For many people, summer on the beaches of
southwest France conjures up images of long, sun-blessed days along miles of
golden sand beaches.
But in Biarritz, the region’s most famous beach
resort, this is no longer an accurate picture. Local authorities have recently forbidden
bathing and nautical activities due to dangerously high levels of pollution.
May has been unusually wet, stormy and cold
for the southwest of France. Heavy rainfall in the middle of the month has already
caused flooding in parts of the Bearn region, inland of Biarritz, and the
French meteorological agency has issued flood warnings for the whole area in
the upcoming days. This river and rain runoff, combined with strong onshore
winds, has led to high levels of sea pollution.
It’s not the first time that beaches in the
area have been closed. The popular surfing beaches of Hossegor and Capbreton,
40km north of Biarritz, were closed for 10 days in early May after a motorway
accident led to chemicals contaminating the water. But many locals will tell
you that even in good times, the area’s sewage system is unable to cope with
the summer crowds. Combined with the funnelling affect of the Bay of Biscay trapping
litter and debris in the north Atlantic, this means the beaches are routinely
closed due to dangerous levels of bacterial pollution.
The current order affects all the beaches
in the suburb of Anglet, which are the most popular with locals, tourists and
surfers. For the moment there is no indication how long the ruling will remain
in place, but with rain forecast until the start of next week, anyone planning
a beach holiday to the Biarritz area should look elsewhere. In particular, the
beautifully contorted coastline of Brittany in northern France is currently
basking in the sunshine – and is forecast to do so for a little while longer.