Arcachon Bay, sky as horizon
The stairs soar up to the golden summit. We lift our heads to watch the steps disappear into the sand. In the mild morning, the Dune of Pilat takes on a pink color. The light scampers around us as we scale the great mount of sand, the tallest sand dune in Europe. We are breathless as we reach the top, but barely have time to catch our breath. Atop the sandy ridge, we look down on a rainbow of blues and greens, the ever-shifting territory of Arcachon Bay. The turquoise water of Banc d’Arguin shimmers at our feet. Perched on their stilts, the huts keep watch over the mysterious Ile aux Oiseaux (Bird Island). In front of us the peninsula of Cap Ferret, far out on the horizon in the Atlantic Ocean, while at our back the green ocean of the Landes pine forest extends endlessly.
Arcachon, the "capital", is also the bay’s central attraction, with its neatly laid out port, its beautiful beaches and four distinct neighborhoods, each with its own deeply ingrained character. The Ville d’Hiver (Winter City) is by far the most amazing with its extravagant villas - something between chalets and palaces – from the 1860s. Go for a walk, searching out turrets and trusses buried beneath the vegetation. Linger in the seafront restaurants of the cheerful Ville d’Eté (Summer City), between two gable roofs. In the other two cities, you’re drawn towards the open sea. La Ville d’Automne (Autumn City) watches over the port and its sailors; La Ville de Printemps (Spring City), stretches along the beaches, indolent, in the shade of the pines.
You traverse Arcachon Bay by bike, just like the Belgian “Flat Country” Jaques Brel sang of, only here the sun shines bright. With the wind in your hair, you trek through the small oyster-farming villages of Gujan-Mestras, Biganos, Audenge and all the others. You set foot amid houses huddled together as if to fight against the offshore wind. At times, the trail disappears beneath the maritime pines. Breathe in the evergreens mixing with the scent of the salt marshes carried by the sea breeze.
The ride on the maritime shuttle that connects Arcachon to Cap Ferret feels somewhat like an adventure: as if face to face with the immensity of the Atlantic you were heading towards the last frontier. You arrive to the Epicurean side of the bay, where the oyster-farming huts of L'Herbe or Le Canon are concentrated. It’s hard to say no to a dozen oysters or resist a dive in the calm and warm sea. The Atlantic side has to be earned a bit more. At first you are sheltered by the shade of the pines, but further on you will have to summon up the courage to clamber up the sand dune that opens to the sea. The sand gives way under your feet and the sun burns. But then it’s there, the immense wave-beaten beach, reflecting green and blue, a true surfers’ paradise. In the evening, in the restaurants and trendy bars of Lège-Cap Ferret, the heart of the peninsula continues to beat long into the night.
When to go?
Naturally, most visitors arrive at Arcachon Bay in the summer, when the sun is ever-present. But beware – in high season the only road that serves the peninsula of Lège-Cap Ferret is often jammed at the beginning and end of the week. It is better to arrive mid- or off-season. Spring and autumn have many advantages. Many restaurants, bars and activities are still open and the endless and deserted beaches of the bay shimmer in an extraordinary light.
How to get there?
There are several ways to reach Arcachon Bay. You can get there by passing through Bordeaux: both its train station and its airport have frequent connections from major French and European cities. Going by car, you can then take the A660 for Arcachon or the D106 for Cap Ferret. But the train to Arcachon is the easiest and most relaxed solution. You then reach Cap Ferret riding aboard a water shuttle.
Take a detour
Join our passionate local guide on a tour of the coastal trails. She will take you for an unusual hike through the wilderness and villages of her childhood. Push open closed doors, take secret paths and meet her favorite producers as you go along the coastline.
Put on the boots of an oyster farmer
Set out on Christian's flat-bottomed oyster boat early in the morning and wade into the water near his oyster farm at low tide. Here, equipped with boots and gloves, you’ll learn the craft of oyster farming and the life cycle of oysters. Christain cheerfully urges you on as you open the oysters: “this gives you strength”.
