If you like your beaches on the quiet side, you might be better off heading to landlocked Limousin than one of France’s many coastal resorts. Sometimes referred to as the lake district of France, Limousin is home to 23,000 lakes. The largest, Vassivière, is an enormous expanse of around 10km2. As well as providing water and hydroelectricity this manmade reservoir has pretty much everything you need for a perfect day at the beach, minus the crowds and the extortionate prices.
A beach for all weathers
Since moving to the Limousin, I’ve discovered that beaches have something to offer no matter the season. As a mum of five, I often find myself driving the 20 minutes it takes to get us lakeside, in all manner of weathers, wrestling struggling children into waterproofs or using jumpers as towels after impromptu swims.
While it can be a little cold in the winter months, it never fails to be stunningly beautiful, and walks on the beach always leave us all shivering but invigorated.
Despite having several sandy beaches, an island and enough water sport opportunities to satisfy fanatics, the lake still feels tranquil and relatively remote. This is, in part, due to the fact that it falls inside the ‘Millevaches Regional Natural Park,’ a conservation area meaning building opportunities are limited.
This is great news for families on a budget, and not only because, although there’s a couple of kiosks in summer and restaurants close by, there are no real opportunities to buy beach merch, and ice-cream remains avoidable if you’re feeling a little short of cash. It means visiting the beach can be an affordable, regular activity during school holidays.
While you still need to keep an eye on the kids in the water, the lake is more predictable than the sea for swimming and paddling. Without waves and strong currents, playing or swimming in the water perhaps lacks an element of fun that the sea provides, but when you’re keeping an eye on little ones, it’s nice to know you don’t have to worry about these hazards. If you’ve ever been knocked over by the salty slap of a wave, you’ll probably welcome this gently rippling alternative.
Whether you’re into sailing, kayak, motor boating, windsurfing, paddleboarding or want to try your hand on an inflatable obstacle course, there’s plenty to do in the summer months. As well as water sports, there’s local crazy golf and treetop obstacle courses to combat. And if you’re more into sandcastles or sunbathing, there are plenty of opportunity for that too.
The isle de Vassivière in the centre of the lake can be accessed by a road bridge, or a taxi boat and hosts an artists’ retreat, artisan bakery, sculpture walk and even its own art gallery.
Unless you’re heading there in the summer months, when tourism suddenly explodes, you’ll find the area surprisingly quiet. In September, the weather can still hit heady summer temperatures, but the beaches often remain fairly quiet, or even empty. It’s one of the few places where you can still pretend to have your own private beach, at least sometimes!
Gillian Harvey is a freelance writer and author living in Limousin, France, with her husband and five children.