Visit Arcachon (Aquitaine, France)
Arcachon is to the west of Bordeaux, and is at the northern end of the longest, sandiest coast in Europe, stretching 200 kilometres to Biarritz - known as the Côte d'argent ('the silver coast'). It is a popular resort for people from Bordeaux to escape to, being easy to reach by train.
The big attractions in Arcachon are the beach, the town itself, which is very attractive, and the seafood restaurants. Arcachon is not exposed to the full might of the Atlantic waves, being on the edge of a large inlet, the Arcachon Basin, rather than facing the sea directly.
The town is divided into two parts - the summer town (Ville d'été) and the winter town (Ville d'hiver) slightly further inland. As a visitor you will probably spend more time at the waterfront and in the summer town. The summer town runs along next to the beach and has a good array of restaurants, bars and shops. The seafood restaurants are of course particularly popular and if you are looking for a cheap but tasty treat then 'Moules, frites', (mussels and chips) are offered in many of the restaurants and are delicious.
However the winter town, the 'Ville d'Hiver' is our favourite. Well worth exploring for the magnificent and often quite eccentric houses that were built in the second half of the 19th century. - Arcachon contains a large number of interesting and ornate old houses, sometimes almost verging on the Disneyesque, a tribute to the days when many rich merchants set up home here. (see below)
The Parc Mauresque falls between the two towns, and has lovely views over the lower town and the coast.
Various boat-related trips are available from the jetties in the bay. Traditional boats called "pinasse" are used for these. The boat tours will take you past the beautiful "cabanes tchanquées" which are fishing cabins on stilts right out in the middle of the bay. They have almost become the symbol of Arcachon. The trips will also take you to the bird sanctuary (see below) and to the point where Arcachon Bay meets the ocean.
Cycling is enormously popular in Arcachon and if you bring a bike with you (or hire one) there is a lovely promenade and cycle path that heads south from the beach and continues 30 kilometres to Biscarrosse, via various beaches and coastal towns en route.
If you enjoy cycling, don't forget that the whole Arcachon coast is backed by the largest forest in western Europe - Les Landes. Until a hundred years ago this was just infested swamp, but was reclaimed and planted with pine trees, and is now a 'Regional Natural park'. It is criss-crossed with cycle paths.
Of course, beach activities and boat trips off the coast are available to suit all. If you are a beach lover, even a busy weekend seems unable to overcrowd the beaches south of Arcachon, so you should always be able to find somewhere quiet, if that is what you are looking for.
The beach in Arcachon itself is sandy and very calm - sheltered from the strong waves and currents of the Atlantic Ocean beyond the bay. Perfect for families with small children. There are four main beaches in Arcachon, the Plage Pereire, the Plage d'Arcachon, the Plage d'Eyrac et la Plage des Abatilles. 2km away is the Plage du Moulleau.
If you are looking for something more dramatic then there are literally miles of white sandy beaches, backed by pine forests and with plenty of waves for surfing and body-boarding. These beaches also have lifeguards surveilling portions of them to make them more safe for young and teenage children. If you wish to learn how to surf there are lots of surf clubs offering pretty reasonably priced lessons.
And the famous local oysters will undoubtedly tempt you into one Arcachons many restaurants, after all that activity.
But perhaps the two biggest attractions in the area are found a few kilometres away:
Dune du Pilat (Dune de Pyla)
The 'Dune du Pilat' sand dune is a few kilometres south of Arcachon, and is the largest sand dune in Europe, at more than 110 metres high. It is about 3km long, and steep! The appeal is two fold:
First, you and your children can pass a happy hour in the baking sun struggling to reach the top of the sand dune (stairs are also available!), and
second, the views from the top are simply stunning - out to sea, along the coast, and back across the dunes and Les Landes forests. Fabulous!
It really is an interesting and fascinating place to visit and lots of fun. Children (and adults) will spend hours hiking up to the top and then running down at full speed and then starting all over again.
It is also possible to para-glide from the dunes, a wonderful experience and again one that is relatively inexpensive considering the time and expertise involved. Certainly an experience you wont forget.
Parc Ornithogique du Teich
This ornithological wonderland, 14 kilometres to the east of Arcachon, is one of just two bird sanctuaries in France. Previously the area was a wetland swamp, and continues to attract very high numbers of birds - reputedly more than 250 species, including several very rare birds. such as the spoonbill, the little egret and the black kite.
There are quite a few pairs of stork nesting in the parc, these are a really amazing sight with their massive nests. Many of the birds can be seen from the observation points along marked out walks through Teich Parc.
The winter town grew up in the second half of the 19th century, particularly around 1860 when a group of businessmen decided to prolong Arcachon's popular summer season into winter by promoting it as a rival to the Swiss mountains as a 'cure' for tuberculosis - see short history below.
