Wallow in Bordeaux’s urban culture on the Garonne’s right bank
Head to the 19th-century naval barracks at Quai des Queyries, which have been renovated into the Darwin Ecosysteme, a 2-hectare ecosystem of urban farming close to the river Garonne. Hire a bike, to take in the street art and surrounds, or participate in any number of activities from yoga classes, to bike polo and skateboarding. Or plant your feet on the sandy patio at the Chantiers de la Garonne. It’s the perfect spot to admire Bordeaux’s Unesco-listed 18th-century riverside facades while sipping organic wines and local bitters from the onsite artisanal brewery.
Bob over the lakes and seas of Lacanau on the Atlantic coast
If you’d rather be in the water than watching it, the Côte d’Argent (silver coast) is a one-hour drive from central Bordeaux and offers more than eight miles of sublime beaches and sandbanks shaped by the swell of the Atlantic ocean. Learn to barrel through high, hollow waves with a top-notch surf school, paddle a kayak out to sea and watch the pros compete or swish on water skis through the scent of pine forests across Lacanau’s freshwater lake.
Check out La Rochelle’s maritime credentials
La Rochelle, around two hours from Bordeaux, has lively tales to tell from visiting maritime adventurers throughout the centuries, and one of the best ways to explore is on two wheels. The city pioneered the first bike share scheme in the 1970s, when the mayor allowed people to borrow distinctive yellow bikes – for free – from the waterfront and bring them back when done. Visit the grand medieval towers at the port entrance, which served as a lighthouse and protected the citadel against invaders. Then head to the impressive family-run Aquarium La Rochelle to take an underwater tour and watch a jellyfish ballet.
Explore the green maze of willows along Biscarrosse lake
A one-hour drive from Bordeaux sits France’s second largest freshwater lake, Biscarrosse, formed more than 4,000 years ago and connected in 1834 by canals to Sanguinet-Cazaux and Parentis. Take an old-fashioned boat trip, helmed by a boatman, snaking through the peat banks and across the lilies, try a spot of fishing or swim in the family-friendly dark green shallows.
Bike the Vélodysseé cycle route and visit picturesque Île de Ré
Just two hours from Bordeaux is a cycle lane that skirts the Atlantic coast for almost 750 miles, from Brittany to the Spanish border. Take a detour across the bridge to the small island of Île de Ré, the Parisian “Hamptons”, riding its dedicated 60 miles of cycle routes around the salt marshes, white houses and cobbled streets. Running 14 miles wide by three miles long (at the longest), it’s perfect for laid-back family cycling and delicious seaside picnics.
Snake down the Garonne river, stopping at riverside markets
Cycle riverside from the city centre down the Garonne river, part of the magnificent waterway running from the Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean via Agen. Or take a leisurely cruise with CroisiEurope , stopping off at the citadel of Blaye, designed to protect Bordeaux from attack. Watch the countryside float past, meandering through small local villages, calling in at one of the city’s neighbouring vineyards to have an apéritif.
Taste the Basque influences in Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz
Biarritz, two and a half hours south from Bordeaux, is pure seaside sophistication, made cool by everyone who was anyone, including Napoleon III and Queen Victoria. Farther south, explore Saint-Jean-de-Luz, whose sandy beaches and white and red houses are protected from the feisty coastal wind by three picture-perfect sea walls; it was also where the “Sun King”, Louis XIV wed his Spanish bride Maria Theresa in 1660. The Belharra reef break, just off the coast, is a must-do for experienced surfers while other visitors can dine on fresh mussels and the local speciality, sheep’s milk ice-cream.
Eat fresh oysters on the tallest sand dune in Europe, the Dune du Pilat
Set sail for world heritage site, Arcachon bay (one hour’s drive from Bordeaux) and its cabanes tchanquées, wooden huts on stilts used in days gone by to oversee the oyster farming. Cycle or stroll along the coastal paths, visiting village ports and eating the spoils from the oyster traps of returning flat-bottomed boats. Sea kayak to Bird Island to explore the bird colonies and race up the 258 steps of the Cap Ferret lighthouse for sublime views over the Dune du Pilat. The most adventurous family members will love running down the majestic dune, racing to see who’s the last one standing.