footprintsJust before school started, we went to the beach. Our first trip this year, though it’s just 45 minutes away.

We aren’t sun worshippers. And that grit of sand in one’s hair and mouth, sand that sticks to everything, even to dry skin, even to dry clothes that were put into a zippered plastic bag at home–well, meh.

peopleThen there are the crowds. The drive is 45 minutes in winter. In summer it can be two hours. Bumper to bumper. And then, you have to park.

We usually head out around 4 p.m., when most people are leaving. This is a good policy in general in France. The French love their schedules. Pretty much everybody does the same things at the same time. By being out of step, you get the place to yourself.

sand-sculpture
Note the cigarette in the mouth and the belly-button shell

For example, the supermarkets have 20 checkout lanes but operate a maximum of eight. I often have spent more time waiting in line to pay than shopping. If you go to the supermarket at noon (supermarkets being among the few businesses open between 12 and 2), there are only two or three checkout lanes open, but nobody in line. On the autoroute, the time not to stop for lunch is at noon, when the rest stops are packed, lines for the restroom are miles long and the sandwich selection is depleted by 12:30. No, lunch time is the time to enjoy the unencumbered highway before all the French get back in their cars and cause traffic jams.

beach-bar
A little bar on the beach where you can rent a fancy bain de soleil, which is what they call the loungers. It isn’t just a brand of sun lotion!

Back to the beach. We drive smoothly past one 80-kilometer-long traffic jam in the opposite direction, then arrive at the beach to find the empty parking spot of one of the cars now stuck in that traffic jam. We get our fill of sun and sand in an hour or two, then look for refreshments. Ice cream is always a good idea. Sometimes, if it’s still crowded, we’ll stick around for dinner (fresh fish!) rather than join the throngs on the highway.

flamingos
Pink flamingos in the etangs, or lagoons.

The two nearest beaches are Narbonne and Gruissan. Narbonne is a little more built-up, with a few apartment high-rises on the beach front. A parking strip runs the length of the boardwalk (which isn’t boards here, but you know what I mean). But the shops and restaurants are right there, too, which is nice.

lifeguard-hut
The lifeguards’ station, with “secours,” or “rescue” written artfully in red.

Gruissan has a bigger beach, and little chalets on stilts line the edge. The parking lot is very small but close by and hidden from view. More charming by far. We’ll take you to the pretty port and the adorable town, which are away from the beach, another time.

emptyOn the day before the new school year, the beach was mellow. Only half had a lifeguard on duty, and the side without was nearly deserted. Walking the length of the beach, I thought a gentleman emerging from the water looked familiar. Indeed, it was a neighbor! Lots of Carcassonnais have beach chalets at Gruissan or Narbonne.

baby-coverup

I didn’t see any burkinis, but I did see lots of kids wearing a high-SPF version, left. A good idea–better than a wrestling match to apply sun lotion, which then immediately gets washed off. There also were a frightening number of naked and badly sunburned kids.

We’ll be back. Our favorite time to visit the beach is winter. The sun is bright but not burning, the beach is empty, and a few restaurants stay open. We only need one.

footprint

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18 thoughts on “Bye-bye Beach

  1. We are not beach people either…That is not to say I don’t like being near the water. I love all coast lines…the waves…the sound. I just hate just siting there baking in the sun. Yes probable strange.

    Ali

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    1. There are more famous beaches, like Palavas-les-Flots by Montpelier, or the nude beaches of Cap d’Agde, or St. Jean de Luz down by the Spanish border. But Narbonne/Gruissan are nearest to us.

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  2. Thanks for the tips about shopping and driving on the autoroute. I’ll be over in three weeks and won’t make those mistakes again. Another advantage of a later visit to the beach…the light is better for photography.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Can’t wait to read more of your blog!! Saw your comment on smittenkitchen.com, “If you ever want to try France, let me know and I will give you all the nice (yet cheap) restos and not-stupid things to do with kids. Our favorite restaurant has no kid’s menu, but will serve anything on the regular menu, in half portions, for half price, for the kid (and that makes it very reasonable because we are cheapskates who find the best restaurants that aren’t expensive). It isn’t written anywhere.” I would LOVE to hear your recommendations. I’m a major foodie & cook, but I’ve never traveled abroad. France is on my bucket list for some day!! Any tips you could share would be fantastic!

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  4. As well as sticking to the schedule it is important to be correctly outfitted for the activity. Many of our French friends have outfits that are specifically for ‘gardening’ (that’s a yellow overall with double zips down the front); ‘outings in the classic car’ (nice brown leather shoes, tweed jacket, chinos in some shade of brown); cycling (lycra of course); ‘association meetings'(chinos in some quite strong colour, cravat, ‘graph paper’ shirt); ‘day at the beach’ (three quarter length shorts/trousers, canvas or deck shoes); and so on and so on. Co-ordinated, ironed (including jeans and tee-shirts), with accessories that belong to each outfit.

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    1. That’s so funny. I always thought that pressed jeans were just not done. But let me tell you that in Toulouse last Saturday all the men in particular had pressed jeans, with sharp creases and rolled cuffs.

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  5. Just stumbled on your blog through Smitten Kitchen. Hello! We spent Last July (2016) exploring the Haut Languedoc… looking for a place to buy. Returning this July to continue our research. The beach we discovered and loved for its quiet and natural beauty is Torreilles Plage. Part of the beach is nudist but in a low-key, family way, and there’s a pretty beach cafe, Maya that feels like you’re in Tulum, Mexico. I know you said you’re not beach people but I’m guessing this place is about the same distance from where you are. Way less “populo” and less crowded than Narbonne. Check it out. Fun to discover your blog. Keep writing!

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    1. Let me know if you want house-hunting info.
      Usually we go to Gruissan, which is the same distance as Narbonne, but much less commercial. Torreilles is just south of Leucate and Barcarès (both of which I can’t stand–very crowded/touristy/tacky). We will have to check it out when we’re willing to drive the extra distance. Thanks for the recommendation!

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