The 'Mode Pittoresque' was fashionable at this time which is a wonderfully eccentric mix of a number of architectural styles and building materials. In Arcachon we see a mix of neoclassical, neo-gothic, old-colonial and swiss chalet styles. A lack of symmetry is key and the styles incorporate mixes of chalet style roofs with brick facades and bay windows.
There are 215 villas in the Ville d' hiver. Some notable examples are:
The Villa Alexander Dumas (7 allée Pasteur) was built in 1895 for a rich banker. It mixes a hispanic overall style with an Italian-style belvedere and is richly coloured, particularly around its arched windows where red brick is mixed with blue tiles.
The Villa Bremontier (1 allée Bremontier) was built in 1863 by the railroad company and was rented out as an exclusive villa. It is built in a 'Swiss chalet style' and has a large round tower which contains the staircase. It has large covered balconies - designed to allow tuberculosis patients a place to sit outside and breath in the healthy sea air.
The Villa Faust (3 allée Faust) has a moorish entrance with lovely wooden grills and has a tower and a castle-like air to it. It was built in 1862.
The Villa Graigcrostan (6 allée Faust) borrows from colonial, Italian and swiss-chalet styles. It is a lovely building with columns, lots of balconies and a belvedere. In 1882 its woodwork was painted orange and pistache green but is now white.
The Villa Iris was built in 1925, later than most of the other remarkable villas and appropriate to its time it is built in Art Deco style. The Art Deco style is quite common in the stylish sea-side towns of France as they grew in the early 20th century when sea-bathing became popular. It is rare in Arcachon as the big building push here had already happened, largely in the 1860s.
The Villa Toledo (7 alléé du Moulin Rouge) was built in 1862 in a Spanish style and has gorgeous banisters whose wood has been cut out into remarkable, intricate patterns.
The Villa Trocadero (place Brémontier) was built in 1864 in the Swiss Chalet style and is another villa with wonderfully ornate wooden balconies and decorative woodwork.
The Passarelle Saint-Paul and the Tour Observatoire Sainte-Cecile
The Passarelle Saint-Paul was built in 1862 to link the dunes of Saint-Paul and Sainte-Cecile. Gustave Eiffel collaborated in the design of the Passarelle. The obsevatoire was added a year later. From this interesting metallic built tower you can get excellent views over some of the villas including: villa Toledo, villa Bremontier and villa Faust.
La Place des Palmiers
There were so many British in Arcachon at this time (late 1800s) that an Anglican church was built and next to this a square was created and a number of palm trees planted - hence its adopted name. It is actually called the place Alexandre Fleming! There is a lovely bandstand in the square.
The Parc Mauresque
At the top of the Ville d'hiver is the Parc Mauresque, an attractive park with wonderful views over the Bay of Arcachon. From here you can also see the Villa Trocadero, the Villa Graigcrostan and the Villa Teresa. This was once home to the Casino Mauresque which was inspired by the Alhambra Palace and the Cordova Mosque. Sadly this burn down in 1977.
Short History of Arcachon
At the begining of the 19th century Arcachon was still just a small fishing village. The ville d'été started growing up principally as a place of healing where sick people could take in the sea air as part of their recovery process.
Then in 1960 the Ville d'hiver was suddenly thought up. At the begining it was an alternative to going to Switzerland for a cure for tuberculosis. The sea air and the pine forests were found to be equally beneficial to the mountain air and as Arcachon is in a bay it is protected from the too strong winds of the rest of the Atlantic coast.
A group of business men, and in particular the Pereire brothers, and the owners of the railway line between Bordeaux and La Teste came up with the idea of extending the line to Arcachon and developing Arcachon as a winter resort for tuberculosis sufferers.
The commercial project wasn't a huge success but the Pereire brothers continued to develop the summer tourism and the thermal tourism (with the les Abeilles spring) and the town started to attract rich merchants from Bordeaux and the rest of France.
When Napolean III came to visit Arcachon's success was assured.
Alexandre Dumas lived in Arcachon for a while and Toulouse-Lautrec had a house on the sea-front.
Photos of Arcachon
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Address: Arcachon, Bordeaux, Gironde, Aquitaine, 33120 || GPS: latitude 44.659, longitude -1.167
Map of Arcachon & places nearby
Highlights close by
Cap Ferret 15km
Suggested tourist attractions to visit near Arcachon, France
- Bassin d'Arcachon - site of natural beauty (3km)
- Dune du Pilat - grand site of france (9km)
- Domaine de Certes - site of natural beauty (13km)
- Etang de Cazaux et Sanguinet - site of natural beauty (19km)
- Biscarrosse - ville fleurie 4* (29km)
- Etang de Biscarrosse et Parentis - site of natural beauty (34km)
- Parc zoologique de Bordeaux Pessac - zoo or wildlife park (41km)
- Landes de Gascogne - regional natural parc (51km)
Market days in Arcachon: Regular market(s) are held in Arcachon each every day. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)
The French version of this page is at Arcachon (Francais)