Our favorite place to spend the summer is in a small coastal village in South West France called Montalivet-les-Bains. It’s a place we’ve been to many times and want to return to every year. Montalivet is laid-back and has a kind of hippie vibes. There aren’t many foreign tourists, which we love. If you’re into authentic places without the masses, Montalivet is the perfect place for the summer holidays!
Things to do in Montalivet-les-Bains
Beach and surfing
For us, Montalivet is all about relaxing and taking it slow. When the weather is good, we’ll spend the day at the beach. It’s huge, so you can always lay down your towel without being closely surrounded by other people. The waves of the Atlantic Ocean are very high and this makes Montalivet the perfect destination for surfing. We’ve never surfed, but there are multiple surf school where you can take lessons. We do always bring our body board to ride the waves on, which is so much fun!
The village of Montalivet-les-Bains
The small village of Montalivet has a cute seasonal center filled with shops and restaurants. In July and August, there’s a daily morning farmer’s market with a huge range of fresh products, clothes and other stuff. We can really recommend stopping by the tabbouleh stand for a delicious bowl of freshly prepared tabbouleh and lassi drinks. Besides the farmer’s market, there’s also a small grocery store and bakery for all your nutritious necessities.
It’s nice to walk around the village, checking out the cute houses.
In the summer months, there is a small funfair with a delicious ice cream stand. We often get some ice cream in the evening and walk to the beach to watch the sun set into the sea.
Things to do in the area of Montalivet-les-Bains
The weather on the French West Coast can be stormy, even during summer. Even though the temperature in summer is almost always above 25 degrees Celsius, you have to be a bit lucky with the weather. It will be raining on some days, but luckily there are many other things to see in the area.
Our favorite thing to do when the weather is bad in Montalivet is drive to Bordeaux. Bordeaux is less than a two-hour drive and the weather is often completely different (less rain, at least). Bordeaux is a beautiful historic city with lots of things to see.
Phare de Grave
Paying a visit to the lighthouse of Verdon-sur-Mer, Phare de Grave, is a nice activity when the weather is not suitable for the beach. Verdon-sur-Mer is only a 30-minute drive from Montalivet. It’s a cute lighthouse and we love taking photos there. We think it’s also possible to visit the lighthouse and take a look inside, but we couldn’t find any information online. It wasn’t open when we were there.
There are frequent ferries making the crossing from Phare de Grave to Royan on the other side of the Gironde river. Royan is a lovely place to visit on a day trip. There’s a small city center with lovely shops, a ferris wheel and a small funfair. Royan is a popular summer holiday destination so it can get quite crowded in the summer months. If you’re visiting Royan on a day trip, you can leave your car behind in Verdon-sur-Mer. It’s also possible to take the car with you on the ferry, in case you want to do a road trip on the northern side of the river.
Phare de Cordouan
Phare de Cordouan is a unique lighthouse near Verdon-sur-Mer right in the middle of the Gironde river mouth into the Atlantic Ocean. It is located on an island and not connected to the mainland. You can visit the lighthouse by boat. Daily boats leave to the offshore lighthouse both from Verdon-sur-Mer and Royan, from April until November 1. Access to the lighthouse is subject to the tides and is only possible for a short period of time every day. It’s not a cheap activity: €44 during low season and €49 during high season (July and August). We haven’t visited Phare de Cordouan ourselves, but it looks very interesting! Check this website for more information on visiting the lighthouse.
Lamarque is a cute village amidst vineyards and it is an hour drive from Montalivet. There’s an old windmill which is a perfect photo spot as well as numerous vineyards. You can also drive east to the port to check out this part of the Gironde. The shores along the Gironde are filled with Fisherman’s huts which look great on photos. From the port of Lamarque you can take the ferry to cross the Gironde and visit Blaye. We didn’t do that, but boat rides are always a good idea when the weather is nice.
Hourtin Lake (or Lac d’Hourtin) is a lake in the Aquitaine region. The village closest to Montalivet along the lake is Hourtin Port, which is a 30-minute drive from Montalivet We like Maubuisson a bit more, which takes a little less than an hour to reach from Montalivet. If you’re tired of the rough Atlantic Ocean and the salty water, spending a day at the lake is a perfect idea. Lac d’Hourtin is perfect for water activities, like sailing, canoeing and renting a pedal boat.
Arcachon Bay (or Bassin d’Arcachon) is a huge saltwater lake connected to the Atlantic Ocean and is well-known for its oysters. The drive from Montalivet to Arcachon is a little less than 2 hours. The lake is surrounded by many pretty villages of which some are definitely worth checking out. It’s the perfect place for a day trip filled with activities. Consider spending a few days at the lake as there is so much to explore.
