Seeking out the Style, Craftsmanship, Tastes & Experience of a Good Life

Seeking out the Style, Craftsmanship, Tastes & Experience of a Good Life

Médoc Atlantique: The Return

It’s so good, we went back!

Médoc Atlantique

By Andrew Threlfall

12 months on from stepping foot in this part of France for the first time, and I can’t resist another visit. Médoc Atlantique is a seductive region about midway down the west coast of France. It’s an absolutely beautiful spot, particularly in the sun. Am I the Good Luck Mascot who finally brings summer?! Or just a seminal travel writer with steadily improving French?

Top Accommodation at Lucky Number 23

Lucky me then to be starting my second trip at a wonderful guesthouse named with the lucky number 23. The number ‘23’ has a lot of significance in the world of sport. Le Bron James currently wears the number on his slowly fading LA Lakers jersey. However, the man who made the number seem almost godly is Michael Jordan. The six-time NBA champion wore the number 23 for most of his career. “It was a special number indeed. He wore it in Chicago for the Bulls a few years before I moved to the city,” the owner of 23, Jérôme Rousseaux tells me. 

Back in France, Jérôme runs 23 with his British wife, Belinda. Located in the centre of the beach resort, Soulac-Sur-Mer in the very north of Medoc, Maison d’Hôtes ‘23’ is the finest example I’ve ever seen of its type. B&B is actually a cheap term considering this cathedral of exquisite taste in which the four reasonably priced bedrooms with private bathrooms and walk-in showers are magically styled to match any boutique hotel in Paris. This place is so special, you feel Belinda has conjured up the offspring of Hotels Costes and Martinez in Cannes. This is the B&B you’ve always dreamt of waking up in.

23 Soulac Sur Mer, France

A short drive from Maison d’Hôtes “23” is another hidden treasure, the spectacular sea bass served at Sophie’s tiny cafe/bar, Le Relais de Sophie, located in a hut right on the beach, See title image. Straight into my number one spot as the top hidden restaurant gem in the world! That’s Number Une! Actually, all of Soulac-sur-Mer warranted far more than a brief sojourn on the first really hot day of the Atlantic summer. But Le Relais de Sophie en Guinguette in Talais is the family-run local you cannot equal. Located at the Port of Talais, Le Relais de Sophie en Guinguette offers home-cooked seafood with secret recipes kept in the family. The mussels with magical sauces, the eels with parsley, the sumptuous meats cooked a la plancha, even the oysters (not for me since my time with Carla Bruni and a not-so-romantic denouement), all with a beautiful and unobstructed view over the whole of the Nord Médoc. But the sea bass is a lifetime of memories.

Le Relais de Sophie Soulac Sur Mer FRANCE
Le Relais de Sophie, Soulac Sur Mer, France

A Light Break

Post meal, take on the workout of the stairs inside the nearby Museum of Cordouan Lighthouse. The tour covers all five rooms in the lighthouse, the other vital lighthouses of the Gironde estuary and explains the equipment used by the innovative beacon service, past and present. Lots for the children here , including a 3D animation of the Cordouan lighthouse through the ages.

An Easier Walk with a Low Carbon Footprint

Olivier is a man on a mission, providing and redefining local e-scooter trips with his company Trott in Medoc, serving all of Soulac-sur-Mer, visiting the estuary on machines that are actually more like e-bikes with fat tyres. These all-terrain electric scooters offer rides, excursions and hikes on all terrains, even some sand for that Instagram moment. The scooters are a low-carbon, gentle, silent and environmentally-friendly way of getting around for sustainable tourism.

Medoc Atlantique, Soulac sur Mer France
Medoc Atlantique, Soulac sur Mer France

One Last Dip in the Gastronomic Ocean

Reluctantly, it’s time to leave the magic of Soulac-sur-Mer, a week is needed. But not before dropping in at Restaurant Le LB, a packed daytime restaurant in the heart of Soulac, where I enjoyed the tremendous lamb. A cosy ambience by the fire as the staff run around trying to find coveted spaces for a sell-out daily crowd.

Wine Is Not An Option

Travelling south to Lacanau visiting a vineyard is a must (it’s the law here). We stop at the fabulous Château Bellerive at Valeyrac all set to celebrate their centenary in 1925. A testament to their greatest expertise, the vineyard was actually classified as a Cru Bourgeois in 1932. Oh, and there is recent history as beautiful as that moment, too, for in September 2018, the local Gouache family took over the reins of the estate. Sophie and Christophe Gouache’s love of the land and the vines comes from their family heritage and a return to their roots was an obvious choice, and very much a childhood dream come true according to Sophie. Call ahead to book your visit  +33 5 56 73 17 80

Valeyrac Bellerive
Valeyrac Bellerive

A Fresh Haven Behind the Ocean

The largest freshwater lake in France necessitates a walk through the dunes and marshes of Lake Hourtin-Carcans Nature Reserve. An area of 2,150 hectares presents all the landscapes of the sandy coast of Aquitaine: beaches inland! Oui, dunes, pine and holm oak forests, and marshes, all to be found lakeside. At the heart of the Hourtin nature reserve is the Contaut lagoon. The land is transformed into peat and becomes a biological reservoir for a multitude of nature.

Lake Hourtin-Carcans nature reserve France
Lake Hourtin-Carcans Nature Reserve France

A Lakeside Retreat That Travelled 1,000s of Miles Across The High Seas

For the real lakeside experience, the Lacanau Moutchic Inn is actually a sea container remodelled a few metres from the lapping lake of Lacanau on the Moutchic beach. The peace and quiet of water sports activities and the numerous cycling lanes dominate here. Check the weather in advance, though for all that can be made easily available at the foot of road.

Of course, the weather is a big factor, so indoor water fun can be had at Aqualiday in Lacanau, where the covered and heated space is perfect for a family day out. Check out the spa too and a relaxation room where you can enjoy herbal tea, two hammams, a sauna, a Nordic shower, and something mysteriously called a sensory shower. The outdoor water slides were not available on my visit, so we recommend you call ahead to check what’s open and avoid water-fun disappointment.

Thai Flavours In The French Sun

Take the 5km bike ride for lunch at Lotus Café Zen in Lacanau-Ocean because when in France go Thai. Occasionally. Zen is a lounge bar with a very Bangkok flavour and a favourite local surfer hang-out. Specialising in macerated rums, cocktails, wines and beers.

Cool for Cats

If Thai food isn’t your thing in Lacanau, Le Kayoc by the ocean offers a terrific wide choice of seafood and various cuisines with specialities from South West France. The staff look after the local semi-wild cats who see this 50-year-old institution as a must-visit. As soon as the first rays of summer sunshine appear, wrap up and dine outside at this unforgettable vista to enjoy the terrace and watch those brave surfers tame that wild ocean. Lifting a beer in your hand if you’re lucky. Let them do the heavy lifting.

Le Kayoc Front de Mer France
Cats and surfers enjoying the sun around Le Kayoc

For lots more information visit the Médoc Atlantique tourist board website
Photo credits:
Title Image: Talais © Médoc Atlantique Tourisme
23 by Guillaume Paret
Le Relais de Sophie, Cats at Le Kayoc by Andrew Threlfall
Medoc Atlantique, Soulac sur Mer beach: Les Argonauts
Valeyrac Bellerive: Médoc Atlantique Tourisme © Gaëtan Leprévost
Lake Hourtin-Carcans Nature Reserve: Cyrielle Design

Médoc Atlantique is such a wonderful place we went twice! See what else we discovered on our first trip here

surfing in france
Médoc Atlantique


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