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History of the campsite

Le Moussaillon: the story of a campsite on the Landes coast in Messanges.

Le Moussaillon Campsite, which was set up in 1993, is a family campsite in every sense of the word. Since the outset, the family has constantly adapted to meet the every-changing needs of its clientèle. In Messanges, the Lamoliate-Munoz family offers guests a warm, family-friendly welcome and professional, responsive service.

Interview with Sandrine, the campsite manager

Sandrine talks to us about her campsite and its history. Sandrine is an ardent advocate for her region, the Landes de Gascogne, and talks to us about the holiday atmosphere of the Landes Coast, from Vieux-Boucau and Hossegor to Messanges.

Can you introduce yourself and your family?

My family, that’s easy: my mum, Anne-Marie, my dad, Michel, known as “le mousse” (first mate), my brother, Sebastien who lives a bit further away because of his work, my husband and my children, Gilles, Élora and Andrea.
I was born in the Landes and have lived in Messanges all my life; I don’t see how I could have matured and developed anywhere else; it’s impossible for me to leave this region. My life is here in Messanges and my loved ones.

Who had the idea of setting up the campsite and why?

The campsite was set up in 1993; it was the crazy idea of my dad “le mousse”.
My parents were farmers and couldn’t buy any more land to extend their farm, and I remember that they just didn’t make enough money. We didn’t want for anything but we really had to count the pennies and not ask for too much on top of what we already had.
So after careful consideration, and discussion with the then mayor, they agreed to set up several campsites in Messanges.

3 appeared in the same year.
Initially, Le Moussaillon *** was meant to be a natural area but, after lengthy discussions, from a town planning perspective, it seemed that a campsite was the best solution. Oh my! There are a whole set of different rules and regulations if you want to set up a campsite; the mayor supported all our permit applications etc. And Le Moussaillon *** was born!.

But when work began they had to find a name; my parents racked their brains for days and nights; they tried to think of a name with a reference to pine trees, resin or tapping, but there was nothing that inspired them. And then one day, they came up with “Le Moussaillon.” My father, nicknamed, “le mousse” was the youngest of 9 siblings; his youngest brother left to do military service in the navy and every time he came back on leave, he’d call his little brother “le mousse,” (first mate).
And so the name “moussaillon” was born. It’s still a name with connotations of the sea and ocean and a connection to the Landes. So, we had to create the whole campsite from scratch; at the start, the hedges were all tiny, I watered them every evening after school; my dad used to tell me “keep the hose aimed at the bottom of every hedge for 20 seconds, so you need to count up to 20.” I used to complain but I did it because everyone had to help.

You’re part of the second generation to manage Le Moussaillon; what values and practices have been passed down to you?

Oh, it’s a fancy expression, second generation, as I’ve always been here so I just do what my parents did; I do what I can so that people enjoy coming to stay with us. My contribution is IT as that’s what Generation Y is all about and we need to attract them.
Today, I think we’re on the right track with the new heated pool, which will be ready by summer 2019. We’ve modernized the existing buildings a bit, including the wash blocks, play area and games room. We’ll be introducing further changes soon but I’m not going to reveal anything today; it’s good to create a bit of suspense!

How did the campsite develop? What have been the major steps?

At the start, the campsite developed in stages; the first phase was July 1993, our first year; the ground was finished just in time for the 14th July. There was a great atmosphere and we had butterflies in our stomachs, but people gradually came. At that time, the trees and hedges were really small so you couldn’t legitimately talk about shade. People were delighted to find a place to spend the night and then leave the next day. Around the 8th August, lots of people turned up. Mum was working by herself at reception, I was relaxing at the beach, enjoying the holiday, I didn’t appreciate how much work was involved. Mum had to lock up the reception, take a group to their pitch and then come back to get the next group. When I came back from the beach with my brother, we saw all these people; my mum was exhausted but happy that that we’d manage to fill all the available spaces during our very first season. We got a bit of a ticking off and didn’t go to the beach for a swim the next day; it was the start of our lives as campsite employees!
We had some great years, during which the clients became our friends. It took us ages to lock up the reception because our clients would come and chat to us for hours. It was really great and didn’t feel like work.

The second phase was 1997 with the second wash block and a few larger, “grand confort”pitches for privately-owned mobile homes.

