Travel | Bassin d'Arcachon / Arcachon Bay

August 16, 2013

After days of cross-country travel, exuberant wedding festivities and weather much hotter and more tropical than one is used to, a few lazy days by the ocean is just the restorative stay necessary to end a holiday in southwestern France. We decided to stay in Pyla-sur-Mer to be near the Dune, as well as for some place a little quieter and less touristy than the main hub of Arcachon. The area reminded me a lot of the coastal California towns I spent so much time in growing up, with pine trees and soft-sand beaches, but the vibe was notably more, well, French. When we did want to get out and explore the rest of the Bay, even the long drives through the small, beachy towns were relaxing. It cannot be argued that the French have that slow, enjoyable way of life down to a science.

The town of Arcachon itself seems as if it hails from another era. While the renovated downtown feels a little bit 'Disneyland' in all its perfect artificial facades, the beachfront, with its information shacks and white-gated pier, though well-kept, have a sense of nostalgia about decades prior on this beautiful beach. The surrounding neighborhoods are equally charming, with stunningly detailed homes, each boasting its own name in addition to a house number.

Cap Ferret, all the way out on the peninsula, is home to smaller, quieter beaches with shallower water and the iconic red-and-white lighthouse. It is out on this peninsula where things get even quieter, probably in part to the ruling which forbids anyone to build along the side that faces the Atlantic. Here, this is not the beach holiday of rowdy children, hoards of tourists or splashy advertising at every turn. Instead, the roads are narrow and sidewalk free, the locals get around on bikes - or tractors if they are in the oyster business - and restaurants and hotels are very few and far between. There is none of the swank and pretentiousness of the Riviera coast, just the salty ocean air - and much softer beaches.

The stretch of beach where Cap Ferret starts to leave Arcachon Bay and arc around to the Atlantic feels like being on the edge of the world. Passers-by become increasingly sparse and the water in front of you turns into an unending expanse of sparkling ripples. Coming upon the massive moss- and graffiti-covered concrete gun emplacements, part of the extensive system of coastal protection built by the Third Reich in the 1940s known as the Atlantic Wall, sunk down into the sand and stranded in the shallows of the ocean, only increases the eerie sensation.  

Just a few days along this coastline was all we could do this time around, but its magic certainly left a lasting impression. The warm, relaxing days, the crystal-clear, not-too-cold water and softest sand I have ever felt will keep calling to us until we return. I just hope we don't have to wait too long.

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