Thursday , December 1 2022

A local’s guide to Arcachon: France’s Atlantic coast gem

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Food

Everyone in Arcachon is proud of our magnificent covered food hall, an example of the Baltard style of architecture found in markets all over France, which was restored to its former glory 10 years ago.

I’ve run my own oyster bar there for 22 years. Les Halles really comes alive at the weekend: locals stop by for an apéro, I prepare seafood platters and sometimes we offer our great local produce, Aquitaine caviar, made by two artisan producers. Tourists often stop in the market pulling their suitcases as it is en route from the train station to the port where ferries shuttle over to Cap Ferret.

For a great plat du jour lunch, Le Bouchon de Marché’s owner, Fleur, grills a juicy entrecôte steak or a tender blanquette de veau stew. A couple of roads back from the beach, Pizzeria Jehenne is great for families – chef Danny has been making pizzas and pasta for 45 years, and visitors never realise he’s not Italian but a local Arcachonnais.

Arcachon oysters

Stéphanie Aloire, one of our few female ostréiculturists, has a traditional wooden oyster hut, La Cabane de l’Aiguillon, a magical location right on the water near the port. Head there to taste her award-winning oysters and whelks, winkles and shrimps. And in summer, the seasonal Le Club Plage Perreire is perfect for a romantic meal on the beach; grilled, freshly caught fish.

Inspiration

I spend a great part of my life out on the water as I have been farming oysters in Arcachon since 1988. If you ask where I go to find inspiration, I’ll still say out on the Bassin d’Arcachon, but on a sailing boat rather than my work motorboat.

Somehow the oyster parks and the views of Cap Ferret are different when the wind gusts into my sails. Visitors can hire a boat and skipper to try this, but my favourite spot, the strip of sand known as Le Conche du Mimbeau, is also accessible on foot at low tide. Time your trip well and you have the perfect view across to our iconic Dune du Pilat.

Arcachon’s Plage du Moulleau.
Beautiful sunsets can be enjoyed from Arcachon’s Plage du Moulleau. Photograph: Andia/Alamy

Neighbourhood

Arcachon is neatly divided into four quarters, named after the seasons, and the neighbourhood that means most to me is the Ville d’Hiver, the Winter Town. This is the grandest, most beautiful part of town, with splendid 19th-century belle-
époque villas that date back to when people from across Europe came here to treat tuberculosis with healing breezes from the sea and pine forests. So it has always been a peaceful, quiet area and I love this contrast to the busy commercial streets of Ville d’Eté, the Summer Town.

The Ville d’Hiver is the greenest quarter, with lush vegetation that reminds me of a botanical garden, and my favourite place is the 1884 Hôtel Ville d’Hiver, an early industrial building converted into a cosy hotel. Its bistrot is perfect for a romantic dinner.

Green Space

Île aux Oiseaux.
Île aux Oiseaux. Photograph: Philippe Turpin/Getty Images

We are lucky for a small town to have beautifully landscaped gardens, the Parc Mauresque. This was where the opulent casino once stood, and now the park is perfect for picnics. North of the town, in Arcachon Bay, the Île aux Oiseaux is a timeless, perfectly preserved natural environment, home to 150 bird species, but it must be respected.

Organised excursions round the island are a good first step but you are not allowed to land. Although you can hire a boat and sail over I advise against this as you need experience to navigate the bay. It’s best to hire a boat with a skipper and then you can explore at leisure, discovering the Cabanes Tchanquées, the island’s iconic stilt fishing huts.

Nightlife

Quartier du Moulleau.
Quartier du Moulleau. Photograph: Andia/Alamy

The Quartier du Moulleau, is actually one long street lined with bars; you can drink late at L’Oublie, run by a former rugby player, and Club Paradiso, then carry on at the adjoining Pyla-sur-Mer, where Le Bal à Papa, known as Le Balap, is an institution where all ages dance until 2am to the music of Doudou, our legendary Guadeloupean DJ. Those looking for craft beers should check out Brasserie Mira, a brewery that also hosts artists and musicians.

Stay

A comfortable place worth checking out is Hôtel Home (doubles from €130 room-only), right by the beach.

Olivier Laban is a renowned Arcachon oyster farmer who organises seafood tastings at his lively Oyster Bar

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