"Mel and I lay on the beach and talked about life, swam and surfed constantly, met new friends and generally made the most of living in such a magical spot for a short moment in time."
When I was 21, I spent the three months of summer working as a nanny in a tiny French beach town. To this day I'm not quite sure how I scored such a great position - the family was easygoing and welcoming and the place was perfection, with a buzz of holidaying tourists underlaid by friendly and laid-back locals.
Everything about that summer fell into place almost like magic, and it is a mainstay in my travel memories. A neighbouring family had their young cousin come to stay and work in their surf shop, and we became fast friends. When not working we biked, walked or ran the few miles to the beach together almost every day, taking surf lessons or figuring it out ourselves with borrowed boards, tasting our way through the restaurants, befriending the eclectic locals, and once borrowing a car to drive to Biarritz, a glittering seaside city to the south. My French improved vastly, her English a little bit. We were fit from so much unintentional exercise, tanned from so much time in the sun and generally having the time of our lives for three golden months.
The star of the whole show, however, was Contis-Plage - the sandy yellow surf beach on France's southwest coast. In the heat of summer, it was crowded but nothing like the Riviera - you could always move further down the seemingly endless stretch of sand to find some privacy or a good wave.
The surf was almost always perfect, and the "Cabane" at the bottom of the dune near the lifeguard station sold the most delicious sandwiches. As the weather turned colder before I left and a few storms rolled in, it was moody and atmospheric and the ideal place for those long walks. Mel and I lay on the beach and talked about life, swam and surfed constantly, met new friends and generally made the most of living in such a magical spot for a short moment in time.
There have been many formative beaches in my life! On the list are the black sand coastlines of Auckland's west coast, Cook's Beach in the Coromandel with a sparkling estuary that forms the scene of many memories, and the numerous hidden coves around the Hauraki Gulf, accessible to me only thanks to my parent's trailer yacht.
Contis sticks in my mind above them all, and it's not entirely about the beach itself. I think we become attached to particular places in large part because of circumstance - the people, the weather, the stars aligning for that minute or that day or that season. I'm sure if I went back it wouldn't quite be the same. However, it's undoubtedly one of those special spots on this earth. I know that it will be the beloved location of treasured adventures for myriad people as the years go by!
Sarah is a writer, traveller and crazy cat lover living and working in Auckland, NZ. You can follow her cat on Instagram - @snapcatpeter
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