For a weekend, by car or by bike, here are four peaceful and authentic ports just waiting to be discovered.
PORT DE SAINT-CHRISTOLY
Departing from Lesparre-Médoc, the port de Saint-Christoly will instantly work its magic spell with its quaint tree-planted square for picnics in the shade. Then you'll see the lovely brick houses along the grassy banks, signs of previous affluence when the port saw fishing boats coming in laden with lampreys, elvers and herring. The port is still working and it's a pleasure to watch the toing and froing of the small fleet.
A walk along the river banks offers stunning views over the Gironde estuary.
PORT DE GOULÉE
The D2 road leads straight to Valeyrac and its tiny “Port de Goulée”, one of the most scenic spots in the area, with a wide canal that heads deep into the heart of the marshlands and winds through the bushy reeds. You can't see the estuary, it's slightly further out, but depending on the winds and tides, you'll be able to feel the presence of the river close at hand.
PORT DE RICHARD
Port de Richard is more of a haven for small boats that an actual port but it's full of charm with its narrow canal and spattering of old boats.
Just steps away, the phare de Richard lighthouse is worth a look: an impressive building to visit, homage to working memory. You'll also find a friendly café and for the courageous, an easy walk into the heart of the dried marshlands. From the top of the tower you'll be able to appreciate an exceptional panoramic view across the estuary with its fishing cabins and marshlands.
PORT DE SAINT-VIVIEN-DE-MEDOC
Just steps away from the Atlantic ocean, the port de Saint-Vivien-de-Médoc is a haven of peace. Bigger and better structured than the others, it is also in the middle of nature, surrounded by reeds and tamarisk trees.
Walkers love the place and come here to take a stroll and eat locally produced gambas and seafood washed down with a glass of wine in a picture postcard setting. One of the prettiest ways to get close to the surrounding nature is to take a kayak and set off for a peaceful hour on the water.
The gourmets and the curious can end their trip with a visit to the Eau Médoc fish farm. Here Bertrand Jung explains how he rears gambas and oysters so delicious that some producers from the Arcachon Bassin are starting to move production to the Medoc...
Get to taste local produce, such as Medoc oysters, on Wednesday mornings at the weekly market in Saint-Vivien, where locals and holiday-makers love to mingle.
To see and do
• The Phare Richard, entrance to the lighthouse and museum: €2.
www.phare-richard.com. Tel +33(0)5 56 09 52 39.
• Eau Médoc Fish Farm, guided visit and tasting session: €5.
Tel +33(0)5 56 09 58 32. www.bienvenue-a-la-ferme.com
• Kayak et Découvertes, 1 hour kayak rental: €10. At port de Saint-Vivien. http://kayak-et-decouvertes.blogspot.com
Where to eat?
• Restaurant and Guest House La Maison du Douanier, in Saint-Christoly-Médoc. The best address in the area.
Tel +33(0)5 56 41 25 35 www.lamaisondudouanier.com
• Guinguette le Canoë, at port de Goulée, Valeyrac. Tel +33(0)5 56 41 51 31
• La Buvette du Phare, at the phare de Richard lighthouse. Open June to September.
Where to sleep?
• Guest house and gîtes Les Près de Joussac, In a former coaching inn, in the heart of 19 hectares of meadows and marshland.
Tel +33(0)6 06 96 59 23 www.les-pres-de-joussac.eu