Part 2
Bikes, Boards and Natural Wine in Les Landes
Part 2 of a mini-adventure along the stunning Biarritz coast with wild camping, natural wines, and a few good waves along the way!
I remember my first surfing escapade:

"Hello, hello, can you hear me?
crackle, erm, ta k e - then, straight roun d ab out, kin gs head - the line went dead. Ahhhhhh the joy of tech!!! I was impatient by now, after 4 hours of driving, but I knew we’d find the campsite.

Grizzly had been directing us in like lambs wanting to be slaughtered, but this was no slaughter, this was surfing for the first time, and anticipation was high.

I tried calling Griz again but there was no reception here. ‘He said something about a roundabout and then straight on’ I said to my then partner. I put the orange light on (we had one on the roof, workman style), switched it on, and we sailed straight past the campsite.

Something tells me I’ve gone too far, so I turn the van around and hear ‘EY UP DIGGER!!!’ as Grizzly shouts his trademark and ever-genuine greeting, although sometimes his greeting can be something a little more risqué and rhymes with hunt...

Yeehaa we made it, 200miles of virgin roads led us to where we were meant to be at the exact the right time we were meant to be there...

He he, grinning I clamber out of Beryl the Peril, our trusty LDV “we made it brother Grizz” I say gleeful and smiling, as Griz and I hug in a Viking like fashion.

Yeah, ummmmmmm uhhhhhh phhhhewwwwww, I smell the air, take in that we’re there...park up Beryl and crack a bottle of red wine.

New surroundings, discovery, ahh yeah, this is good! I could hear the surf crashing against the sand, a warmish night, BBQ was embering now, time to relax, have a beer and take the edge off the drive...

Got some surfing to do tomorrow...no idea what I have to do, I reckon there’s something about standing up on a surfboard...never really seen or held a surfboard up till that point, that was to happen tomorrow!"

That was around fourteen years ago now and is for the most part what actually brought me to Ireland. Having become hooked on surfng (as I believe most newbie surfers do), I decided to hand in my notice and look for work nearer to the ocean, long story short, I ended up getting a job in Westport on the west coast of Ireland, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I chose the quote below by Gerry Lopez, aka Mr. Pipeline, who is an American surfer, shaper, journalist, and film actor, currently living in Oregon. He has surf and yoga clinics all over the world and to me, is the epitome of what a surfer is, healthy living, respectful of the ocean and our planet and a positive role model for all.

When I started surfing with Grizzly Dan all those years ago, it was in a small village called Llangennith on the Gower peninsula in southwest Wales. A magical place indeed, it was there I became friendly with Pete Jones, aka PJ who runs the institution that is PJ's surf shop. I remember how he was always so helpful and nice to me, especially then, as a total kook ( a term given to a newbie surfer), and he is a person I respect a lot. A story I heard about PJ once, was that he rocked up at Pipeline (a very heavy surfing spot, in O'ahu's North Shore, Hawaii), known for broken boards and broken bodies. Pete, the pint-sized Welshman, unknown to anyone (as this was circa 1970's) tore it up, and then probably said to people he met, "Well that was lush", and carried on his day as if he's just surfed his local break.

Anyway, that's the version I heard and I'm sticking with it, and Pete, if any of that is incorrect, let me know.

The best surfer out there is the one having most fun.

— Gerry Lopez
Hossegor is a bustling seaside tourist resort in the south-west of France, in the department of Landes, famous for its surfing spots, where the summer swell accommodates beginners and funds many local surf schools, with warm temperatures and mellower waves. Come wintertime, the dedicated, hardier surfers take to the water, as the North Atlantic barrels into The Bay of Biscay.

Hossegor was originally a small fishing village, called Soorts, until the 19th century, when it became a popular destination for wealthy tourists who built elegant villas along the coast, perhaps the quieter overspill from the Biarritz-glitz.

Hossegor’s surfing culture began in the 1950s, when American writer Peter Viertel, who was married to actress Deborah Kerr, settled in the town and brought his surfboard with him. He was soon joined by other surfers from around the world, attracted by the powerful waves and the laid-back atmosphere, which remains pretty much unchanged. Hossegor became one of the first surfing spots in Europe and has played host to many international competitions. We saw lots of flash jeeps towing jet-skis, and old-but-gleamingly-restored Mercedes posing along the streets, as well as tiny cars navigating to the secret spots (yes I surfed one), with a quiver of small surfboards squeezing the passengers out of the windows!

