Summer holiday (after lockdown)

If you’re planning a break on the French coast this year, how might it look? One French resident travelled to the seaside resort of Moliets to find out


Wearing a face mask which matched her uniform and keeping a discreet distance as she showed us to our villa, Joanna La Forge, sales and marketing director at Summer France, explained: “We’re aiming to find a balance between making people feel welcome and following correct safety protocols.”

As France relaxed its lockdown restrictions, we had travelled from our own home near Toulouse to Moliets in the Landes region, on the coast around an hour north of Biarritz, to discover what kind of experience you might expect from a French beach holiday this year.

Like many, we had booked a private villa with pool so that we could feel in control of our own space — a particularly popular choice this year, according to La Forge, who has seen a flurry of new bookings in recent weeks.

And after months at home, it was wonderful to lounge by our private pool and enjoy dinner outside on the large terrace. Back at the villa, the sliding patio doors in both the master bedroom and the living room gave the whole place an airy indoor/outdoor feel.

There was also a large, private garden — an ideal play area for younger children — and a well-equipped kitchen with full-sized fridge/freezer and proper oven so we could self-cater, although breakfast can be delivered to your door. We also had a washing machine and tumble dryer.

It was much more than simply a place to have breakfast before whizzing out to the beach and returning to shower and sleep — this was a place made for long, lazy days and relaxing evenings. Just what you want from a holiday at any time, but all the more so this year.

Although, with the beach just a short bike ride from our villa, relaxing on the sand was definitely an option too. Until June 2, those beaches which were open were classified “dynamique”, meaning you could swim, surf, sail or walk but you couldn’t put down your towel and sunbathe — you had to keep moving.

Now, the vast majority of beaches are back to normal and you can do what you like, as long as there are fewer than 10 in your group and you stay at least a metre or two away from other groups.

Each region is able to set its own exact rules, with some patrolled by both lifeguards and police to ensure social distancing is maintained.

But all this sounds a lot more Big Brother than it actually is. When we visited Moliets in June, the first day we had been allowed to travel more than 100km since March, the beach was quiet but it was business as usual.

People swam, children built sandcastles and surfers surfed. No one wore masks. It felt like any other day at the seaside.

In the restaurants, it was a little more obvious that things had changed. Arrows on the floor directed customers to come in one door and leave through another where possible.

At Grill de l’Océan, one of the few restaurants open on what was effectively the first day of the season, they were following all the safety protocols laid down by the Government. At the entrance, we were given a large squirt of hand sanitiser and offered the chance to download a menu from a QR code (though traditional menus were also available).

Masks were obligatory while coming in, going out or moving around the restaurant but once at the table, they weren’t necessary. No eating or drinking was allowed at the bar and the waiters wore masks all the time.

There were no salt and pepper pots on the table —though paper sachets were available on request — and as each group left, the chairs were thoroughly wiped down, along with the tables.

However, the atmosphere was one of celebration rather than fear or nervousness, as everyone delighted in being able to visit a restaurant for the first time in months. Once seated at the table, apart from the staff’s masks, things felt normal.

The rules here are fairly simple, even if your French is normally limited to ordering baguettes and a bouteille or two of wine. In most tourist resorts, there are pictures or signs in various languages to remind you what to do. And if in doubt, if you follow the lead of those around you, you are unlikely to go far wrong.

Aline Marchand, the mayor of Moliets, was feeling positive about the summer season when I met her during our visit. “All of the Landes beaches are fully open,” she said.

“They are very large and there is plenty of room for social distancing. Visitors will be able to do almost all the things they like to do on holiday this summer — golf, walks in groups of less than 10 and cycling. Most of the markets are open as usual and many smaller events where we can limit numbers will take place.

“We have had to cancel our July 14 fireworks though, because the crowds are too large. But people can swim, surf, sunbathe and picnic as they want. Everything is open and we are looking forward to welcoming our guests.”

The golf course was already looking busy and Adrenaline Parc — a high ropes course with air bags and the like — was also open. We hired bikes from Vélos du Golf to explore some of the many local cycle paths, past the main town beach and down to the near-deserted Plage de Chênes-Lièges, then back through the golf course.

Most hotels throughout the country are expected to be open this summer, as well as campsites where people have private washing facilities (such as in mobile homes).

Campsites with shared shower blocks and toilets are opening with new measures in place, including extra cleaning and strict social distancing rules. The numbers allowed to stay might be lower than usual and guests will be expected to socially distance in the restaurants and bars.

Many hotels are offering table service even where they would usually offer a buffet, or plating up individual portions for people to help themselves. Public and shared pools are generally open, though where social distancing is tricky on the terraces, sunbathing may be forbidden and/or the numbers entering restricted.

If you’re self-catering — or searching for souvenirs — shop owners have the right to refuse you entry without a mask should they wish but generally, while the shop staff themselves usually wear masks, it is up to the customers to decide if they want to or not.

At some shops you may have to queue to get in, though rarely in supermarkets. Some changing rooms are open and they quarantine the clothes after they have been tried on; others are closed. Many shops have perspex screens to protect the person behind the cash register.

Most markets have reopened as well — some busier ones, such as the night market at Moliets, are still cancelled, while others have been operating a one-way system, with hand sanitiser at the entrance. But in many cases, the chance to stroll between stalls, picking up food and soaking up the atmosphere, is unchanged this summer.

One service station we stopped at was counting people in and out, which could lead to large queues in high summer as you drive to your destination, but even this was far from universal.

In fact, unless you are travelling in a group larger than 10, apart from the presence of masks, there is little that will make this summer’s holiday in France very different to any other. Bonnes vacances!



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