeling of space – the campsite was very open with no hedges or fences
  • Very close to a beautiful, unspoilt beach – 5 minutes walk along a forest path
  • Very quiet campsite (the season was coming to an end and the whole site closed a couple of days after we left)
  • Small shop 2 minutes walk away for bread, milk etc

What we didn’t like:

  • Violent thunder storms and a pitch that flooded
  • The sonic boom of military jets flying overhead

Score: 9 out of 10

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