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The Medoc / Gironde

I first visited this area many years ago when I was invited to stay with friends in their wooden cabin at the Centre Helio Marin (CHM) near the Atlantic seaside town of Montalivet and I have been drawn back year after year.

Piqueryot - Lac Hourtin

I was aware that CHM was a naturist resort but I had no idea of the idyllic surroundings and tranquil atmosphere – situated in pine forests, surrounded by wild strawberry bushes and trailing mimosa  - all adjacent  to the most wonderful vast sandy beaches.

And there is the joy of the unexpected – new discoveries every day in the surrounding countryside -  Bordelaise towns such as St.Viven with its flower and farmers’ markets every Wednesday and the little harbour, where you can sample freshly-caught prawns.

Monta CHM centre was founded over 60 years ago by a few like-minded families -literally living the good life and back to nature holidays in the sun – in little wooden cabins with water from the well, dinner on the terrace by candlelight,  transport by bicycle and do-it-yourself health treatments in natural mud deposits on the beach.

Little had changed, until recent years, when people’s demands became higher.Although many of the old cabins still exist, and the resort retains its unusual atmosphere, you can see many new-build chalets with electricity, hence all mod cons, with sports facilities for all ages, including swimming pools and mud treatments in the health spa.

Golf is available at the Lacanau Course, and golf practice is only 10 minutes away at Grayan.If you’re a watersport fanatic, you will love battling with the Atlantic waves under the careful supervision of the surf school or, if you are like me and prefer calmer waters, visit nearby Lac Hourtin (France’s largest lake) for sailing and windsurfing or hire a little outboard and discover one of the many tiny secluded beaches. Better still visit the unspoilt little hamlet of Piqueyrot  and its original beach café, Bar Nautique, which also now offers fine dining right on the edge of the lake.

Oyster Men at the Market

The local village of  Montalivet-les-Bains is only 5 minutes drive from CHM or, if you prefer, you can take a lovely walk along the beach or cycle through the pine forests to the market. Originally likened to a “hick” town, it is now a quaint bustling seaside village with a variety of restaurants (including the famous “Marin”) and a large daily market.  On Sunday – the big day of the week – we congregate, locals and visitors alike, for a social gathering at the wine and oyster stalls – quite a unique experience!

Soulac sur mer, a typical French town close to the Gironde Estuary, is renowned for its extensive indoor fish market and is especially worth a visit in early June for the street festival when locals and visitors dress in 1900 home-made costumes and parade through to the sea front or ride in style on the decorated horse-drawn carriages.

From the port of  Le Verdon, a short ride on the Gironde Bac (small ferry) will take you to Royan – a chic town with excellent shops and interesting buildings such as the church rising high above the horizon with its striking art nouveau architecture. Wine buffs will be in their element in this region.  Paulliac, on the edge of the riverGironde, is said to be home to the best Medoc wine and there are numerous caves, such as Begadan co-operative, where you can sample their cru bourgeois and haut medoc.

If you can drag yourself away from the wonderful beaches and interesting countryside, the ancient city of Bordeaux with its interesting history, is also certainly worth a visit.

Marion Hunter

Chalet Hawai, CHM Montalivet

Medoc FloraEnjoying the Oyster Market

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