Hossegor is also a place where art and creativity flourish, much like its bigger sibling, Biarritz, Hossegor has many boho shops, galleries, workshops, and festivals that showcase local and international talent. One of the most famous artists who lived and worked in Hossegor was Paul Nelson, an American architect who designed several buildings in the town, including the Casino and the Sporting Casino, which are examples of Art Deco style. Another notable figure was Chipiron, a surfer and board maker who opened his workshop in Zone Pédebert, an industrial area that transformed into a surfing hub with funky boutiques, bars, and restaurants.

Hossegor was still thriving in mid-October, with all hotels booked for the weekend. We stayed in a lovely hotel, Hôtel La Paloma which is only a 4-minute walk from Lac d'Hossegor Lake, it's a laid-back, seasonal hotel only a few minutes walk to the beach.

The main cycle path that goes through Hossegor, and north to Seignosse and beyond, is right outside the hotel, incidentally, we were able to leave our bikes locked outside the hotel while we went to explore the town, the owner is bicycle friendly, and a very nice lady to chat with too!

Our bikes must have felt either naked or strong due to their lack of battery power and insanely fat tyres as Hossegor was filled with 'Fat Bikes', with specially fitted surfboard racks, people of all ages whizzed silently past us going to or from the ocean, they were almost the boho fashion accessory. That said, I'd highly recommend hiring one of them to go and explore the forests and beautiful hidden places that surround the town, there are loads of bike hire shops in Hoss too so getting hold of one is easy enough.

I'd ordered a new tent as my old one, a super faithful Jack Wolfskin, Last Resort II was nigh on 20 years old now and the aluminium poles had begun to perish and snap, in the process tearing the tent. It was also a two-person tent and a three-person is always better IMO for two-people bicycle touring. They give more room, generally more height and these days are super light.

I opted for a NearZero superlight three-person tent, and friends of mine from the States who work around the world - making us all safer when it comes to volcanoes and volcanic activity - were coming back to Ireland in September so I was able to ship it to them and they brought it to me, saving a bit of the old dosh on shipping and import fees.

Day 2, we made it via the Labenne Zoo, over to Hossegor and then I researched the map to see where might be a good stealth camping spot. I opted for a forested area just north of Seignosse and so we ambled over there from our pitch the night before on the dunes.

The cycle over was via Labenne town as I was still in search of a screw-top gas canister, one which we never actually found. I did see one in a hardware store but it was the long thin type for DIY projects and totally unsuitable. We should have stopped off in Decathlon in Anglet, they were most likely the best option.

Sometimes like that, whilst on tour, one can be diverted through reasons beyond them, equipment related or maybe you see an old mate post something on IG and realise they are only a short detour away.

Be that as it may, we ended up coming eastward into Capbreton and went straight through Hossegor into Seignosse and onto the beach, where we swam, sunbathed and relaxed before heading off to find our spot for the evening.

The secret to finding a good [stealth] camping spot is to pitch away from people if possible, away from any known footpaths and preferably away from ants, or indeed larger animals, especially the ones that can injure or eat us. In the case of the latter, always have an escape plan in mind, know where your tent door is located and have essential items close to hand, like;

  1. A copy of the Bible/Koran/Beano/Penthouse
  2. Your headtorch/bow & arrow/partner
  3. Cyanide pills/Allen keys/bicycle

We camped in an area that most likely had wild boar but they are pretty timid so we didn't worry about them, snakes were probably the biggest threat after humans so we were vigilant about their presence but that's all.

Initially, we ventured deeper into the forest but the path was becoming like a jungle and we also didn't like the general energy of two of the other spots. That's one thing to note is the general feeling or intuition that you get from a place. Be willing to trust your gut instincts, it's the bigger of our three brains! (Heart brain, head brain and gut brain).

We ended up spending two nights here as it was such a beautiful place, very close to the beach and safe. Although during the day, we ventured out with fully packed bicycles (leaving no trace of ever being there the previous night), and returned at dusk to be as stealthy as possible.

Three nights under canvas though was enough for Olya and this Queen wanted a hotel from here on in. With a twisted arm, I caved into this madness and later that day we mutually decided to go into Hossegor and kick back for a few days in the luxury of a hotel.

Hossegor, as we read earlier, has world-class waves and as a surfer, you know, it would have been very rude of me not to participate in the riding of such Atlantic gems, so a very hot afternoon was spent venturing around the shops and then later surfing my brains out on a rented foamie, confident enough to paddle right out to where the sets were rolling in and take my place amongst the lineup.

The rips were like a conveyor belt pretty strong and tried to whisk me right to another spot so I settled on paddling out, heading to the right to the shoulder of the breaking waves and then trying to pick off a nice one. The locals were very accommodating and judging by the accents in the water, they were a mixture of locals and travelling surfers anyway. I caught a few nice ones and then took a drop, paddling into the wave, its face just disappeared as it jacked up and I fell about ten feet with my board alongside me and got washed.

