Soulac-sur-Mer and its UNESCO Notre-Dame basilica

Soulac-sur-Mer (Fr. Soulac-sur-Mer) is a town in the southwest of France, in the department of Gironde, in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region.

An integral part of the former province of Guyenne (north of Gascony), in the northern part of the Medoc peninsula, it falls within the perimeter of the Landes de Gascogne, the Landes woods, and in the extension of the point of Grave. Its inhabitants are called the Soulacais.

Third town in the canton of Nord-Médoc behind Lesparre-Médoc and Pauillac, is a seaside and climatic resort, benefiting from the presence on its territory of a vast pine forest, four white sandy beaches overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, a casino and tourist and commercial infrastructure. It is only 12 kilometres from Royan (which can be reached all year round by a ferry service) and is located 86 kilometres north-west of Bordeaux. In addition to its tourist functions, Soulac is a small commercial and service centre exerting its influence on the neighbouring municipalities (supermarkets, business area, etc.); the city also has a small oyster port, the port of Neyran.

Important port on the Gironde in the Middle Ages, the city is also a stage on the road to Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, where many pilgrims stop in the Notre-Dame basilica, before continuing by the road to Soulac. At the end of the Hundred Years War, the relief army sent by the King of England, Duke of Aquitaine Henry VI and commanded by John Talbot landed there.

Gradually invaded by the dunes, the city entered a period of decline from which it did not emerge until the nineteenth century, due to the fashion for sea bathing, the curative virtues of which were discovered, as well as the beneficial influence of fumes from pine trees, especially respiratory diseases. Seaside villas and bourgeois buildings, but relatively modest, emerge from the dunes, forming the embryo of the current city.

Being attached to both the Silver Coast and the Beauty Coast, Soulac is visited every summer by nearly 30,000 holidaymakers.

Tourism and main attractions

The Notre-Dame-de-la-fin-des-Terres basilica. This vast pilgrimage church was built during the twelfth century at the instigation of the Benedictine monks. Located on one of the paths of Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle (chemin de Soulac), it is frequented by many visitors during the great hours of the Compostellan pilgrimage, who come to venerate the relics of Saint Véronique (presumed evangelizer of the Medoc ) as well as a drop of milk attributed to the Virgin Mary. Very marked by the Romanesque styles of Saintonge and Poitou, it must be altered several times during its history, the constant movement of the dunes regularly undermining its structure. Its restoration was implemented from 1859 to 1905, when Soulac began its conversion into a seaside resort.

The basilica has been classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1998.

The Notre-Dame church stands a few kilometres from the city centre, in the heart of a hamlet bearing the name of Jeune-Soulac. This name is explained by the fact that the inhabitants had to completely rebuild their village in this place after the “Vieux-Soulac” (the current city centre) was almost completely buried under the dunes. The first houses of the “Jeune-Soulac” were built in 1741, the new parish church being built in 1745.

This very sober building takes the form of a single rectangular vessel divided into three bays. It is preceded by a squat bell tower-porch. The old cemetery which surrounded the sanctuary was transferred in 1864, giving way to a green space. The church is now abandoned and serves as a setting for occasional cultural events.

The fountain at Place Clemenceau, the work of artists Mathurin Moreau (designer) and Michel Joseph Napoléon Liénard (sculptures), is one of two monumental fountains created in 1857 and 1858, under the mandate of Mayor Antoine Gautier, to adorn the famous allées de Tourny in Bordeaux, one of the main arteries of the Gironde metropolis.

The construction of the current casino started in the early 1970s, thanks to a major redevelopment plan for the seafront to revitalize the resort.

Work of the architect Robert Bedout, it is one of the centrepieces of an ensemble comprising the museum of art and archaeology and the convention centre. It was inaugurated on 1 July 1970.

The establishment has a game room, nightclub, bar and restaurant.

The main cultural establishment of the town is the museum of art and archaeology, housed since 1976 in a modernist building located near the seafront. Established on two levels, it brings together collections evoking the history of the Medullan Peninsula from the origins to the present day.

More than a thousand pieces are on display there, from a skeleton of antiquus elephas (prehistoric ancestor of elephants) discovered on the site of the Pointe de la Négade to a series of marine cannons from a merchant ship. The first floor is devoted to local artistic productions (paintings and lithographs in particular).

The museum serves as a setting for one-off exhibitions (fine arts fair, photography month, cap science fair).

