Sunset on Dune du Pilat

Pristine beaches and the freshest seafood: a day in Arcachon Bay

As a light Atlantic breeze sweeps away summer temperatures, autumn is a beguiling time to explore Arcachon Bay. With the days still long, the crowds back home, mushroom season in full swing, and blonde dunes and beaches illuminated in a golden glow, this gorgeous corner of France is ideal for a relaxing unwind or outdoor activities. Here is what we got up to during an action-packed day in Arcachon Bay.

Surfing at Plage de la Salie-Nord

Surfing at Plage de la Salie-Nord

Temperatures are set to rise to 25 degrees on this mid-October day; the perfect conditions for enjoying the more tranquil side of the Atlantic Coast. We drive southbound from Arcachon to Plage de la Salie-Nord; one of the finest surfing beaches in the area.

With soft morning light filtering through pine trees and the sounds of the surf rising over the boardwalk, we make our way towards the powdery-soft sands. Our instructor, Lucca from Seven Seas Surf School provides some quick instruction on the beach before we head out to some of the finest waves in France.

Plage de la Salie-Nord is a great place to learn how to surf. With near perfect conditions and a patient and skilful teacher, we gradually progress from tiny waves to the bigger stuff further out.

After several graceless falls, progress is slow but obvious. Lucca seems happy, we’re exhausted, the sun is shining, the water is divine. It’s a great start to our day in La Teste de Buch.

Lunch at La Teste de Buch

Oysters - Lunch at La Teste de Buch

Just half an hour from Plage de la Salie-Nord, the town of La Teste de Buch has a lovely harbour on the southern edge of Arcachon Bay. The bay is rich in minerals with an extensive salt meadow and a unique microclimate; conditions just right for oysters to thrive.

The local farmers have set up tasting huts around the bay but some of the most accessible are at the port of La Teste de Buch. There’s plenty of huts to choose from but we settle on La Cabane Du Pirelon.
Perched on the edge of the water, over-looking the quay, platters of the freshest oysters, periwinkles, whelks, and shrimps arrive as we wash them down with a glass of white Bordeaux

Lazing in the lunchtime sun in the charming La Teste de Buch brings an indulgent smile to our faces.

Afternoon sailing on a pinasse to Île aux Oiseaux

Pinasse - Île aux Oiseaux

Pinasses are boats crafted from the local pine forests that allow you to discover Arcachon Bay on a tailored schedule. Our captain, Alex, navigates the narrow channels of the bay and we soon find ourselves at Île aux Oiseaux or Bird Island. Rising out of the centre of the basin, Île aux Oiseaux is the only salt meadow on the Atlantic Coast never to have been touched by humans. We pass by two intriguing cabins (Cabanes Tchanquées) originally built for guards to protect the oyster farms, before heading to the other side of the bay.

Eleven villages are nestled among beaches framed by pine groves on the Cap Ferret isthmus. Alex says the prettiest is L’Herbe so we hop off the boat and explore. It’s a glorious mix of sandy lanes connecting tightly packed colourful beach houses; tasting huts reaching into the waters and perfectly position cafes.

Paddleboading on Cazaux Lake

Cazaux Lake

With the long days still gracing Arcachon Bay well into October, we drive out to Cazaux Lake for an early evening paddleboarding session. Surrounded by several gently sloping beaches, the placid, shallow waters of Cazaux Lake are set among a nature reserve that is slowly adjusting to autumn.

The cafes lining the shore that are usually bursting with lakeside atmosphere are closing for the season so, apart from a few kids wrestling with a tiny sailboat and the occasional walker taking advantage of the mild afternoon, we have the lake almost to ourselves.

Heading out into the still crystal-clear waters, balancing carefully on a stand-up paddle board, the true beauty of the area around Arcachon was revealed before us.

Sunset on Dune du Pilat

Sunset on Dune du Pilat

Bidding farewell to Cazaux Lake, we headed back to Pyla-sur-Mer to collect supplies for a picnic dinner to have at the top of Dune du Pilat. Armed with local cheeses, a sturdy red wine, and some of the freshest bread we’ve had in long time, we chase the setting sun towards the imposing dune.

Rising over 100 metres, the Dune du Pilat is the largest sand dune in Europe. A magnificent sweep of golden blonde, it is wedged between the Atlantic on one side and a luminous pine forest on the other. Wearing flip flops, we hike just 15 minutes to the summit where we join the rest of the sun-chasers on the top of the 3-kilometre-long dune.

Devouring our picnic, a vibrant orange glow radiates from the ocean turning the dunes from blonde to rusty-red. As the last rays of light disappear the sky turns a fiery pink and an almost full moon lightly illuminates the pine forest below us.

It was a beautiful end to a wonderful day out in La Teste de Buch.

LE BASSIN D'ARCACHON 

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