My husband Fabien spent a great deal of his childhood summers in Arcachon, like many people from Southwest France. This beachside town reminds me vaguely of Carmel, with gorgeous buildings, manicured streets, and retirees enjoying the calm and leisurely pace year-round. I’d only stopped in Arcachon once before, on our way back from a road trip to San Sebastian; this time, Fabien wanted me to see more of this beautiful seaside village than a quick drive through.
We arrived in Arcachon just before the busy season, so many of the shops and restaurants were either closed or running on very limited hours. Our Airbnb rental was a modest apartment located just 50 meters from the sand, its double door patio opening to a grand view of the surrounding hills. From the beach, you can see the oyster beds, marked by the posts jutting out of the water towards the sky, and behind them, Cap Ferret, a low-key holiday destination on the Atlantic (not to be confused with Cap Ferrat, a popular celebrity vacation spot on the Cote d’Azur).
The centre of the city is a quaint collection of boutiques, cafes, and other merchants interspersed between hotels, apartments, and summer condos. You’ll find a decent sized Monoprix downtown, in case you need things like bottled water, snack foods, toiletries, or even a swimsuit. Like many other villages in Europe, Arcachon has a square that is host to the farmer’s market, surrounded by shops and a cafe or two that you can sit and have a drink (coffee, beer, wine, whatever you feel like!).
On our second day in town, we took a ferry over to Lège-Cap Ferret. Unfortunately, since we were a bit early for the high season, there wasn’t much open, but we did get to have lunch at L’Escale and go for a quick walk down Boulevard de la Plage where a few shops were still up and running. Cross the peninsula to the Plage de l’Ocèan, and find yourself staring out into the expanse of the Atlantic – quite marvelous when you think about it, isn’t it? (I want to talk more about Cap Ferret in a different post, but it’s a quaint place that reminds me of a Gallic Hamptons.)
Lastly, if you’re in the area please take the opportunity to go and visit the famous Dune du Pilat, the highest sand dunes in all of Europe. They have kindly installed stairs so you don’t have to climb in the sand, but be prepared for a workout. The view from the top is 1000% worth the effort.
Some other spots around town that we visited on this last trip:
Moules & Beef
20 boulevard Veyrier Montagneres, Arcachon
This is one of the restaurants in a string of eateries running along the beach with outdoor seating that overlooks the water. We stopped here because they had fresh grilled bar (aka loup de mer or European sea bass) on the specials board. I had a small order of moules frites (which turned out to be quite large!), a menu item that seems to be de rigueur in these parts.
46 Avenue Louis Gaume, La Teste-de-Buch
Just a hop and a skip away from the Dune du Pilat, the restaurant at this lavish hotel of the same name serves up super fresh seafood platters and trays of oysters pulled from Arcachon Bay. If you’re there for lunch, formules are available for 58€ to 63€.
222 Boulevard de la Plage, Arcachon
Tucked amongst the rest of the downtown boutiques, this little shop is crammed full of striped shirts (known as marinieres) and other nautical apparel. I popped in here to pick up another colorway of a St James top that was out of stock at the boutique in Paris (and was tempted to also buy one of their famous pullovers). Definitely worth a look especially if you want to get gifts for your Francophile friends!
Don’t forget to swing through Le Moulleau on the other side of town towards Pyla-Sur-Mer. The beach on this side has water with less seaweed, making it more swim-friendly, as well as boat and windsurfing rentals if you’ve got an itch to sail across the bay.
Aux Délices Glacées
257 Boulevard de la Côte d’Argent, Arcachon
This is the ice cream shop of my husband’s boyhood vacations, still owned by the same glacier for at least the past 30 years with all the ice creams fait maison. You might have a hard time deciding which flavor you want but not to worry – there’s no incorrect choice here, they’re all outstanding (nougat miel is my favorite). Spring for the freshly made waffle cone, you’ll thank me later!
4 avenue Notre Dame des Passes, Arcachon
During the summer, this is a place to see and be seen, well-situated on a fairly busy street with a large, welcoming patio. Grab a bottle of wine or a panaché and a tray of oysters and some afternoon sun, or come back in the evening for a more robust bar scene.