gruissan 1The siren song of the beach beckons every summer, and we always succumb. Even though we aren’t beach lovers. The wind, the sand in everything, the traffic, the fear of sunburn. Summer wouldn’t be summer without at least an afternoon at the seaside. I grew up on that sea of grass known as the American prairie, about as far away as you can get from any sea or ocean. I was in my 20s before I saw the ocean. Now, I live a 45-minute drive from the Mediterranean. Close enough to go on short notice and come back to sleep in my own bed. Far enough that my life in July and August isn’t ruled by the traffic jams snaking to and from the beach.gruissan 5Our strip of the Mediterranean is lined with beaches, some quite famous: Cap d’Agde, for example, is known for its naturalist (i.e., nude) beach, so much so that if you say you’re going there people assume you are going to go naked, even though there are also parts of that beach for people whose limit on undressing stops at the tiny, strategically placed triangles of cloth known as bikinis and Speedos.

That said, at almost any beach you’ll find plenty of topless sunbathers. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Nobody bats an eye. However, very few of them are young nymphs with perky breasts, so don’t get your hopes up. On a recent trip, there were two topless sunbathers nearby. They must have been in their 70s, and their breasts dangled limply on either side of their torsos. My first reaction: “Sun cancer!” (I wear a high-necked, long-sleeved rash guard myself.) My second reaction: “Elles sont bien dans leur peau.” They are good in their skin, which is a French expression for being at ease with oneself. Though in this case, it works literally as well as figuratively.gruissan 6Starting at Montpellier, you have Palavas-les-Flots, upscale and reminiscent of the beach at Barcelona, with high-rises nearby. Beach time segues seamlessly into shopping and nightlife. And eating, though that goes without saying, no matter where you are in France.gruissan 4gruissan 3Next comes Sète, followed by Cap d’Agde (the city of Agde is inland). The beach by Béziers–the city itself is inland and on a hill–is Valras-Plage. Just south, Narbonne, likewise inland, has Narbonne-Plage and Gruissan. These are equidistant from us, but we prefer Gruissan, whose beach is a little wilder, lined with little wooden cottages on stilts, vs. the concrete high-rises of Narbonne-Plage.

Onward to the south come Port-la-Nouvelle, Leucate and le Barcarès, which are even more hard-core beach vacation destinations. And then you get to Perpignan and its beaches, such as Argelès, then down to Collioure, Banyuls and Port-Vendres. Then you hit Spain.gruissan 7gruissan 2Gruissan, shown in all the photos here, suits us for many reasons besides being nearby. The road to Narbonne-Plage climbs then descends through the Clape mountains, which are G.O.R.G.E.O.U.S. But if you are behind a camper or a bike, both of which are very common, you can’t pass them until you’re practically at the beach. The road to Gruissan isn’t as pretty, but it’s flatter and has a bike lane, keeping the traffic moving. gruissan 10Gruissan has high-rises, but only around the port, which is also where most of the restaurants and shops are located. The port is a bit far to walk from the beach (a good thing, insofar as you don’t see the high-rises when you’re on the beach). As the road to the beach passes by the port, we just stop the car on the way home and have dinner. The port area is very lively and fun in its own way, but there’s a quieter, quainter option: the ancient village of Gruissan. It circles around the ruins of a hilltop medieval château (protection from pirates–before pirates of the Caribbean, there were pirates of the Mediterranean). The charming, narrow streets have several good restaurants, especially for seafood. gruissan 11gruissan 13Our modus operandi is to go to the beach around 3 or 4 p.m. Usually the folks who had arrived early have left or are leaving, making it easy to find parking and a spot to spread out by the water. We avoid the peak hours for sun exposure, as well. gruissan 14gruissan 15Our “must-have” equipment has diminished over the years. We had a windbreak that I had bought when I lived in Belgium and did a beach trip to Ostende; we were freezing, and the windbreak made it a little more bearable. On that trip, I got a sunburn–on my hands only, because otherwise I was completely covered up, shivering. Here, we don’t have to worry about being cold, but it is windy. We upgraded to one of those pup tents, which are nice for shade (the wind often makes parasols fly away), keeping gear in one spot, privacy for changing, and a bigger angle of protection from the wind. gruissan 8gruissan 9Our gear also used to include many plastic buckets and shovels and molds and balls and lifesavers and waterwings and goggles and so on. Now, it’s just sun block, hats, anti-UV rash guards and lots of water in a cooler.

Beach tips: put your phone in a zip-lock plastic bag. Take a book or magazine if you want something to look at and keep your phone safe from the sand. Put your clean change of clothes in another zippered plastic bag to keep it sand-free. A straw bag to carry everything lets the sand fall out if you shake it vigorously before putting it in the car….