The surf was only about five to six feet with bigger sets every twenty minutes, although they were pretty high, they were breaking nice and mellow so falling off wasn't an issue. I remember thinking of a similar break at home in Ireland and recalling how a similar-sized fall had had about five times the force of today.

Thoroughly stoked, I returned my board and joined Olya who was happily sunbathing on the warm, sandy beach and enjoying, for once, not having to do anything at all. I think we were both starting to leave our busy minds of Ireland behind us, the physical toughness of cycling fully loaded bicycles too and beginning to embrace the sunshine and Pooh-like nature of actively doing nothing.

There are loads of really nice places to eat and boulangeries everywhere you look. A good idea is to look out for the ones that focus on organic and local produce, it's always a good bet that they will serve fresher and healthier food and will be able to point you in the direction of other similar places, as they are often networked. I know that here in Westport, if people are looking for somewhere to eat during the day or as an alternative to what I offer, I always signpost them to similar places to mine, or to some of the local restaurants, depending on what they are looking for.

In Hossegor, we ordered some delicious cakes from a nice-looking boulangerie, next to an equally lovely Deli that sold pre-made salad, stew, calamari etc which was extremely tasty, in fact, we got take-out here one evening as the food looked better than anywhere else, although the midges attacked us as we ate, so we ended up kind of disco-dancing with our food as we tried to avoid the pesky little things.

Anyway, during the day we'd got the cakes and sat on the tables literally outside the shop and a waitress from the bar next door came to us and spoke in French in a manner that I knew wasn't exactly polite, responding in French, that I didn't understand everything she said, the owner then came out and angrily told us to get lost if we weren't having drinks! Had he been more amicable and asked us if we wanted a drink, as the seats were actually only for his bar guests, we probably would have got one or at least declined but made a point of coming back to have one the next day.

The tiredness within me, matched his frequency, as I said something like 'fuck this then', and gave them the finger as a parting shot as we got on the bikes and headed back to our camp spot.

On reflection, I realised that I had indeed just matched their energy and in fact, they had perhaps had a long day, were tired, or hungry, or had some other reason to not be aware of their own energies.

Interestingly this takes us back, full circle, to the beginning of the article in Part 1, about being compassionate. At this juncture, I knew that I wasn't being compassionate at that moment to the bar owner, or myself, put simply, I wasn't practising gratitude or being aware of my awareness, this allowed me to quickly react instead of humbly and quietly carrying on with my day. I then allowed their energy to merge with mine and thus carried some of their anger and frustration, until I processed it for what it was and let it go.

I had the opportunity to practice this at Bar Jean in Biarritz a few days later. We'd ordered the paella and were then told it would be a 45-minute wait so the waiter suggested the steak, not wanting to scour the menu and happy to trust the waiter, about 25 minutes later our dishes arrived. Olya got the squid in ink, which was extremely rich and probably too much for what it was, i.e. if I was serving it, I'd put the spuds separate, having boiled them in beetroot juice and then use less of the squid, and enhance the whole dish with some sprouting broccoli and local sea salt.

My steak was a mis-steak. It was okay but nothing special, the fries that came with it were cooked in old oil and soggy. No veg to be seen. For approximately €26.00 and €28.00, a bit over the top. The waiter was professional enough though and it was a touristy spot. It certainly made me realise just how good the food in Ireland is, in particular, in my natural wine bar in Westport, a blatant plug there, but it's also true, I explain where the food comes from, its provenance etc.

The wine list was an opportunity for the wealthy to show off to their mates by the looks of it, with no explanations about the wines, sure, they had Opus, Margeaux, Pingus and so on) all very expensive 'high-end' wines) but with no vintage (NV), and no showcasing anything local, or indeed organic, biodynamic or natural.

Going for something local, I ordered a Txakoli, which is a slightly sparkling, very dry white wine with high acidity and low alcohol content produced in the Spanish Basque Country, Cantabria and northern Burgos in Spain. The wine I ordered gave me lemons (or was that life, at this meal?) but not much else, and there are many lively expressive versions of this that I have served in my wine bar over the years. This was not one of them. Top producers include:

Ameztoi: This winery is located in Getaria and has a similar production figure to Txomin Etxaniz They produce a range of wines including the rosé Rubentis and the light, fresh, easy-to-drink red Stimatum. They also produce an herbal Extra Brut Hijo de Rubentis 2016, a traditional method of sparkling wine.

