Thursday, 28 July 2016

Discovering Arcachon in SW France

Arcachon is a popular beach location on the Atlantic coast of France 55 kilometres southwest of Bordeaux in the Landes Forest of pine trees.  
There are many fine homes there; one could say older mansions in a type of Victorian architecture, which were criticized for generations, but are now considered charming. Indeed they are.
In 1857 Emperor Napoleon III established the town's legitimacy. Arcachon soon became popular as a spot for improving your health, particularly the lungs for the well-to-do and bourgoisie.

When I was there this month, the temperature ranged from 25 degrees to 41.5 degrees celsius but there was often a gentle breeze from the sea. It's a seaside atmosphere where the town centre has been rejuvenated and there are lots of outdoor things to do. We took a 2.5 hour boat trip around the Arcachon Basin. It wasn't interesting and there was almost no commentary which I thought a serious weak point in the tourism operation, but the sailing on the large catamaran was relaxing and in a place like this you do need to get out onto the water at least once.

I was rather bemused by the Whale flukes addition to the beach decoration- rather garish and touristy but then the town feeds itself on French tourists who swell the normal 13,000 population to many times that in summer.

One of the oddities of the place is the enormous Dune du Pilat/Pyla - Europe's largest sand dune,  nearly 3 kilometres long, 500 metres wide, 110 metres in height, and moving inland at a rate of 5 metres a year. It can be a slog to the top but there's a lovely view, it's free and you can stay as long as you like. There's a lot of parking but get there early or you could miss out on busy days.

At night take a stroll along the pier or beach at sunset before endulging in a drink or meal at a bar or restaurant. They cater for all tastes. In fact there's a very nice up-market restaurant at the foot of the Pyla Dune. Our meals were sublime and the Chateauneuf du Pape washed it all down swimmingly. There's a lovely hotel too beside the restaurant.

We stayed five nights and felt that was long enough though I was disappointed we didn't go as far as Bordeaux for the day. I've never been there and nor have I been to Biarritz which is very close by. The Spanish border is only about 2 hours away by car.

On the satellite map you can see the town centre at the top. To the left is a peninsular ending in cap Ferret. And the dune, you can't miss its rectangular shape and its size. It seems to appear out of nowhere, surrounded by pine forests. Sand bars evolve and devolve on a daily basis - no two days are the same for boaties who don't want to get beached on them.

There's an active fishing industry with oyster and mussel farms inside the sheltered basin so seafood is easy to find on the menu.

If you are driving between France and Spain Arcachon may be worth a stay. There is a train station connecting with Bordeaux and then you can go directly by TGV to Paris and beyond.

For more information in English visit