When I was five, I started ballet lessons. Every week I couldn’t wait to put on my leotard, scrape my hair into a bun and practice my pliés and pas-de-bras with fifteen other girls in the local village hall. Our annual performance in the city theatre was the highlight of my year; I tied the ribbons to my pointe shoes with pride, basking in the delight that came with having the elite status of a wearing a tutu as I passed my final exams with distinction.
Surfing, on the other hand, I had never tried, nor had I ever been inclined to.
Living in the middle of England, I’m not particularly close to the sea, and I haven’t many friends who were interested in the sport, so I suppose the opportunity had never arisen.
Cue turning 25 and deciding to say yes to everything.
I’ve already spoken about how the past year has been somewhat of a quarter-life crisis for me, but with every cloud comes a silver lining, which has been doing things that push me out of my comfort zone and challenge me – like going to India for a month solo and climbing Tryfan, a mountain in Wales, in the snow.
Surfing then, would be another opportunity to try something new. Pourquoi pas?
Olly and James opened Sanctuary Surf last year. I met Olly back in 2012 when we both taught English in Pau in Southwest France. Whilst I went off to New Zealand, Olly and James began brainstorming an innovative, unique concept that would soon become something more than just ideas thrown around whilst driving to and from the beach.
Sanctuary Surf isn’t like other surf camps.
Firstly, it’s less of a camp and more of a retreat (hence ‘Sanctuary’). You’ll experience the comfort of their duck-down duvets and (probably) never want to sleep in your own bed again. Secondly, it’s the only place in France to offer such massive tents at a surf camp, alongside home-cooked food and great conversation – you’ll feel completely at home (but won’t have to do the washing up!). And finally, Sanctuary Surf is in beautiful, sunny France, perfectly situated between Bordeaux, the coast, and Lac d’Hourtin.
Here’s why you need to book your visit to Sanctuary Surf this summer.
Contrary to its name, Sanctuary Surf offer more than just surfing to its guests. As well as catching the waves, you can go stand-up paddle boarding, horse riding, cooking classes and even yoga – making your retreat the perfect time to try something new.
Fully qualified professionals will take you out to the sea and teach you how to catch waves – from your initial demonstration of how to position yourself on the board, to tips on keeping your balance while stood on a piece of foam in the middle of the ocean! Isaac was a natural; after just a couple of hours in the water he’d managed to stand up numerous times – I, on the other hand, mastered the art of hanging on for dear life on my belly.
When you’re all surfed out, take it down a notch with Stand Up Paddle Boarding on the nearly Lake d’Hourtin. It’s actually a lot more difficult than it looks, requiring a lot of core strength! The SUP Boards are new this year, so you’ll be one of the first to use them if you visit this season.
But the beauty of Sanctuary Surf is that your days aren’t strictly structured into a tight schedule – you can simply do what you want, when you want. So early risers can happily catch the waves until lunchtime, or if you prefer you can chill at your tent or on the beach in the sun. You really can do as much or as little as you want – it’s your retreat after all.
Sanctuary Surf offers all the fun parts of camping without the freezing cold temperatures, uncomfortable nights sleep, or inevitable leak in the roof.
Staying in the largest bell tents on the market, Sanctuary Surf will ensure your stay is as comfortable as possible; the newly purchased mattresses are dressed with Egyptian cotton, goose-down duvets and more pillows than you thought you needed, meaning you quite literally sink into these beds as if you’re being encircled by a soft, cushiony cloud. After a day on the waves, a good nights sleep is exactly what you’ll need, and exactly what you’ll get at Sanctuary Surf.
The tents are fully furnished so you can unpack your belongings and don’t have to live out of your suitcase. A connected toilet block ensures you can use the bathroom and shower at ease, and you also have full use of the communal areas. The main gazebo boasts a living room area, dining table and even a bar – although the boys are planning on expanding this room even further next year.
Evenings are never a drag, with warm lighting and comfortable sofas ensuring you feel right at home as you enjoy a glass or red or a canalé (the speciality sweet of Bordeaux). Board games, books, a game of pool, or a movie night all ways to relax, or you can simply engage in good conversation with Olly and James.
