For an extraordinary French vacation that combines surfing and exploring the Alpine terrain, look no further than southwest France. Located near Biarritz on the Atlantic coast, Hossegor is renowned as the surfing capital of France, catering to surfers of all skill levels. Journeying 170km inland, you’ll discover the charming 19th-century spa resort of Luz-Saint-Sauveur situated in the Hautes-Pyrénées, approximately 30km south of Lourdes.
Hossegor offers an exceptional experience for both surfers and non-surfers. This surf mecca in New Aquitaine boasts a magnificent 3km beach with four unique surfing spots. In October, it hosts the prestigious Quiksilver Pro France surf competition, showcasing its world-class beach breaks. The northern end of the beach strip features a vibrant surf scene, while the lively town center offers endless cafes, delightful patisseries, chic boutiques, and an exceptional market offering artisanal products and clothing. Adjacent to Hossegor is the picturesque Capbreton, which boasts a beautiful harbor. Although the strong currents make the main swimming beach, La Centrale, off-limits for many, Hossegor Lake provides opportunities for paddleboarding, waterside dining, and swimming. The tranquil pine forests surrounding the area offer breathtaking walks and delightful cycle rides.
Surfing in Hossegor is not limited to the summer months. Raphael Tutenuit, a surf guide from Surf Guides, explains that between January and March, the water rarely drops below 11°C, and the sun provides warmth. This off-season period allows surfers to enjoy the quieter beaches and uncrowded waves, providing a unique experience of Hossegor. Our own family holiday included surf lessons for our beginner and intermediate surfer sons with Raphael. They experienced the gentle waves of La Sud beach on the first day and even woke up before sunrise for a magical session at Les Culs Nus beach on day two. Sitting on the beach with our tisanes, surrounded by wide dunes and a pine forest, we witnessed their progress throughout the week, eventually reaching La Centrale beach, perfect for beginners and intermediate surfers.
Hossegor is home to world-famous waves, offering long, hollow barrels and powerful beach breaks of various forms. Experienced surfers can explore legendary La Gravière, where they can learn about the peak’s mechanics and observe how locals navigate the current and lineup to catch incredible waves. As we enjoyed our final dinner at the vibrant Cabane de la Gravière on the beach, our conversation naturally turned to our forthcoming mini adventure in the Pyrénées and whether we should make a stop in Lourdes on our way to Luz.
Lourdes is surrounded by breathtaking countryside, and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is a peaceful and remarkable place unaffected by the commercialization evident in the gift shops and cafes outside its premises. Luz-Saint-Sauveur itself is situated on the Bastan River at the foot of the Col du Tourmalet, known as the Giant of the Pyrénées and a regular location of the Tour de France. During the late 19th century, Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie discovered Luz-Saint-Sauveur and its thermal spa, Luzéa: Thermes de Luz-Saint-Sauveur, catapulting the village into fame. Today, the spa attracts visitors seeking medical treatments or relaxation, such as tired hikers or skiers enjoying massages and Jacuzzis.
During our stay, we enjoyed the quintessentially French Hôtel Les Templiers, an eco-hotel adorned with shuttered windows and a vine-covered entrance overlooking the 12th-century church of the Knights Templar. On our first day, we embarked on a 20km drive to the village of Gavarnie and embarked on the popular 8.5km hike around the limestone semi-circle known as the Cirque de Gavarnie, a UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounded by the towering peaks of the Pyrénées, including Mont Perdu. Victor Hugo aptly described this natural wonder as the “colosseum of nature.” We marveled at the steep walls of the cirque, which measures 3,000m in width and 1,500m in height. Descending from a height of 423m, the grande cascade, one of Europe’s most impressive waterfalls, greeted us. We indulged in a picnic and enjoyed a traditional lunch on the terrace of the Hôtel du Cirque et de la Cascade.
Exploring the old stone villages around Luz on e-bikes proved to be an incredibly enjoyable activity. While we only completed a small portion of the 24km Luz Ardiden-Trotinet loop, we vowed never to ride traditional bicycles again after encountering the eye-watering hairpin bends, particularly on the downhill stretches. The next day, white-water rafting on the river Gave de Pau felt like a leisurely walk in the park. After all our adventures, we resisted the temptation to bungee jump from the Napoleon Bridge, a gift from Empress Eugenie to express her gratitude for the river’s supposed role in curing her sterility. Instead, we treated ourselves to delicious ice creams from Glaces Artisanales, a roadside stop with a small terrace offering breathtaking views of the gorge.
In Hossegor, group surf lessons start at £32 per person, while private two-hour lessons start at £50 per person. Accommodation options include Casa Duna, a magnificent three-bedroom villa with a pool starting at £1,895 for a week. Alternatively, there are hostels in Hossegor with dorm beds starting at £28 per person. For further information, visit hossegor.fr/en.
In Luz-Saint-Sauveur, you can rent e-bikes starting at £47 from Ardiden Velos, and don’t miss the opportunity for a zip-lining experience with Luz Tyroline. The eco-hotel Les Templiers offers accommodation starting at £95 per night. For whitewater rafting and additional information, visit the Luz Tourist Office at luz.org or pyrenees-trip.uk.
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