Aire/Stellplatz: LA BARRE/CHIBERTA Avenue de l'Adour (Aquitaine)
GPS Decimal: 43.52617 N -1.51489 W
Aire Location (static):
Aire Surroundings (interactive) NB - not compatible with all phone models:
(Best viewed with Google Maps App for mobiles - details here)
Per night: 6 Euros collected by Police Municipale (2010) - maximum stay 48 hours (in theory..)
Open July-August only.
The main trick with this Aire is finding its entrance - the GPS co-ordinates above (and on our SatNav POI file) will take you straight there, but if you're navigating by the traditional method, don't be tempted to turn off the D405 Boulevard des Plages/Avenue de l'Adour roundabout into the La Barre/Lac Chiberta beach complex, as it won't take you to the Aire, and it also has height barriers. The actual entrance is close to the Rond-Point de la Capitainerie (roundabout), a few hundred metres to the East (direction Bayonne) of the junction described above. You can see the entrance gate here in Google Streetview. If you choose to tour around in Streetview to take a look at the Aire, don't be put off by the unusual range of vehicles visible - it's only open to camper vans in July and August, and the Google Streetview image was clearly taken at a different time of the year.
By the way, although the nominal limit for stopping is 48 hours, the Police Municipale are generally very laid back around here, and in conversation with other camper owners it was clear the '48 hours' had been stretched to weeks if not months in some cases. I mean what's the point of turfing someone off an Aire after only two days if it's not full and they want to pay good money to stay there a bit longer? I suspect (like at Anglet just down the road) the 48 hour rule is only imposed if your vehicle looks a bit too much like a battered old graffiti-covered panel van, you're clad in multicoloured pantaloons and an oversized unwashed jumper, and your wandering unleashed dogs are becoming a nuisance to everyone around you. In short, Crusties tend to get moved on, whilst the tax-payers who subsidise the Aire network get to stay as long as they like. C'est la vie, as they say in France.
So, having got there, what's it like? We were quite pleasantly surprised by this Aire, having seen pictures suggesting it was little more than a bare gravel spread in a dip by the road. In fact it has a number of useful features that make it well worth a stay here. There are no marked bays, and not a lot of shade, but assuming the Aire isn't too full you can choose between parking on gravel or parking on the more grassy edges where there's more sitting out space. Just take care not to drive over any soft sand and sink up to your axles if you go for the less gravelly option, as one unfortunate couple did during our stay. We collectively managed to dig them out in the end, with their dignity almost intact.
On the north side of the Aire is the River Adour, along which vessels of all sizes pass by as they enter and leave the port zone on the opposite side of the river. You can definitely have your Otis Redding Dock of the Bay moment here, just like at Calais. A stone-built access bridge for the port's navigation lights provides a convenient fishing spot for those of that persuasion (see page top photo at right), and an ideal spot for those who simply prefer sitting in the morning sun watching the ships roll in etc etc.
Directly to the south, and just over the road is the substantial expanse of the Chiberta Forest, complete with winding paths, cycle tracks, and other foresty forms of amusement, including one of those terrifying looking treetop rope courses that you tackle with safety ropes and helmets. Between the Aire and the sea is Lac Chiberta, a purpose-built conservation area with information centre and no entry charge. This is just as well, because it doesn't appear to have a great deal of wildlife either, well at least not in summer anyway. All we saw on our visit was a couple of ducks, a few small fish, and a hungover refugee from the Fetes de Bayonne having what he thought was a discrete poo on the opposite shore of the lake. I imagine the conservation area is more lively during major bird migration periods than it is in late July.
Next door is the La Barre/Chiberta beachside complex, which amongst other things has a bus terminus for services to Biarritz, Anglet, and Bayonne (or BAB as they're known locally), and a low cost Navette Plages service that stops at all the main beaches to the south, including Milady and Marbella Plages on the other side of Biarritz. The complex includes an ice rink if you feel the need to cool down, and a MacDonalds if you feel the need to blindly indulge in American-inspired obesity. The frontage of the MacDonalds has rather amusingly been mocked up to look like traditional Basque architecture - what would General de Gaulle have said? There is a range of beaches, some offering sheltered small waves suitable for the little ones, and others offering world class surfing waves under certain conditions. La Barre is most definitely in the surfer's pantheon of great places to be when the surf's up, although this isn't always in the summer months. The main beaches are a bit of a hike from the Aire if you're carrying boards and the like, but are not beyond the best efforts of the majority, even when it's hot. Creative use of a bike and webbing straps may help here. You can walk the length of the Anglet coastline on a path at the back of the beaches, and cycle it along the cycle track beside the D405 Boulevard des Plages.
There is also a pleasant and well-defined cycle track that runs parallel to (and often alongside) the River Adour past the port zone and marina, then all the way into the centre of the old fortified city of Bayonne. If you should pass this way in late July or early August, you will rapidly become aware of the local significance of the Fetes de Bayonne. I won't go into huge detail here, but basically it is a major celebration of Basque culture where everybody but you dresses up in red and white, makes a beeline for Bayonne and spends most of the day drinking, listening to traditional bands, parading around the streets, drinking, being chased by bulls in the Place Paul Bert, drinking and partying 'til the wee small hours, then (in the case of the younger contingent) drinking then sleeping it off on the beaches of Anglet. Did I mention drinking? It's all a bit mad, and the side alleys of Bayonne rapidly become pungent shrines to the French national tradition of public urination, but it's not anything like as rowdy as you might think, and it's well worth a look.
When you need to shop, there's a small Utile supermarket set back from the main D5 Ave de l'Adour on the left just past the first set of traffic lights in the direction of Bayonne. After that there's a similar-sized roadside SuperCasino on the left a bit further along. Larger supermarkets can be found along the D260 Boulevard du B.A.B. in Anglet.
All in all, for a 6 Euro a night patch of gravel beside the mouth of the River Adour, the La Barre/Chiberta Aire offers a great variety of things to do and see, especially in late July. I can begin to understand why our immediate neighbours had stayed there for the best part of four weeks, and why the German surf tribe on the grassy bit were stopping there for most of the summer.
Possibly the only drawback of this Aire is that the service point is about 200 metres back up the track near the entrance/exit gate, so it's a bit of a trek with the jerrycans and the loo cassette. However it's all free, and the occasional walk with straining shoulder joints seems like a small price to pay. We'll definitely be back.
On the plus side: Loads to do and see in the vicinity, variety of parking spots, great cycle track access, bus stops and beaches nearby.
But: Service point is some way from the parking area, and not much natural shade when it's hot.
Alternative Aires: The obvious alternative is Anglet, a short distance down the Boulevard des Plages in the direction of Biarritz. There is also the Avenue Milady Aire on the south side of Biarritz, but this tends to get crowded quite easily, and isn't as quiet as Anglet. During the Fetes de Bayonne, camper vans can stop overnight in the car park between the River Adour and the D5 Avenue des Marines just west of where the N22 crosses the Pont Henri Grenet. Be aware however that younger revellers crash out in the roadside verges all around this car park, so your chances of a quiet night's sleep wil be similar to those of kipping in the car park on the last night of the Leeds or Reading Festivals.
Around Bayonne: click thumbnail for bigger picture:
All text, code, video, POIs & images copyright 2010 airetoday.co.uk & magic surf bus