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There are plenty of options for cyclists – with cycle paths linking the towns around the bay, as well as Biscarrosse 30km to the south. Cycle hire is easy to find in the town.
Plenty of tennis courts are available at Tennis Club D’Arachon (12 hard courts, 10 paved courts, Av du Park, 05-57-72-09-50).
There's also a wide range of watersports to choose between, with several hire and tuition centres offering sailing, sea kayaking, rowing, diving, windsurfing, or the more leisurely pedal-boat.
Golf can be played at Golf International d'Arcachon and nearby Gujan Mestras. Like some of the famous Florida courses, Gujan makes the most of its natural environment of pine forest and lakes, to which have been added bunkers of white sand. 18 holes 6225 metres Par 72, or 9 holes 2630 metres Par 35. There are also practice facilities and a putting green.
If you’re one of those really adventurous types, para-gliding and hang-gliding flights can be booked from the École Pyla Parapente, in Pyla Sur Mer (05-56-22-15-02) and Pyla Parapente. Even more impressive, flying lessons and ‘introductions to air acrobatics’ can be taken in Teste-de-Buch, just South of Arcachon (Aéro-Club du Bassin d’Arcachon).
If you prefer watching sports, look out for pelota Basque, usually played on Saturday evenings throughout the summer, in the Parc des Abatilles. Similar to squash, the most dramatic variation of the game is played on giant courts - opponents fire a hard ball at a high wall using a huge hooked glove, which sends the ball at incredible speeds. Other variations of the game include bare hand, which is played throughout the Basque country. Arcachon hold several titles in the Chistera discipline of the sport, so expect a display of the highest quality.
The Union de Bateliers Arcachonnais are professional fishermen and oystermen, who can take you on a variety of boat excursions. These include a tour of Île aux Oiseaux (Bird Island) in the middle of the lagoon, fishing trips (rod and line), a visit to the oyster beds, or anywhere else you’d like to visit around the bay.
Alternatively, you might like to try fishing for yourselves, in the mudflats uncovered at low tide around the Bassin d’Arcachon. They deliver generous amounts of cockles, clams and winkles. The beaches reveal green crabs at low tide, and there are plenty of shrimps to catch with nets. Take care on the sticky mud-flats!
Les Abatilles is Arcachon’s own natural spring of mineral water, located in the Spring resort (no pun intended). It is bottled in the spa – where you can get free tastes and a guided tour (Wednesdays in July and Aug).
The Musée-Aquarium shows the marine life found in the lagoon and nearby ocean. It has a pretty collection of tropical fish, tortoises, seashells and stuffed weasels, with a special area devoted to Oyster farming. My children particularly enjoyed the shark skeletons.
Aqualand does what it says on the tin – with every kind of waterslide you can imagine, plus a pool with waves. The Village Médiéval features a reconstructed medieval Landais village, showing traditional arts and crafts in action. The Musée de la Maquette Marine is a museum of exquisitely made model ships. At the Parc Animalier la Coccinelle,children can feed baby lambs and goats.
Opposite the exit from the lift up to the Park Mauresque, you can hire children's tricycles - they are very picturesque, with old-fashioned horses at the front and the children steer with reins - very entertaining for younger children.
For shopping in Arcachon, Quartier du Moulleau (Av Notre Dame des Passes) has boutiques open late. Across the bay, Cap Ferret is very similar in style to the Ile de Ré, and has great boutiques, and Bordeaux offers a city full of shops and boutiques – within an hour of Arcachon.
Client tip: "If the children want beach gear such as body boards or skim boards, they are less than half the price of the shops on the sea front if you buy them at Carrefour or the Decathalon in La Teste de Buch, just a 10 minute drive away. Jacobs and Jacobs (branches in Le Moulleau and Arcachon) is great for linen shirts and beach wear". Thanks to the Dexter family for these shopping tips.