Any tips to add? What do you look for in a beach?

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35 thoughts on “Mediterranean Waves

      1. Yes, this area is not the most prone to storm damage. It belonged to my friend’s grandmother, who let it rot for decades, and was sold to a developer who wanted the furniture and said he plans to restore it as his own personal residence. I imagine him larding it up though. Here’s the inside of the house –
        I wrote about it several times last year. https://chadscrookedhouse.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/atlantic-city-again-preserving-the-interiors/

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  1. I look for water. Trouville has a nice boardwalk but their beach is stony so needs must.
    I thought maybe you were close to Colliure but its a good hour plus away. Have you been? Going to the seashore was a big part of growing up and I miss it a lot. Those Medusa shoes are good for walking in the water and everywhere else if they last long enough.

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    1. Yes, we’ve gone to Collioure and Banyuls several times, but only once in the summer. We were in traffic jams for a couple of hours, so now if we want to go there, we do it off season.

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    1. I remember going to a stony beach on the Opal Coast. Between the racket of the stones rattling back and forth with each wave, plus the din of the waves themselves, it was an ear-splitting experience. Very beautiful, but you need ear plugs!

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  2. What a great post! Myself, I look for a sandy beach (although pebbles can be fun to sift through to find colorful ones) and not too many people. Growing up just north of San Francisco, we have some long stretches of coastline where it’s easy to get away from it all. What is completely amazing and luxurious to me about the Mediterranean is that the water is warm and you can actually swim in it, which is something we cannot do around here! Also, no sharks in the Med. That’s a big plus!

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    1. Yes, the water is pretty warm here, especially in August and September. People who don’t have kids shouldn’t forget that September is a great month to travel–perfect weather, no crowds.
      A benefit of pebble beaches is no sand on everything.

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  3. Goodness you certainly have our beach backs covered in this excellent and comprehensive post. I do love the sea and I do love beaches and cliffs and Rocky shorelines and the sound of pebbles scrunching under my feet. But I also love solitude so my need list includes a cloak of invisibility if it’s summer time. And a donkey. Brita will understand that one 😊

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  4. Thank you for taking us along on the lovely beaches! Your description of the topless bathers made me smile, and recalled my very first trip to France at age 15, to Paris, Normandy, and Nice for a summer, living with French families. I recall being very surprised at the cailloux rather than sand. And of course, the comfort with which women sunbathed topless regardless of age.

    I rarely go in the sun any longer. The last time, well slathered with protection, was several years ago to a very pretty area of northern Florida. Not too crowded, nice sand, friendly people. (When I go anywhere, friendly people are often the best part of the adventure.)

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  5. Yes! The first pebbly beach I saw so long ago in France was a real shocker to me, too!
    It’s funny about the sun–I see about equal numbers of completely covered and completely naked kids, with the rest in regular swimsuits. A few years ago, rash guards were rare on children and never seen on adults.

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  6. This is so interesting. I’m not a beach person. Never have been. I love to be near the water…overlooking the water, or on a boat. We have shell beaches here and pebble. Some of the other small islands have sand. There are a group of people who call themselves the seals and swim year round in wet suits. It started out as some women who were cancer survivors and grew from there.

    The Pacific Northwest is as hot as the South of France right now. I would hate the long lines of traffic at this time of year in France and not being able to get to some of my favourite places.

    Ali

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    1. It looks beautiful there. After a hot start, the summer has been lovely, in the 85-90 degree range, with cool nights. Warm enough to be “summer” but not so hot that you can’t move without sweating.

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  7. I love seeing these shots of the Mediterranean. No sun bathing for me. I just went back to the dermatologist and had four places frozen and one cut off to check for more skin cancer. Cannot imagine going nude or topless in the sun.

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  8. LOL. A naturalist is someone interested in natural history. I am a naturalist and I spent this morning walking across the estuary sands from Avranches to Mont Saint Michel. I can assure you I was fully clothed at all times (as proof of this, I only have windburn on my face). The word you are looking for is naturist.

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  9. The first French beach I saw was in Nice. Talk about pebbles!
    I want to be near water, or on it, but have never been much interested in sitting around on sand and baking. That said, I’ve swum in Mallorca in late October, and the water was lovely.

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  10. Been following your blog since you started – we used to live near Carca and I have loved seeing what you have done with the apartments. We now manage a wine Chateau near Narbonne plage so if you fancy a wine tasting next time you come down for some sea air please pop in. I will e-mail you our contact details.

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