Dune du Pilat
We saved the best for last. Dune du Pilat is an absolute must visit if you’re going to Montalivet or anywhere else in the Aquitaine region. Even though it’s not around the corner (it’s a nearly 2-hour drive), it’s so worth it. Dune du Pilat is the highest dune in Europe and it’s a unique place. If you’re able to, you should go there for sunset. Bring your own drinks and snacks for a perfect evening.
Where to stay in Montalivet-les-Bains
Montalivet is the perfect place for camping. There are a few campings in the village but we always go to Campéole Médoc-Plage. You don’t need to reserve camping spots in advance. We always show up in the morning and there are always multiple (or even many) available spots to choose from. You can also call the reception the evening before you plan to arrive and ask whether there are any spots available, so you can make a plan B if there aren’t any. If you don’t need electricity, they always have spots available.
Campéole Médoc-Place is a big camping in the middle of a pine-tree forest but it doesn’t feel massive at all. We always choose a spot a little further away from the reception and entertainment activities. The camping has all necessities we need: a swimming pool, a bakery and a snack bar, which are open in July and August.
The camping also offers multiple types of caravans, bungalows and lodges to rent, for which you need to make a reservation in advance.
There are also many privately-owned holiday homes available for rent. Walking around the village, you’ll see many signs with phone numbers you can call to rent the holiday homes. These houses aren’t listed on websites, so you need to call the phone number and ask for availabilities. There are a few holiday homes available through Airbnb, but the choice is limited.
Where to eat in Montalivet-les-Bains
Montalivet has a broad range of restaurants that are open daily in July and August. Our favorite restaurant is Montanita. Joop always goes for the Magret de Canard when we’re in France and they serve it at Montanita. Another must eat there (or anywhere else in the Aquitaine region) is Moules Frites. Moules Frites is a typical regional dish and we’d really recommend trying it at least once, even if you think you don’t like it. The mussels from the Atlantic Ocean are delicious and they’re served in various marinades.
Des Dunes is located right at the beach and has a perfect view over the sea. Their food isn’t the best in Montalivet but they serve good pizzas for a decent price with a priceless view. It’s the perfect spot for a sunset dinner. It’s also a nice place for having a cup of coffee in their beach chairs. Des Dunes is one of the rare restaurants in Montalivet that offers free Wi-Fi.
L’Océan is located on the other side of the road and offers the same beautiful sea view as Des Dunes. We’re not very fond of their food, but we love going there for drinks and they have the best (free) Wi-Fi in Montalivet.
Pizzas de Charlotte has very delicious pizzas and a huge menu to choose from. There are a few tables at their place but it’s mostly a takeaway place. The pizzas are pretty pricey, but they’re really worth it!
Getting around Montalivet-les-Bains
Many people bring bicycles with them to get around the village. Everything is within walking distance, so you don’t need to have a bicycle but it makes things easier (and faster). You can also rent bicycles at the Campéole camping (and probably at other campings too). We’ve never brought our bicycles but always bring our skateboards or just walk to get around. We do rent bicycles sometimes to cycle to the other villages in the area (which are sometimes accidentally 30km away, oops). The Aquitaine region has bicycle lanes to all its villages which makes it a perfect area for cycling.
How to get to Montalivet-les-Bains
We always drive all the way south to Montalivet with our car from the Netherlands. If you’re doing a Europe road trip or live in a nearby country, this is a great way to get there!
By plane and car
It’s also possible to fly to Bordeaux and rent a car. It’s a 1,5-hour drive from the airport of Bordeaux to Montalivet. We would recommend having a car when you’re going to Montalivet. There are buses, but they don’t go very often and might not take you everywhere you want to go.
When is the best time to visit Montalivet-les-Bains
The best time to visit Montalivet is in July and August when the weather is the best. All camping facilities are available during these months and the shops and restaurants are open every day. The first two weeks of August are the busiest weeks, but it never feels too crowded. We once spent the entire month of June in Montalivet and had terrible weather the first two weeks of our stay. There were only a handful of other people on the camping and the shops and restaurants were only open in the weekends. Keep this in mind when you’re visiting Montalivet outside of July and August. When the weather is good, it’s perfect to visit off-season, but when it’s raining there’s just not much to do in the area as everything is still closed. Our favorite and preferred time to visit Montalivet are the first weeks of July.
Have you ever been on the Atlantic Coast of France? Let us know in the comments below!
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