photo by Robin Austin at http://amateurgastronomer.com
Finding a hidden huîtrier (oysterman) near Cap Ferret in France with some friends and sitting down to gulp up over 100 oysters shared amongst us was one of my top 10 travel experiences to date. That experience happened about five years ago and I discover new oystermen and oyster shacks to frequent each summer on the Atlantic coast of France. This is one of the many reasons I adore tony Cap Ferret on the western Atlantic coast of France, not to be confused with St- Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the Mediterranean.
Hang gliding over the bay of Arcachon
Why does the Riviera receive all the praise when the French Atlantic beaches for a gal used to crashing waves, seem infinitely more beautiful? I do not know. I’ve decided that back in the day when people first started going to French seaside resorts in the 1800’s, big waves were frightening to them. Since then a whole host of serious surfers and smart sun worshipers have discovered the white sands of the Atlantic coast. Yet still, even in the height of summer you’ll be able to find parking and a nice private spot on the beach. Cap Ferret is a place where you can go to dinner right after coming off the beach and no one will care that there is still sand in your hair.
photo via Sudden Rush.com
Typically you can rent a surfboard directly on the beach or take a lesson and there are snack bars (cold drinks, ice cream and sandwiches), so you don’t have to lug them in a cooler like we do on the east coast of the U.S. My favorite beach not far from Cap Ferret is the Grand Truc Vert. The little tapas bar at the entrance is perfect for a quick bite before or after your swim and the sangria is always refreshing.
A room at Les Pins
Staying in Cap Ferret, which is on the tip of a peninsula on the Atlantic across from Arcachon, is not a cheap thing to do unless you like camping. Having said that, at La Maison du Bassin, most rooms run under 200 euros a night, but reservations cannot be made last minute. If you have a group and want über-luxury, then choose La Tosca nearby in Arcachon; this is the Shangri-la of villa rentals. I’ve triped it and I promise you, you’ll be floored! Normal beach villa rentals start at about 3000 euros per week in high season.
There is no doubt that Cap Ferret is the star of the beach towns in the area, seeing as how Chef Daniel Boulud and Phillipe Starck have homes here. But it remains understated, not a flashy resort like Monaco or St. Tropez, which is what I like best about it. Condé Nast Traveller compares it to charming yet still understated Martha’s Vineyard, where presidents and celebrities go to hide.
Chez Hortense is probably the most well-known resto in town, which opened in 1938 and sits on the point serving grilled fish and mussels. But eating from the oysterman directly is not to be missed.
The Dune du Pilat, photo by Palladian Traveler
The most compelling thing to do in the region after surfing and tanning is trekking up the Dune du Pilat, the largest dune in Europe. You can see once you are at the top why it’s been created. The bay and the winds continue to dump sand that piles up higher and higher and after the extremely steep climb, the view and the walk on the edge is sublime. But, the run back down is the real payoff.
I felt about 15 years old when I did it; it’s so steep it propels you forward just enough but not enough to fall. And if you do, you are surrounded by warm, soft sand to cushion the blow. At the base of the dune you’ll find campgrounds and little tented cabanas which provide a much more affordable place to stay and an alternative to the overcrowded and dated Arcachon or the exclusive Cap Ferret on the other side. Further afield, particularly if you are vacationing with kids, you can discover Biscarrosse, with both lake and sea to
I’m a total French Atlantic beach convert, and that’s not just because it’s only one hour from our house near Bordeaux, but because I don’t need to see P. Diddy (or whatever his name is now) riding on a loud jet-ski, nor do I need to pay upwards of 100 euros to grab a patch of sand and chair on the beach at St. Tropez. I prefer my beaches wild and wide and if you add in the best oysters in the world and charming hotels, I see no reason to leave.
Le Truc Vert Beach. Camping is allowed right on the beach.
Hotels and Villas
Hotel des Pins is a darling hotel, a short walk from the beach, with a 1930s vibe. Here you can stay in an old caravan if you are adventurous.
La Maison du Bassin captures the fresh clean and chic vibe of Cap Ferret. Most rooms are under 200 euros per night.
La Tosca Villa for über -luxury in the nearby town of Arcachon.
La Corniche nearby in Pyla-sur-Mer. Drop-dead gorgeous and more pricey, designed by Philippe Starck, but a ferry ride away from Cap Ferret.
Chai Bertrand, a lovely place to sample oysters on the water.
Degrave Sebastien, one of the many oyster growers where you can sample the product!
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