Bassin d'Arcachon tourism & sightseeing
Visit Bassin d'Arcachon (Aquitaine, France)Car Hire Villas
The Bassin d'Arcachon is an expanse of sea almost completely surrounded by land, to the west of Bordeaux in south-west France. The circumference of the bassin is around 80 kilometres.
Several of the sites and places around the Bassin are interesting to visit: although it is possible to drive all the way around in about 1 1/2 hours, you see very little from the main road and will certainly wonder why I suggested you come here if that is the way that you explore!
Explore the Bassin d'Arcachon
The sea enters the bassin through an inlet between the end of Cap Ferret to the west and Arcachon to the east. Below I follow the bassin d'Arcachon in a clockwise direction starting from Cap Ferret and ending with the Dune de Pilat.
The region called Cap Ferret is quite a narrow promontory that has the Atlantic Ocean to one side and the bassin to the other side. You can see this difference most clearly if you go right to the southern point of Cap Ferret, where you can see the waves of the Atlantic to your right and the still water of the bassin to the left. The large sand dune you can see in the distance is the Dune du Pilat, where your journey around the Bassin d'Arcachon will end...
Along Cap Ferret there are various chances to reach the Atlantic beaches, which are nice sandy beaches but typically involve a bit of a hike from the road to reach the beach.
On the east side of the promontory the scenery is quite different, where you might not find beaches of great interest but you can explore small traditional oyster ports, which involves spending your afternoon sampling the local oysters along with a nice glass of white wine while gazing out across the water - this is a very peaceful and pleasant way to pass an hour or two!
The most visited of the fishing ports on this part of the Bassin d'Arcachon are called Canon and l'Herbe. They are both charming small ports, with rows of traditional cabins that are still used in the mussel fishing business.
The northern and eastern part of the Bassin is less interesting to visitors: the most important destination is Andernos-les-Bains, a small holiday resort with a beach, a long pier and a small port whih is pleasant to explore. Andernos is more appealing at high tide when the sea comes up to the beach, rather than low tide when you need to cross substantial mud flats to reach the sea!
At the southern edge of Andernos the small fishing village of Lanton includes the Port de Lanton where you can also find a beach and a harbour with small boats.
At the eastern end of the Bassin there is a large town called Biganos which is a major town with lots of shops. The most charming part for visitors exploring the Bassin d'Arcachon is the Port de Biganos, which as again quite small but one of the prettiest ports here with it beautifully maintained grass areas and rows of colourful cabins.
Continuing along the southern edge of the Bassin you next reach Le Teich. The bird observation park at Le Teich where you can see innumerable species of birds in their natural environment is one of the most important tourist attractions in the region: binoculars and comfortable shoes recommended!
There are about ten more oyster ports between here and Arcachon, some more industrial and some more interested in attracting tourists. The Port de Larros and the Port de la Teste are among those that are most visited. As with Andernos-les-Bains above, I should mention that these ports are much more attractive if you can visit closer to high tide and see boats bobbing in the harbour instead of sitting in a port of mud!
Further west you soon reach Arcachon, one of our favourite towns and resorts in France. As well as lovely sandy beaches the town has a lively town centre, partly pedestrianised, and a substantial area of luxurious 19th century villas that is fascinating to explore. It is a very popular destination and has a lively holiday atmosphere. See our detailed guide for Arcachon for full details.
There are two more destinations you will want to visit to complete your tour of the Bassin d'Arcachon. The first is a resort a short distance south of the town called Le Moulleau: this is only a small resort with a few cafes and shops but very lively and close to extensive sandy beaches.
The walk along Pereire beach between Arcachon and Le Moulleau is one of our favourite 'promenades' in the region, with the sea to one side and forested slopes to the other side: this is a very popular route with joggers and cyclists, and during the summer free classes in yoga and Tai Chi are held on the beach!
At the southern end of the Bassin you reach the Dune de Pilat, the highest sand dune in Europe and an exceptional place to visit: the views from the top of the dune extend across to Cap Ferret and the Atlantic to the west, and across the extensive forests of the Landes to the east. Nothing I say here will prepare you for how impressive the Dune de Pilat is when you visit!
We would recommend that if you are visiting the Bassin d'Arcachon you choose accommodation in Arcachon and visit the other destinations from there.
One alternative is to stay on Cap Ferret and get one of the regular boats across to Arcachon: this is less convenient and you will be further from the action, but there are some impressive villas hidden away in the forests if you can afford one and prefer to stay somewhere quieter!
Foot passengers and travellers with bikes can cross directly between Arcachon and Cap Ferret by ferry, but cars are not transported.