Europe’s largest sand dune, beaches and an island filled with birds await you at this beautiful bay on France’s southwest coast.
When oyster farmers flocked to the Arcachon Bay in the 19th century, wealthy Bordeaux residents started to vacation here and the bay area developed into a tourist attraction. Today, it is a major tourism hub with resort towns, beaches, wildlife and lots of activities on land and sea.
Visit the main resort of Arcachon for its beaches, markets, port and grand 19th-century villas. The town is divided into four sections, named after the seasons. Take a boat tour around Bird Island (Île aux Oiseaux) that lies in the middle of the bay. It is named for the thousands of migratory birds that make their temporary homes here. As you get close to the island you will see two cabanes tchanquées (stilted cabins). These are oyster farming cabins perched on stilts to accommodate changing tides.
Another good ferry trip is over to Cape Ferret, the peninsula that extends south from the top of the bay. There, you will find the red and white Lighthouse of Cape Ferret (Le Phare du Cap Ferret), the bay’s only lighthouse. Climb the 258 steps for gorgeous views of the bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
Put on your swimwear for a day of activities at Pereire Beach, the largest of Arcachon’s beaches. The long, sheltered expanse is popular with families with young children.
If you enjoy hiking, take advantage of the footpaths that run along the bay. Walk to the top of the Dune of Pilat, the highest sand dune in Europe. At up to 341 feet (110 meters) tall, the dune has superb views of the Banc d’Arguin, a large sandbar close to the shore. Many oyster farms have their oyster beds here and the site also provides a home for migratory birds.
Arcachon Bay is a 1-hour drive southwest of Bordeaux and its international airport. During the summer, join vacationing Bordeaux residents on the beaches of this delightful bay.