Ever wondered where skiers disappear to when ski resorts close in May? Like little melting snowflakes they trickle off down the mountain trying to find their way to the sea. There they trade their skis and snowboards for surf boards, and search out more seasonal jobs as beachside bars and restaurants open for the summer season. Most migrate right the way across to the other side of France and swap winter sports for water sports in Hossegor, Moliets or the stunning coast nearby.
An untypically hot weekend forecast for the last May bank holiday tempted us to follow the herd – Moliets is just 2 hours’ drive from Monpazier, where we’d just finished 10 days of intense labour on our holiday rental cottage. We wanted a full weekend of beach picnics and chill.
The chill we found in buckets at Star Surf Camps. A little hippie settlement of cream bell tents held up with bamboo poles and lit at night by fairy lights, shady hammocks swinging between the trees and a bar in a shack, it’s the perfect place to unwind. Before I knew it I was skipping around barefoot and bra-less, eating the raspberry-like fruit from the trees that held the hammocks, suddenly struck by the folies of modern life and a growing urge to get into an in-depth discussion about our place in the universe.
It’s not just students and baggy-trousered travellers that are drawn to lovely rustic-luxury camps like these any more – though they were there and fascinating to chat to as well. Venturing out from my hammock one afternoon I got into conversation over a little glass of wine with an incredibly interesting woman who has been living and working with refugees in Greece for an NGO for the past 18 months. She was at the camp for a surf/yoga retreat. This type of wholesome active holiday is growing hugely in popularity, attracting well-travelled professional people looking for new, eye-opening experiences rather than the usual ‘laze around eating lots’ kind of break that I was on. Back in the mountains ski/yoga retreats are springing up all over too, the idea being that you return home from your break energised, relaxed, fitter and happier than you left – instead of knackered from carrying around an extra stone in weight from a daily ice-cream diet.
Though I love the idea of these healthy lifestyle choices, I’m yet to change the habits of a lifetime. I won’t lie, it’s not pretty when you find yourself in a bikini right at the end of a mountain winter during which you’ve acquired a layer of fondue/raclette/wine blubber. But at least it inspires you to get on that surf board or booked into your camp’s yoga classes.
The seafood platters in Moliets are way too good to resist. Our favourite restaurant is Dune – it’s owners Martin and Alice run one of the most popular bars in Val d’Isere ski resort in winter, Le Petit Danois. Though the menu is so long I need an hour’s head start to make a decision, everything is cooked and presented beautifully. Closer to the beach Chez Vincent restaurant is attached to a fish market where you can go to choose your buffet lunch – plus you’ll usually be greeted by Vincent still in his wellies straight from the boat!
Moliets beach is stunning – a huge expanse of golden sand, waves perfect for surfing even for beginners, and a calm little inlet for a paddle. Despite the gorgeous weather the beach wasn’t packed and we had plenty of space to sunbathe, paddle and people-watch. Trying not to crack up laughing at the 3 topless sunbathing ladies, who hadn’t noticed the incoming tide, as a stray wave swept their towels out from under them was the most effort we put into anything all day. The only problem we had was the dog wasn’t a beach fan – cowering under the parasol, he panted and looked daggers at us over his sand-covered nose then got his own back by trying to dig an escape tunnel next to our heads.
That evening watching the surfers catch the last waves as the sun set, sitting on the beach with husband, hound and a beer in hand, Operation Chill was finally complete.