The third and fourth phases in 2000 and 2001 saw the construction of a pétanque pitch at the far end of the campsite and the creation of yet more “grand confort” pitches, also for mobile homes.

Next we set up 4 or 6-person chalets and more recently 4-person lodges.

In 2019, it was the pool, a huge project that we’d been mulling over for nearly 8 years but hadn’t been able to do anything about as there were various mandatory requirements, relating to disabled access, fire safety, lighting, etc, that needed to be addressed.

Today, we still work as a family, all together!

Why do people come back to Le Moussaillon?

A significant portion of our customers come back year on year and ask for the same pitch which shows that we get it right. They often come back on the same dates, even for a stay in Autumn, so they can meet up with the same neighbours who they enjoy being with.

The type of people who come camping like the nice, family-friendly atmosphere which makes them come back. At Le Moussaillon you’re more than just a number, there aren’t that many of us, and we know who is where. People greet each other throughout the day; it’s great.

And it’s ideally located for green modes of transport: bikes, motorbikes, skateboard and walking. Cars, once parked, remain on site and are only used for large shops or for transportation purposes.
Messanges has managed to retain its natural charm, with its still unspoilt beach, just one built structure on the dune, a beach snack bar and a lifeguard surveillance station. Messanges is protected by the loi Littoral (Coastal Law) which prohibits building along the coastline.

It’s a campsite where there’s no entertainment; people can rest and go and find activities and entertainment they want in other places; the village of Vieux Boucau, for example, is much livelier than Messanges.

Has the clientèle changed? Where do your clients come from? What are their habits?

Our clientèle has changed a lot; people are less patient and expect a lot more. Sometimes, it can be tiring as a campsite is a busy place with constant movement. People make the wrong choice for their holiday and then are difficult as they haven’t enjoyed themselves but it’s not a very expensive campsite and it doesn't suit everyone.

And then the campsite offers different levels of accommodation: you’ve got the tents which are right next to the chalets, as well as mobile homes and lodges. It’s all very mixed and wonderfully diverse. Everyone’s wearing summer clothing and chatting to everyone else.
Our clientèle come from different parts of the country, but especially the south, there are a lot of people from 64, 31,47, 65, 24 and 33 who own a mobile home or come every weekend as soon as the weather turns nice.
And then there are our visitors from the North who book for summer but don’t come regularly throughout the year. We have some visitors from the Paris region who want to escape the noise of the city but can’t cope when it’s too quiet so feel compelled to come in high season.

Let me tell you an anecdote: a family arrived in early July, 2 adults with either 2 or 3 children, I can’t really remember now. We welcomed them and showed them a pitch for the 5 or 6 days that they’d requested. They loved the shade, it was great.
We saw them again 1 hour later. The mum was disillusioned and said: “But your campsite’s too quiet; there are no children, we're not going to be able to stay! This woman seemed terrified by the sound of nature; well, of course, it’s not the same noise as the city, with cars and trains. We did everything possible for this family and then they went somewhere else. 30 minutes after they left, 2 more families, each with 2 children, arrived. Too bad!

If you had to give advice about visiting the Landes, what would you say? Can you tell us a bit about the region?

The first thing I’d recommend is travelling around by bike as then you get to really experience and smell the scents of the forest and sea air which most people don’t normally get the chance to enjoy. This method of transport is a great, hassle-free way of taking your time and enjoying the rhythm of nature. Messanges beach is the first place to visit, then our village centre which is small but big enough that you’ll find something to do. The Courant d’Huchet nature reserve between Léon and Moliets. The funny tower, known as the Sémaphore, in the middle of the forest, quite near the coast. The cycle path that links us to the neighbouring towns of Moliets and Vieux Boucau - it’s an old railway track that’s been turned into a cycle route - and the Vélodyssée.

The Landes also encompasses Chalosse and the South with its heritage and abbey; it also includes Les Barthes de l’Adour, Orx with its wetlands and lakes etc.

What’s the funniest thing that’s happened during campsite life?

The funniest is when the film “Camping” came out. The writers really did get it spot on; the film really does reflect the life of campers; those who are happy to enjoy an evening drink surrounded by people; and others who are really unhappy because they chose the wrong place or didn’t get the same pitch as the previous year. There’s always a neighbourhood show-off, a flirt or someone who decides to come and talk to you every day; it’s really realistic.