France 2010

Arcachon & The Atlantic Coast – France 2010

After our stay in La Rochelle, the plan was to head gradually down the coast. The first part of this plan entailed us driving towards the town of Royan, from where a ferry can be caught to Pointe de Grave, thus cutting out a tedious stretch of driving further inland. Royan seems a nice place and has at least one excellent bakery, while the ferry is modern and well organised – albeit a bit expensive. The crossing is only about 30 minutes and the motorhome rate was €38 at the time we travelled – plus a per person charge, making the total cost €45. It seems a little steep – €1.50 per minute for the time we were at sea!

Boarding the Royan - Pointe de Grave ferry
Boarding the Royan - Pointe de Grave ferry
Old Mercedes motorhome
An immaculate old Mercedes van conversion, also on the ferry

Once we left Pointe de Grave, our destination was Arcachon. We decided to take the scenic route on minor D roads – the map showed a minor road driving through forests, close to the coast. It seemed a good idea, but I am afraid to report that it was amazingly dull. Not only were the majority of the forests managed forests used for logging (and thus not very interesting to look at), but the coast was never visible from the road and the road itself was straight, flat and, well, boring.

A boring road in France
This goes on for miles and miles - boring, isn't it?

Still, Arcachon eventually loomed out of the continuing rain and turned out to be a delightful, attractive town, full of historic, large and (I suspect) incredibly expensive holiday villas. It turns out that Arcachon was the favoured seaside retreat of wealthy 19th century Bordelaise (people from nearby Bordeaux).

Boardwalk and beach at Arcachon, France
The beaches were good but probably look better when it's not raining...

The town is divided into four quarters, named after the seasons, and the Winter Quarter (Quarter d’Hiver) is up on the hillside above the town centre. According to our Lonely Planet guide to France, the Winter Quarter has “over 300 villas, many decorated with delicate wooden tracery, ranging in style from neo-Gothic through to colonial.” There is no exaggeration here and I have never seen so many amazing houses grouped together in one place. Despite being on a hillside above the town centre, access to the town remains easy – there is an elevator that will take you directly down the hill to within a stone’s throw of the town centre.

Arcachon holiday villa
If you're wealthy enough in Arcachon, you could have a villa like this...
Arcachon Winter Quarter park
You could then walk through the nearby park...
Art Deco elevator in Arcachon
...and take the lift down the hill to the town centre and beaches

Arcachon also has extensive and excellent beaches, along with a correspondingly upmarket seafront – well recommended if you have the money, if not stay at the free aire, which is fairly well located within about 15 minutes’ walk of the main seafront/town centre area. It’s opposite a Total/Citroen garage on the main route into the town and has all facilities. There’s a Lidl supermarket just next door, too, which is handy.

Here’s a short video of the aire site: