Even if it is difficult to choose between the different regions of France, the one surrounding Bordeaux is most probably my favorite. Maybe because that’s where I’m from, but also because I love the pine forests and the long beaches of the ocean.
The different parts, for example the vineyards in Médoc and the Bassin d’Arcachon, offer a wide range of excursions. Some are easily done by bike, when a well-maintained bike path allows it. This is the case of the path that connects Bordeaux to Lacanau. I rode this bike path from Bordeaux, and so I crossed the area with a rich natural heritage that separates the city from the ocean.
Practical guide for a bike ride
- Departure: Bordeaux.
- Arrival: La Grande Escoure beach, in Lacanau.
- Distances of the outward-and-return journey: 128 km.
- Which bike? A road bike is ideal, but any other bike kind suits.
- What not to forget in the luggage? A yellow safety vest to be seen, sunglasses, sun cream, lip stick (the dry air contributes to chapped lips), a swimsuit, and a bath towel.
- Where to swim? The beaches on the lake are, according to me, pleasant because they are quiet, except from Le Moutchic. The beaches on the ocean, about half an hour away from the lake by bike, are great because there are high waves. I recommend the plage du Lion, located in front of La Grande Escoure, because it is more natural and less touristic than the ones in Lacanau-Océan.
A bike ride in ideal conditions
I leave on a Saturday morning around 8:30 am from Bordeaux, with the objective of the Lacanau Lake. At that time, I plan to return to Bordeaux by bus at the end of the afternoon. I reach the bike path after crossing Bordeaux for half an hour, during which I force myself to pedal slowly so as not to get tired quickly. Where the bicycle path starts, begins the magnificent landscape typical of the region: the pine forest. The delicious pine scents are immediately perceivable and accompany me through my journey. They are to me what madeleines are to Proust. Indeed, they remind me of holidays and afternoons spent in Lacanau or on other beaches on the coast during my childhood.
As I ride in the forest, I hear the constant concert of the cicadas and the birds’ morning tweets. The track is most of the time in straight lines which are so long that my eyes can barely see the end. I prefer to admire the natural and multicolored environment made of green ferns on both sides of the path, followed by densely planted pines. On the floor, the brown pine needles and the golden sand strips cover the road sides. Lastly, I admire the cloud-free blue sky above the forest.
Several cyclists ride in the same direction, most of them at full speed on their light road bikes. I would ride faster if I had a road bike like them, rather than my solid but heavy trekking bike. After a few kilometers, I chat with a 60-years-old woman. She tells me that she cycles 50 kilometers every day on this bike path. No wonder when you see her slender look, her tanned skin and her cheerful face. She leaves Bordeaux in the morning, goes to the village of Saint-Hélène where she spends the day, then returns in the evening, accompanied only by deers coming out of the forest.
Halfway, I feel my thighs but the effort is bearable, mainly thanks to the morning fresh air. Although I could ride quickly on this perfect asphalt track, I prefer to pedal slowly and at a steady pace in order to enjoy the nature around me. Why go fast if it prevents me from admiring the environment?
I reach the town of Lacanau in the late morning, where I find the road busy with cars. I quickly cross the small town without interest, then arrive at the edge of the lake located before the seaside resort of Lacanau-Océan.
A well-deserved swim in the Lacanau Lake
I enjoy both the Lacanau Lake and the ocean beaches but for different reasons. I like the lake for its many small, uncrowded beaches, for the shade offered by the pine trees, and for its calming wave-free water. The second, for the spectacle of wild nature made up of sand dunes, long beaches, and powerful and loud waves. I enjoy taking a bath in these waves, while taking my precautions not to be dragged offshore.
This time, I decide to go swimming in the lake. After these efforts which pulled on my legs, it is appreciable to rest in the shade and to bathe in calm waters. In the streets covered with pine needles leading to the Grande-Escoure beach, there are white houses with wooden shutters. Most of them are decades old, but more and more new modern villas are being built.
I eat my picnic on the beach and then easily enter the warm water. I then swim among the motionless motorboats that have anchored. A little further offshore, several catamarans, windsurfers, and other small sailing boats move on the water. The reason is that on the Grande-Escoure beach there is a sailing club, where I learned to windsurf. The conditions of the lake, without waves and with moderate winds, are perfect for an initiation to sailing. I swim along the edge of the lake to the nearby beach, which is even less occupied, and then I walk back to Grande-Escoure.
The atmosphere on the beaches is relaxed and calm, and the silence is from time to time interrupted by children playing in the water. Moreover, here, unlike the ocean, the tiny waves do not make noise when crashing on the beach. These conditions make me want to read. Sitting on my towel on the sand covered with pine needles in the shade, I read a book while enjoying the view offered: the white sailing boats parked on the beach, the blue water, the pines on the shores of the lake, and the blue sky.
Pushing myself to the limits of my endurance
In the middle of the afternoon, I decide to take the bus towards Bordeaux in order to avoid the heavy traffic at the end of the day. When the bus arrives, bad surprise. The trunk is already full, so there is no space for my bike! It means that I will have to cycle for 4 hours to go back to Bordeaux.
In the beginning of my return trip, I ride fast, because I’m in a hurry to get back to Bordeaux, but I force myself to slow down to save my strength. As I progress on the long straight lines taken in the morning, I gradually feel general tiredness and muscle pain. The temperature has increased a lot since the morning. I thus feel a hot air on my skin, which makes me sweat and quickly tires me. Moreover, I feel that I start to dehydrate and that my lips start chapping. Fortunately, the majority of the bike path is shaded by pine trees, and flat. When I arrive in the small town of Salaunes, I take a long break to drink at a fountain. There, I meet other arrested cyclists who seem to suffer from the heat as much as I do. We exchange a few words, but my main focus is to rest. After 10 minutes, I force myself to leave in order to arrive before nightfall.
Finally, I reach the urban area of Bordeaux. In these last kilometers, each street seems endless to me, and I have to make efforts to move forward. I can only concentrate on the current street, without being able to think of the arrival at home. After passing the ring road, I noticed with surprise a tram station. I decide to take the tram to go home, but, as the next one is arriving in 15 minutes, I prefer to finish on my bike rather than wait. In addition, I tell myself that I will be satisfied to complete the whole trip by bike only. I arrive at home in Bordeaux at around 8 p.m. In my flat, I feel pain in my shoulders, thighs, heels and belly, but also great satisfaction as well! I tell myself that I will never make this trip again in such heat, but I fall asleep with the pride of having done the round trip by bike in one day.