IT'S difficult to say which tastes more satisfying: this afternoon's glass of Vin de Pays des Sables de l'Océan, sipped in the pine-scented Bergerie de Camentron; or this morning's mouthful of chilled Atlantic, force-funnelled as I somersaulted down the face of my first bona fide wave.
If the truth be told, such is the addictive thrill of surfing - even after only three days - that I'm not sure I can say. Certainly, the blood-red 'wine from the sand' is as bold and brash as I'd expect of Guy Dutirou's famed vineyard, near Messanges. Wine from the wave is more of a surprise. Prone on a plank, tired arms dead in the water, I glance behind just as a green wall rises above me, crashes onto itself and bear-hugs me. I grip the edges of my board, recalling the words of my instructor, fix stinging eyes on land and feel a miracle.
I am transported, board, body and grin. I know I'm going to do it even before I do. I stand up. I'm riding a wave. I'm head over heels, somersaulting into a dark void, drinking the briny swell in one, long, gurgling, heartfelt laugh. Salt water never tasted so good.
The wine was fine, too, and where better to experience both than on the sun-kissed Cte Basque, in the south-west of France. From my surf spot on the endless golden strand at Messanges and M Dutirou's winery (a gentle half-hour pedal away on the region's web of cycle paths), only the funkiest hotspot can keep this adrenalin rush going.
They don't come much funkier than nearby Biarritz, a town that found fame in 1854, when Empress Eugnie, wife of Napoleon III, fell in love with the area and ordered a palace to be built on the beach. Eugnie invited foreign royalty to stay; Queen Victoria visited regularly over a period of 30 years, and Biarritz became known as the queen of beaches and the beach of kings.
Today, Eugnie's palace is the world-class Htel du Palais, and its huge bedrooms, with period furniture and chocolate-coloured silk drapes, are still wonderfully over-the-top. Its La Rotonde restaurant, regally overlooking the beach, is perfect for sampling the traditional Basque fare created by chef Jean-Marie Gautie. Afterwards, sip a mojito in the Imperiale bar.
Out in the warm, sea-scented evening, a stroll through the town shows that the opulence of the Palais is matched by other huge houses. If I had the cash to buy one of these, I'd likely find a title such as prince, duke or baron on the dusty title deeds. Not that the beautiful people in town this evening are worried about titles. This is a vibrant, cosmopolitan town where even the glam wear shorts, and the new blue blood belongs to surfing champions such as Tom Curran, or neo-royals Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna.
In fact, Biarritz is a mecca for surfers, who come from all over the world to ride the waves. Exposed to the sea breeze in the Bay of Biscay, the ocean here has always demonstrated its force with an omnipresent western swell. Surfing followed that swell in 1956, along with the American movie writer Peter Viertel, who was filming The Sun Also Rises. By 1962, stars such as Catherine Deneuve could be seen out on a board, and today the Biarritz Surf Festival brings together wave-riders from Hawaii, California and Australia every July for a week of contests, live music and parties.
Some 150,000 spectators gather to marvel at the experts and watch tandem surfing, paddle-board racing and Tahitian pirogues. Spectators and surfers prefer to hang out on the beach, but the glitterati, who really do prefer fine wine to waves, congregate at Place Bellevue, hoping for a table at the Caf de Paris. This restaurant, the hippest in town, serves Basque dishes, including wild duck with legumes in puff pastry. You can understand why the hippie surfer types stick to scoffing karma-free crpes on the Quai de la Grande Plage.
Now that I think about it, I'm with them. I have a strange and irresistible hankering to be back in the water.
FACT FILE BIARRITZ
Crystal Active (0870 402 0275, www.crystalholidays.co.uk) offers learn-to-surf holidays in Messanges. Accommodation is in fully equipped mobile homes at the Vieux Port campsite, a five-minute stroll from the beach.
Ryanair (www.ryanair.co.uk) flies direct to Biarritz from London.
Rooms at the Htel du Palais (00 33 559 41 64 00, www.hotel-du-palais.com) cost from 370 per night for a double.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West