Fooidies should head to Les Halles in central Arcachon:
Restaurant guide:Eating Out
Sorbet d’Amour has 6 shops in the Bassin d'Arcachon and offers home made ice cream in 70 different flavours. For a real speciality of the region, try their ‘Pinasse en Nougatine’ (an oyster boat of nougat) – filled with 30 scoops! "Fantastic for all ages, with a mouth watering selection of ice creams and cones, our children particularly liked the bon-bon cones!" is the verdict of the Dexters (2010). Look out for the mountains of oysters and mussels, available throughout the town at good prices. Also look out for the rue du Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny, with several Italian, Indian and Chinese restaurants to choose between.
Le Bayonne, regional fare at good prices, near the sea front in a lively area. 9 cours Lamarque, 05-56-83-33-82
La Corniche, recommended for " a special evening out" by the Colemans (2010) who tell us it is "recently refurbished and quite amazing!" 46 avenue Louis Gaume, Pyla-sur-mer. 05-56-22-72-11. Website www.lacorniche-pyla.com
Le Floréal, has a nice laid back, local vibe. Blvd Général Leclerc, 05-56-83-48-44
Les Genêts, serves quality seafood in more refined surroundings. 25 blvd Général Leclerc, 05-56-83-40-28
La Marée, offers excellent fresh seafood at fair prices. 21 rue du Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny 05-56-83-24-05
Orient-Thé, has a wide range of quality vegetarian dishes. 39 rue du Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny, 05-57-52-29-11
Le Patio, slightly more upmarket, near the marina, classic cuisine served either under the stars on the patio, or in the elegant dining room. Ex-chef from La Gueriniere (below) 10 bd de la Plage, 05-56-83-02-72
Cote du Sud, 4 avenue du Figuier, Pyla, on the west beach facing Cap Ferret - nicest beach location but no direct table view as a rule 05-56-83-25-00
The above list has been compiled with the help of local property owners we work with, client feedback as well as these helpful guides: the Lonely Planet Guide (South West France); The Green Guide (Atlantic Coast); the Cadogan Guides – always an excellent and informative read. “Gascony and the Pyrenees” is the one that includes the Arcachon Bay.
The liveliest part of the Ville d’Été is around the Jetée Thiers (pier), but in the evening, head for Quartier du Moulleau (Av Notre Dame des Passes) for bars, restaurants, and boutiques that are open 'til late.
La Feria (9 rue Jehenne) is a lively and enjoyable late bar filled with booming music, smiling people, and a lot of sangria.
The Casino tables open at 9.30am, Meeester Bond, and the 80 slot-machines can be fed coins until 4 in the morning. Here you’ll also find Le Scotch-Club (night club) a restaurant, and bars serving great cocktails. (boulevard de la Plage)
For pure pose value, make sure you’re seen on the terrace at Café de la Plage (boulevard Veyrier-Montagnères), a 100 yr-old bar on Arcachon beach, near the casino. Jazz concerts every fortnight, and a great musical atmosphere in the evenings.
Arts and Culture
The part of the town known as the Ville d'Hiver (winter town) is well worth strolling around, to see the quirky architecture of its many 19th century villas. At the heart of the Ville d’Hiver, the Parc Mauresque has a wonderful observatory designed by Eiffel, reached by a 19th Century lift. This observatory offers great views of the Ville d’Hiver, and of the entire Bassin d’Arcachon (lagoon).
Arcachon is great for festivals: classical music in April (‘Festival Jeunes Solistes’); a parachuting competition in June; a Street Festival (Not’Ambules) and sailing competition (les 18 heures d’Arcachon) in July; Fêtes de la Mer (festival of the sea) in August; and an international women’s film festival in September.
On the Eastern rim of the Bassin d’Arcachon, Le Teich is a river delta for the Leyre river. This provides ideal marshland for migratory birds stopping on their long journeys between Scandinavia and Africa. This rare environment of salt-water and fresh-water has been designated a Parc Ornithologique, and is the nesting ground for several species: grey herons, black cormorants, white storks, oystercatchers, egrets, kingfishers, spoon-billed shovellers and many more.
