Traditionally the town of Arcachon was popular weekend retreat for those needing to escape the big city of Bordeaux. It has also been associated with a place of health and recovery where people were sent to 'take the air' and recuperate from various ailments at the turn of the 19th century.
At its southern entrance of the bay from the Atlantic ocean, Arcachon is crowned by Europe's largest sand dune, the Dune du Pyla (Pilat), nearly 3km long, 500m wide, and reaching up to 110m in height.
On the opposite side of the inlet is the penninsula of Cap-Ferret, a popular resort with celebrities, many of whom have holiday homes in this chic seaside resort.
The town itself is loosely divided into five sections:
- Ville d'été - the summer town, which runs along the northern coast. It's situated next to the beach and has a wide selection of restaurants, bars and shops.
- Ville d'Automne - the autumn town, is to the east and runs around the marina and port areas of the town, including Aiguillon.
- Ville d'Hiver - the winter town, is situated south of the Ville d'été and is where you will find the hundreds of 'Belle Époque' style villas from the end of the 19th century.
- Ville de Printemps - the spring town, sits to the west of Arcachon and closest to the lovely beaches such as Pereire.
- Le Moulleau - a beach resort to the south-west of Arcachon.
History & Culture in Arcachon
Originally a small fishing village, the 'ville d'été' began to expand as more and more people were sent to the area for its healing abilities. The sea air and pine forests along the coast were said to be a good combination and to have a similar effect as the mountain air of Switzerland, so those needing to recuperate, take the sea air and recover flocked here.
The bay was also very much protected from the strong winds of the Atlantic, so with the addition of the train line from Bordeaux to Arcachon the 'ville d'hiver' also grew up in the area as it became more popular as a winter resort.
A group of business men, specifically the Pereire brothers continued to develop the summer tourism, and with the Les Abatilles thermal spring the town started to attract rich merchants from Bordeaux and the rest of France.
The famous writer Alexandre Dumas lived in Arcachon for a while and Toulouse-Lautrec also had a house on the sea front.
Sights & Attractions in Arcachon
The older part of town centres around the old fishing village and has the Eglise Saint Ferdinand at its heart. This beautiful Neo-Roman style church is definitely worth a look for the history buffs.
The other church in the town, the Notre Dame Basilica is steeped in a history entwined with the sea and fishing. This stunning building is known as the Chapel for Sailors.
Just outside of the heart of Arcachon in Le Moulleau is the Notre-Dame des Passes, a church built in yet another wonderful style of architecture.
Beaches in Arcachon
The main beaches around the Arcachon part of the basin are well looked after, mostly supervised and are covered in fine white sand with clear blue waters.
The largest and most popular is the Plage Pereire, named after the business men who helped develop the area in the late 1800's.
There are plenty of watersports to indulge in on most of the beaches, including windsurfing and kitesurfing, and many of the areas have kids beach clubs to help entertain the little ones while you enjoy the sunshine and a relaxing morning on the beach.
All the beaches that we have listed around Arcachon are supervised during the summer months, from mid June until mid September.
Things to Do in Arcachon
The obvious thing to do in Arcachon is to enjoy the many beaches along the coast line, they are wide with white sand and clear waters and offer stunning views of the oceanic basin, the Cap-Ferret peninsula further down the coast to the Great Dune of Pyla.
A visit to the dune itself is a must - you can spend hours climbing this wonderful natural structure and throwing yourself back down at top speed in the safety of the deep sand. Lined on one side with a forest of pine trees, it is met on the other by the Atlantic Ocean.
Much of the coastline is also backed by a wide promenade, offering 15km of cycle path, so if you feel like stretching your legs then hiring a bike is a lovely way to explore the area and to help with your beach selection. If you feel like tackling a little more then there is a total of 150km circumnavigating the entire basin.
Watersports form a major part of the entertainment available on this stretch of coastline, including sailing, kitesurfing, stand up paddle boarding, dinghy sailing, kayaking and much more. And alongside the various water based activities you can also find golf, tennis, horse riding, kids play parks and a skate park...enough to keep everyone happy.