Gorka Izagirre: This winery is located in the heart of the Basque Country and produces Txakoli using biodynamic methods. They use only indigenous grape varieties and follow strict guidelines for vineyard management. Their wines are known for their complexity and depth of flavour.

Astobiza: This winery is located in the heart of the Basque Country and produces Txakoli using organic methods. They use only indigenous grape varieties and follow strict guidelines for vineyard management. Their wines are known for their crisp acidity and minerality.

By the way, other wines that share similar characteristics to Txakoli, are:

Vinho Verde: This is a Portuguese wine that is also slightly sparkling and has a similar level of acidity to Txakoli. It is made from a blend of indigenous grape varieties and is known for its crisp, refreshing taste, it's also known as the 'Green Wine'.

Muscadet: This is a French white wine that is also light and dry with high acidity. It is made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape and is known for its minerality and citrus flavours.

Picpoul de Pinet: This is another French white wine that shares many characteristics with Txakoli. It is light, dry, and acidic with flavours of lemon and lime. It is made from the Picpoul grape and pairs well with seafood. The name “Picpoul” translates literally as “stings the lip” and is a reference to the grape’s mouthwateringly high acidity. It is also known as Piquepoul, and there is a local legend about the chickens (Poulé), eating the grapes, attracted by their sweetness but how true this is, who knows?

We also ate out in a quay-side restaurant, Casa Juan Pedro in Biarritz, popular with tourists and locals alike, in Hossegor, try the crêpes in Crêperie tante Jeanne and Green Cantine opposite Vino Verso make a good coffee with a friendly service.


Toms handy travel hint:

Download the Raisin app, a very handy app to locate natural wine stockists/restaurants/bars worldwide.

Then seek out something near you, as they generally will stock local, seasonal products or at least have more chance of supporting the Slow Food movement so will generally be good sources of information on where to eat, drink and be merry.

The Gallery Wine & Tapas Bar, my bar, in Westport, Co Mayo, is proudly the first place in Ireland to have signed up on it here in Ireland, demonstrating my commitment to supporting the natural wine movement, and not just because it's trendy right now. I was also the first place in Ireland to ban any kind of takeaway cups too, in favour of using proper ceramic cups donated by local people, and charity shops, via an advert I ran to promote conversation instead of needless use of cups.

Yes, a bit of blatant self-promotion there, but tucked away along a quiet laneway here in Westport can be a tough gig so why not?

Nearly five years ago, I even held an Environmental meeting in my bar to try to promote Westport as one of the first towns in the world to go completely single-use-cup-free, and instead promote conversation, inviting people in for a coffee instead of giving them take away cups, unfortunately, my foresight isn't shared by many, and Killarney, down in southern Ireland just announced their town is the first in Ireland to do so - good for them!

For DIY, go to Les Boucheries Du Marensin in Hossegor, rather splendid and perhaps the best food of the whole trip. Of course, no trip to Biarritz would be complete without an amble around the indoor market, where you can find all kinds of cheeses, charcuterie, bread, cake, fruit and condiments etc, again, the products here were very good but also highlighted just how good the likes of Danny & Helen's Dozio's cheese, Larry's Galway cheese, Tom's Corleggy cheese, the charcuterie from Corndale farm, Gubbeen, Ispini, Broughgammon farm or the myriad of other Irish producers that I work with, actually are. We are very blessed here in Ireland with absolutely brilliant products the length and breadth of the country.

Back in Hossegor, I found a VERY good wine shop, worth a stand-alone mention, it was recently opened by the lovely Sarah Bouteille, called VinoVerso, it stocked many, many amazing wines, with a very good selection of small-scale, local and natural producers, including some tiny allocation-only wines that her personal connections allowed her to access.

I walked in, sweaty from cycling and the heat, and was asking generic questions about the wine, not looking in the slightest like someone who knows anything about wine (who does?). The respect that I received from Sarah was tremendous, she is very polite, professional and highly knowledgeable and helped me select some fantastic wines at pocket-friendly price points, I am excited to bring some of these localised wines to my bar, to share with my guests, including a 'Cosmoculture' wine that I last drunk in a natural wine bar in Fribourg, Switzerland.

The shop itself was magnificently fitted out and had some vinyl and a solid pair of speakers there too, I was very impressed and highly recommend a visit if you're a fan of the ol' plonk.

Wine represents to me sharing and good times and a celebration of life. It is always around happy occasions with family and friends and centered around joy. What better item to be involved in then something that represents all these wonderful things.
— Dan Akroyd. Writer, Actor, Ghostbuster.
Follow Toms adventures and musings on his Sacred Spokes YouTube channel and website.