Arcachon and Pilat (Pyla) Dune
Grands Sites de France
Visitor's Rating: (3 out of 4/Number of Votes:3)
Arcachon is a resort-town situated at around 70km west of Bordeaux, on the shores of the Arcachon bay.
Arcachon town was transformed in the middle of the 19th century from a fishers' village into an elegant marine resort by two businessmen, Emile and Isaac Pereire, who created the so called "Winter City" a district intended to be a true open sky sanatorium (the Pereires also extended the railroad from Bordeaux to Arcachon in order to facilitate the tourist influx).
Even Emperor Napoleon III came to Arcachon twice, in 1859 and 1863, his visits making it a fashionable town where the wealthy of the time built sumptuous villas.
Arcachon is also the location of the renowned "Sainte Anne des Abatilles" mineral water spring that was discovered accidentally by an engineer looking for oil in 1925.
During the summer months our "coup de coeur" is the guided visit (unfortunately only in French) of the "Winter City" lead by Tourist Office guides dressed in the fashion of the Second Empire. (For more info. contact the Arcachon Tourist Office at:+33(0)5 57 52 97 97 or their website http://www.arcachon.com/la_ville_d_hiver.html).
Across the bay - at a 20min boat ride or a 40km car ride if one goes around the bay (the time depends on the traffic and in summer 40km can be covered in …2 hours) there is the peninsula of Lège-Cap-Ferret, location of interminable soft sand Atlantic beaches, of the beautiful town of Cap-Ferret (not to be confused with the Côte d'Azur's Cap-Ferrat) and of the "strange" looking town of l'Herbe.
Cap-Ferret is known for its exquisite location - at the tip of the peninsula, between the Arcachon Bay and the Atlantic Ocean - and for its high-end summer residences many of which belong to French showbiz personalities.
From April until September the "little train of Cap-Ferret" ( "Petit train du Cap-Ferret") takes visitors on the 2km trip accross the peninsula from the jetty "Jetée de Bélisaire" on Arcachon Bay - the arrival point of the boats for Cap-Ferret village - up to the "Plage de l'horizon" on the Atlantic coast.
At the other end of the ARCHITECTURAL - with the exception of its church - and urban planning spectrum - and some 6 km (3 mi) north of the tip of the peninsula - there is the little village of l'Herbe setting of several oyster farming companies (that offer FREE oyster tasting!).
The village can be visited only by feet since it consists of a maze of narrow paths that make their way around small but picturesque houses situated at at most 1 meter one from the other. For identification the houses have numbers or names but some are known only by… their look!
At the entrance of this unusual village one can admire the Neo-Moresque style Catholic church that was built in the late 19th century.
Less known fact is that Arcachon bay is one of the main sites in Europe where one can observe sea horses. Scuba diving experieces are offered by many specialized companies.
At only 12km south of Arcachon, on the Atlantic Ocean, there is located the biggest dune in Europe, called the Dune of Pilat (or Dune du Pilat or… Pyla).
The dune is a 100 to 115 meters (320-370 feet) high and 500 meters (1600 feet) wide and 2.7km (1.6 mile) long mountain of sand created by the Atlantic Ocean winds. The height of the dune varies and as a true dune it moves some 1 to 5 meters (3 to 16 feet) a year towards the interior.
Its name comes from the Gascon language in which the word "pilot" signifies mountain.
With a magnificent view of the ocean and the forest bellow on each side and more then 1 million visitors each year, the Dune of Pilat is a remarkable tourist attraction of southwest France and is recognized in the classification "Grands Sites de France".
There are many water activities avaialable in Arcachon like the visit of the Bay on boat and even scub diving.
We went to Arcachon recently and it is very very nice and clean and quiet.
The dune of Pyla is also impressive. A dune ALMOST in the middle of the forest!
There are stairs in the summer. Each year they put new stairs because the old ones from the previous year become covered in sand.
Cap Ferret across the bay is the France's VIP town - the actress Audrey Tautou has a summer house there.