Tasting at sea
Leave the beach of L'Herbe on a traditional pinasse boat, in the company of a passionate oenologist Gildas and a supply of oysters from the bay. As Gildas presents his selection of Bordeaux grands crus on the boat's glazed deck, enjoy the discovery of his favorite wine and seafood combinations with the bird island’s huts on stilts on the horizon.
Our address book
In the shade of the pines
At the Lagune cafe, you can enjoy lunch with your feet in the sand. Nature takes care of the decoration on its own, with the immense maritime pines all around and Arcachon Bay on the horizon. The place is so secluded that it is not easy to find. You will love their fresh fish skewers and the hut-at-the-end-of-the-world feel.
Plage de la Lagune, La Teste-de-Buch
Tel. : 05 56 22 95 97
Café de la Plage
Café de la Plage has existed for over 50 years and many Arcachonians have made a habit of drinking coffee here while gazing at the sea. The atmosphere has that old-fashioned feel with chairs and tables which seem to belong to another time. Here, just a couple steps away from the beach, you eat tasty grilled dishes for lunch or fish specialties in the evening.
1, bld Veyrier-Montagnères, Arcachon
Tel. : 05 56 22 52 94
La cabane du Mimbeau
Dinner with a view
On the wild beach of Mimbeau, the feet of the hut of Mimbeau are rooted in the water. Only oysters and extra-fresh seafood are served here, in a romantic garden setting on colored iron tables. On summer evenings, the large wooden plank terrace transforms into a concert hall overlooking the Dune of Pilat.
28, Avenue de la Conche, Cap-Ferret
Tel. : 05 56 60 61 67
In the mood for jazz
In the cozy decor of Le Bronx, you can savor both the Bordeaux grands crus and small producers’ organic wines. Go there to take in the superb musical program that moves between jazz and blues.
15 rue Sully Melendes, Arcachon
A relaxing terrace
Chez Pierrette, in the small village of Le Canon, is an amazing place with a large laid-back terrace hidden behind the façade of a holiday home. Beneath its trees and lanterns, you can spend an evening with friends eating delicious tapas and drinking generous cocktails. We love its festive atmosphere, somewhat messy but very nice.
6, Allée des Cupressus, Le Canon-Cap-Ferret
A chameleon location
In the heart of the port of La Vigne, the White Garden stands out with its sophisticated all-white decor. The place blends restaurant, lounge bar and nightclub into one and the atmosphere is always great: an aperitif turns to dinner, and before you know it you’re on the dance floor.
5 allée Teinturin la Vigne, Lège-Cap-Ferret
Tel. : 05 56 03 68 09
The net’s mesh
Mondiet has been producing fishing nets for more than 125 years. In this fascinating place teeming with reels of thread and rope and dating back to a different era, you watch the feats of workers who still weave the nets using traditional techniques.
Le Teich, Zone d’Activité Sylvabelle
Tel. : 05 56 66 02 38
Esturgeonnière du Teich
L'Esturgeonnière du Teich is one of the pioneer “made in France” caviar companies. You’ll be walked through all the manufacturing stages of this new black gold from Aquitaine, from rearing sturgeons to canning. It’s also a great opportunity to taste the different varieties of caviar and learn all the nuances of Perlita and Rare de Perlita caviar.
Route de Mios, Balanos au Teich
Tel. : 05 56 22 69 50
La Maison de l'Huître
A story of oysters
To understand Arcachon Bay, you must understand the history of oyster farming, the two being so intimately linked to one another. At La Maison de l'Huître (House of Oysters), you’ll get an insight into the everyday life of an oyster farmer, left at the mercy of the sea and capricious weather. You can learn all about the harvesting techniques specific to Arcachon Bay and the astonishing history of oysters through the centuries.
La Maison de l'Huître, Gujan-Mestras
Tel. : 05 56 66 23 71