Gastronomy and restaurants

The Médoc gastronomy gives an important place to the products of the sea, the river (Gironde) and the land. Fish (shad, eel, sardine, pibale, hake, monkfish …) are an essential component of the Medoc table. Shad, caught with “bichareyre” (gillnet), is served grilled or accompanied by sorrel, while lamprey à la bordelaise is topped with a wine sauce and often accompanied by a leek fondue.

The pibales or elvers are eel fry, traditionally caught in the estuary and served in a pan with garlic. If oyster farming is now only little present in the north of the peninsula (Soulac, Saint-Vivien-de-Médoc), the production of prawns has been introduced there since the 1980s. White shrimps or “bichettes” are simply prepared grilled or with anise.

The Pauillac lamb is a flagship product of the region and is served grilled on vine branches.

Finally, the Médoc attic is a charcuterie made from rolled pork belly. The Médoc also produces sweets: Médoc hazelnuts (caramelized hazelnuts) and Médoc branches (chocolate sticks). Accompanying these typical products, Médoc wines are internationally renowned: Château Latour, Château Lafite, Château Margaux and Château Mouton Rothschild are some famous examples. They are also the basis of some by-products, including Médoc wine jelly, traditionally served as an accompaniment to cheeses or used to deglaze sauces.

Best restaurants are located near seafront.

Beaches

There are four main beaches in Soulac-sur-Mer: Plage Centrale, Plage Sud Soulac, Casino Beach, Camping Le Palace. All beaches are sandy and good for kids.

Shopping

Shopping is not a priority on a tourist program.

The market is held every day of the week from 6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (as well as from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in July-August) under the covered halls, located on Place sur Marché (at the intersection of rue Brémontier and the Beach). A large market is held outdoors every Thursday morning on the outskirts of the square.

The city hosts two gastronomic fairs (July 14 and August 15) focused on products from the Gironde region (foie gras, Médoc wines, noble fish, Pauillac lamb, duck terrines in particular).

Transport and how to get to?

Nearest airport is Bordeaux–Mérignac Airport. It takes 1 h 46 min (94.5 km) via D1215 to reach Bordeaux

There is also a regular ferry connection with Royan.

Shortest distances by car:

From La Baule-Escoublac (tolls, ferry): 4 h 21 min (300 km) via A83

From Saint-Nazaire (tolls, ferry): 4 h 19 min (286 km) via A83

From Nantes (tolls, ferry): 3 h 33 min (222 km) via A83

From Cognac (tolls, ferry): 1 h 55 min (84.8 km) via N141 and N150

From Angoulême (tolls, ferry): 2 h 28 min (131 km) via N141

From Arcachon: 2 h 7 min (140 km) via D5

From Royan (ferry):52 min (17.3 km) via Bac Royan-Pointe de Grave and D1215

From Les Sables-d’Olonne (tolls, ferry): 3 h 27 min (189 km) via D949

From Biarritz (tolls): 3 h 18 min (279 km) via A63

From Bayonne (tolls): 3 h 6 min (265 km) via A63

From Dax (tolls): 2 h 53 min (227 km) via A63

From Saumur (tolls, ferry): 3 h 37 min (249 km) via A10

From Bordeaux: 1 h 48 min (94.5 km) via D1215

From La Rochelle (tolls, ferry): 2 h 1 min (90.4 km) via D733

From Toulouse (tolls): 3 h 58 min (339 km) via A62

From Carcassonne (tolls): 4 h 40 min (429 km) via A62

From Monaco (tolls): 9 h 5 min (918 km) via A62

From Nice (tolls): 8 h 52 min (897 km) via A62

From Cannes (tolls): 8 h 42 min (870 km) via A62

From Saint-Tropez (tolls): 8 h 41 min (843 km) via A62

From Marseille (tolls): 7 h 37 min (739 km) via A62

From Avignon (tolls): 6 h 52 min (666 km) via A62

From Montpellier (tolls): 6 h 1 min (579 km) via A61 and A62

From Béziers (tolls): 5 h 25 min (516 km) via A61 and A62

From Perpignan (tolls): 5 h 36 min (543 km) via A61 and A62

From Narbonne (tolls): 5 h 10 min (487 km) via A61 and A62

From Andorra (tolls): 6 h 11 min (520 km) via A62

Main information

Area: 29 sq. km

Population: 2 800

Languages: French

Currency: euro

Visa: Schengen

Time: Central European UTC +1

GPS coordinates: 45° 30′ 43″ N, 1° 07′ 25″ E

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