Also at Le Teich you’ll find Le Jardin des Papillons – the biggest collection of exotic butterflies and moths in France. Hundreds of brightly coloured butterflies flutter around tropical plants and waterfalls in complete freedom. [Playground and picnic area within].
The rim of the Bassin d’Arcachon features ten communes and a variety of activities.
Beaches alternate with oyster-breeding villages, where lime washed tiles and crates lie in front of the wooden huts. We recommend L’Herbe (On the Cap Ferret peninsula) as the most picturesque village to visit, but any would be perfect for trying ‘à déguster’ (a plate of oysters).
Boats run from the jetty Thiers at Arcachon to Cap Ferret all year; but during the summer there are various boat trips within the Bassin d'Arcachon.
Across the bay, the Cap Ferret peninsula is a treat for the senses - the scent of the pine forest, the constant rumble of rollers washing up on the western coast, the salty, slippery taste of oysters washed down with a crisp Bordeaux blanc and, at the end of the day, sitting on top of one of the dunes overlooking the Atlantic and watching the sun go down. Bliss!
Cap Ferret village, is the chic-est spot on the the Presqu'Ile. Smart boutiques, cafes and restaurants in a low-rise, laid-back setting - the ambience is casual, relaxed but appreciative of good living.
Heading on down to the Pointe is a must, stopping to climb to the top of the famous Cap Ferret lighthouseon the way. The lighthouse gives views across the bassin to the sandy wildlife reserve of the Banc d'Arguin, and over to the Dune de Pyla (Europe's highest sand dune), both of which are breathtaking.
If you have children, there's a charming 'petit train' that runs from the jetty on the Bassin side, over the dunes at the Atlantic beach on the other side of the pensinsula. The trip takes 10-15 minutes and is a delight.
For wine buffs, the famous appellations of Pauillac and Margaux north in the Médoc rouge are not far away. There are many vineyards where you can visit and taste some of the famous wines. Two very approachable châteaux are the under-rated (and relatively inexpensive) Château Maucaillou, a medium-sized, family-run estate in Moulis-en-Médoc; there is an interesting museum exhibiting some of the history of wine-making. Or for a very special visit, Château Giscours in the Margaux region organises tastings of various vintages of its grand crus classés, hosted by a particularly engaging, unpretentious and plain-speaking 'oenologue' (Master of Wine).
South of Arcachon is the famous Dune du Pyla, the largest sand dune in Europe, standing at over 100 metres. A journey to the summit (try it without the staircase provided!) is a must; sunrise and sunset are the best times. Don’t be surprised to see schools of bottlenose dolphins and porpoises, playing just offshore.
If you're feeling beached out, Bordeaux is well under an hour away and is a good option for a day-trip, whether it’s boutique shopping, sight-seeing or culture. Walking around the 18th century old town centre (Quartier St. Pierre), you can begin to imagine the city’s commercial and maritime past.
Medieval gems of the Gironde east of Bordeaux are also wonderful days out; St Emilion, with its 11th century basilica, is the best known but can be busy; St Macaire and La Réole are also enjoyable. Obviously there are more châteaux over here but an altogether different wine experience can be had at Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa, in the middle of the Château Smith Haut Lafitte, vineyards, just south of Bordeaux. The spa offers unique beauty treatments derived from grand cru grapes of the Graves appellation renowned for their anti-ageing and micro-circulation improving properties - in short, visitors apparently come out feeling good!
Up and down the coast from Arcachon, South West France offers arguably the best surf in Europe.
For further tourist information about the local areas beyond Arcachon, please browse these region guides:
» Arcachon Bay
» Landes Coast
» Pays des Vins
In August, notably the first two weeks, the resort is very busy and becomes congested with traffic. Our advice is to use two wheels or take to the sea - both are there to be enjoyed and you will get a far better insight into your surroundings. There are many cycle paths to enjoy as well as regular boat trips and ferries connecting the Bassin's many points of interest.
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