NATURAL Wonder
France|September 2020
NATURAL Wonder
With its bountiful sands, surf and seafood, the Bassin d’Arcachon provides the perfect off-season escape, as Alison Weeks discovers
Alison Weeks

It’s dark when our plane touches down at Bordeaux Airport, so it’s hard to judge the weather outside. Yet as we walk from the terminal to our hire car, I can’t help but note a mildness in the air. At home, the crisp early autumn days have given way to cooler nights and although we have come with our coats in tow, I feel hopeful that we may not need them here.

The Gironde département is known for its temperate oceanic climate, which provides the ideal conditions for the region’s renowned terroir. But we aren’t here to tour Bordeaux or its vineyards. Instead we pile the kids into the hire car and head 30 miles to the west to the Bassin d’Arcachon, or Arcachon Bay, on France’s Côte d’Argent, halfway between Biarritz and La Rochelle.

Stretching from the Cap Ferret headland in the north to the Dune du Pilat in the south, this inland sea boasts some of the region’s most beautiful beaches. And although part of me wishes we were visiting in the middle of summer, local friends assure me that hors-saison is the best time to truly appreciate the natural wonders of the bay.

At the height of the tourist season, this route linking Bordeaux to the coast sees a steady stream of daytrippers from the city and holidaymakers from further afield. But as my husband steers the car through sleepy villages and down empty roads, I feel pleased that we may have the place to ourselves.

World is our oyster

The next morning, we wake to the welcome site of golden sunshine. Our first stop is Andernos-Les-Bains, a popular resort town and oyster fishing port near the centre of the bay. It’s market day and we stroll through the town’s bustling centre before heading to the quiet harbour where we wander through brightly painted oyster cottages that are ubiquitous along the bay.

Every December, the town hosts a celebration of local industry with the Cabanes en Fête, a colourful festival with music, oyster and wine tastings.

We decide to stop for lunch and there’s no shortage of options. Some restaurants are even clad in oyster shells in case you’ve forgotten where you are. We settle for one with a large terrasse and views. The oysters are so fresh, they’re often served within hours of being plucked from their beds. They come a dozen different ways, but there are also other seafood options and combined platters for those who can’t decide.

We ask for a crisp white wine and our waiter suggests a bottle of Entre-Deux-Mers, the aptly named Bordeaux. It’s a perfect lunch and we are delighted to be sitting outside in T-shirts.

After basking for a while in the sunshine and the afterglow of a good meal, we head out for a walk along the beach. It leads us to Saint-Brice-Les-QuinconcesLe-Coulin, a nature reserve spanning from Andernos to Arès in a greenbelt of maritime pine.

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September 2020