Head chef James knows his stuff. He’s creates all his dishes from scratch using the finest quality ingredients, all sourced locally. There is no set menu and no set dining times, as he creates unique dishes for each group of guests based on what they want to eat and when they want to eat it.
I decided to go vegetarian for this holiday (veganism isn’t agreeing with me at the moment healthwise), but James assured me beforehand that he is more than happy to cater to any special dietary requirements.
To kickstart our day, we enjoyed boiled eggs with soldiers, fresh pastries and cereals. Apparently pancakes make a regular occurance so that’s one reason for me to go back!
After spending on the waves, we headed back to the camp for lunch, where James had prepared a delicious salad with cheese and tomato bruschetta and roasted new potatoes. If you prefer to eat at the beach, you can take a picnic hamper with you.
Dinner included roasted mushrooms stuffed with parmesan (pork belly for the boys) and on our second night we had barbecued Mediterranean veggies with salads and cous cous…
And the food didn’t stop there; ever the perfectionist, James whipped us up some yogurt with fruit and crumbled biscuits, desserts included fresh fruits and canalé, the specialty pastry of Bordeaux.
Each meal was accompanied by a glass of wine, sangria, a beer or something a little stronger (Isaac found a new love for Pastis) — apart from breakfast of course; we had tea, coffee and fruit juice.
Whilst I’m by no means an expert chef, even I could tell that this was really bloody good food. James and Olly have created a gourmet dining experience in a comfortable, down-to-earth setting – there’s no snobbiness about the quality of the dishes; rather, decent conversation, laughter and shared anecdotes accompany you at the dinner table.
Despite being a surf camp, Sanctuary Surf isn’t located on to the beach. This might come as a disappointment, but we soon realised that such proximity to la plage isn’t necessarily a good thing; with tourists descending upon the area every year, campgrounds by the coast become very busy during the summer months.
Set on a quiet campground ten minutes drive from the beach, the Sanctuary Surf tents are surrounded by the greenery of the French countryside, so you’re able to get some real peace and quiet after a hard day catching the waves. And ten minutes drive inland brings you to lac d’hourtin – the largest freshwater lake in France – which is the perfect place to try out Sanctuary Surf’s newest activity: Stand Up Paddle boarding! Without the force of the sea beneath you, you’ll soon be able to master this sport – or even attempt a headstand à la Isaac.
The campground also only a short drive into the main town if you fancy heading out for a drink or a visit to the boulangerie for a chocolatine, and is just an hour’s drive from the beautiful city of Bordeaux and its airport. This really is the perfect location: being slap bang in between the sea and a lake, Sanctuary Surf is able to offer so much more than other surf camps in France.
Ideally located in the Médoc, Sanctuary Surf offers excursions giving you the opportunity to get out and about in the local area if you want to explore the region further.
Home to miles upon miles of vineyards, this is Wine Country – and what better way to experience it than with your tastebuds? Savour the flavours of chateaux world-renowned wines with a wine-tasting excursion to one of the many beautiful french chateaux in the area, or enjoy your glass or red at dinner – it’s up to you.
Just an hour’s drive from Bordeaux, enjoy Lonely Planet’s UNESCO Heritage City of 2017 at your leisure; by foot or hire pushbike or a Segway!
Sanctuary Surf offer a range of packages to suit everyone, from a week’s all inclusive to half board accommodation for a few nights. We opted for the long-weekend all-inclusive package – but I wish we had been able to stay longer!
If you aren’t sure what option would suit you, or are simply inquisitive to know more about Sanctuary Surf, get in touch with James and Olly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
Disclosure: Isaac and I received a complimentary 2 night all-inclusive stay with surf and SUP, in exchange for writing this blog post and providing coverage of our experience on Spin the Windrose’s social media channels. All opinions are my honest encounters of my experience with Sanctuary Surf on 18-20 May 2018. I would like to thank Sanctuary Surf for the opportunity to work with them. If you are a brand or business looking to work with me, see this page.
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