Guide to Arcachon: the jewel of the French Atlantic coast | french holidays
Everyone in Arcachon is proud of our magnificent covered food hall, an example of the Baltard style architecture found in markets all over France and restored to its former glory 10 years ago.
I ran my own oyster bar there for 22 years. Les Halles really comes alive at the weekend: locals stop there for a apero, I prepare seafood platters and sometimes we offer our great local products, Aquitaine caviar, made by two artisan producers. Tourists often stop at the market to haul their suitcases as it is en route from the station to the port where ferries shuttle to Cap Ferret.
For a big today’s special at noon, the owner of Bouchon de Marché, Fleur, grills a juicy rib steak or a tender veal stew Stew. A stone’s throw from the beach, Pizzeria Jehenne is ideal for families – chef Danny has been making pizza and pasta for 45 years, and visitors never realize he’s not Italian but a local Arcachonnais.
Stéphanie Aloire, one of our rare women oyster farmers, owns a traditional wooden oyster hut, La Cabane de l’Aiguillon, a magical place with its feet in the water near the port. Head there to sample its award-winning oysters and whelks, winkles and prawns. And in summer, the seasonal Le Club Plage Perreire is perfect for a romantic meal on the beach; grilled and freshly caught fish.
I spend a large part of my life on the water because I have been an oyster farmer in Arcachon since 1988. If you ask me where I go to seek inspiration, I will always answer you on the Bassin d’Arcachon, but on a sailboat rather than my work motor boat.
Somehow the oyster beds and the views of Cap Ferret are different when the wind blows through my sails. Visitors can hire a boat and skipper to try this, but my favorite spot, the strip of sand known as Le Conche du Mimbeau, is also walkable at low tide. Plan your trip well and you will have a perfect view of our iconic Dune du Pilat.
Arcachon is neatly divided into four districts, named after the seasons, and the district that means the most to me is Ville d’Hiver, the City of Winter. It is the grandest and most beautiful part of the city, with splendid beau-
Period villas that date back to when people from all over Europe came here to cure tuberculosis with healing breezes from the sea and pine forests. So it’s always been a quiet and peaceful area and I love that contrast to the busy shopping streets of Ville d’Eté, the Summer City.
Ville d’Hiver is the greenest neighborhood, with lush vegetation that reminds me of a botanical garden, and my favorite spot is the 1884 Hôtel Ville d’Hiver, a former industrial building turned into a cozy hotel. Its bistro is perfect for a romantic dinner.
We are lucky for a small town to have beautiful landscaped gardens, the Parc Mauresque. This was where the lavish casino once stood, and now the park is perfect for picnics. To the north of the city, in the Bassin d’Arcachon, the Île aux Oiseaux is a timeless natural environment, perfectly preserved, home to 150 species of birds, but which must be respected.
Organized excursions around the island are a good first step but you are not allowed to land. Although you can rent a boat and sail, I don’t recommend it because you need experience to navigate the bay. It is preferable to rent a boat with a skipper then you can explore at your leisure by discovering the Cabanes Tchanquées, emblematic fishing huts on stilts of the island.
The Quartier du Moulleau is actually a long street lined with bars; we drink late at L’Oublie, run by a former rugby player, and at Club Paradiso, then we continue to the adjoining Pyla-sur-Mer, where Le Bal à Papa, known as Le Balap, is an institution where all ages dance until at 2 a.m. to the music of Doudou, our legendary Guadeloupean DJ. Those looking for craft beers should visit Brasserie Mira, a brewery that also hosts artists and musicians.
A cozy place worth visiting is the Hotel Home (double from €130 per room only), right next to the beach.
Olivier Laban is a renowned oyster farmer from Arcachon who organizes seafood tastings in his lively Oyster Bar