Welcome to Taste France’s Top French Regions to Visit, a series highlighting the country’s best vacation destinations enjoyed through the lens of food and beverage. Throughout the seasons this year, the team at Taste France will take you on a number of gustatory journeys through the country’s most breathtaking destinations, from long-standing favorites to off-the-beaten-path areas and beyond. En route!
To kick off the series, we’re taking you to the Bassin d'Arcachon, a spring must-visit for seafood lovers, beach fans, and oyster aficionados alike. Get to know the area, plus learn how to incorporate its specialities into your lifestyle without ever leaving your home, here.
A Bit About Bassin d'Arcachon
Bassin d'Arcachon, otherwise known as the Arcachon Bay in English, is a pristine seaside location situated on France’s southwest coast. Tucked between the Côte d’Argent and the Côte des Landes in the Aquitaine, this 150-square kilometer (60-square meter) bay is home to some of France’s most beautiful scenery, including sandy dunes, salty bays, and a slew of natural preservation areas.
The bay is shaped like a triangle pointing north, with its southwest corner being open to the sea. In the middle of the bay sits the L’île aux Oiseaux (the Island of Birds). Bassin d'Arcachon is also not far from Cap Ferret, another one of the area’s most beloved vacation sites. These small, seaside resort towns are known for their seafood specialties, saline-tinged oysters, and crisp white wines that promise to pair beautifully with all of the local delicacies. For those looking for something a bit stronger, you’re in luck—France’s famed Cognac and Armagnac production are not too far away.
Fun fact: Many of France’s similar bays have since turned into lakes or étangs, which also means they’re dominated by fresh water. Uniquely, the Bassin d'Arcachon is the last regional bay that gives way to the sea.
From Paris, accessing Bassin d'Arcachon takes just over three hours. Hop the TGV at Montparnasse to Biganos, then change to an Arcachon-bound train. (Note: On Fridays and weekends, there is one direct Paris-Arcachon TGV per day.) From Bordeaux, the local TER train takes approximately 50 minutes, and there are about 20-25 trains per day.
Food & Beverage Specialities
The entire Bassin d'Arcachon is known for its fresh seafood, though oysters are undeniably the speciality of this salty, Atlantic region. Refreshing white wines produced from the nearby Bordeaux and South West regions offer excellent pairings, and are generally blends composed of Sauvignon Blanc and/or Sémillon (Bordeaux), and Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, Colombard, and/or Mauzac.
Where to Stay
Bassin d'Arcachon boasts no shortage of places to stay—it’s simply a matter of preference. For quaint bed and breakfast options (chambres d’hôtes), check out Villa Mady (breathtaking views on the water) or Villa Palissy (equipped with a pool!) For great hotel options in the village of Arcachon, we recommend Grand Hôtel Richelieu or Hôtel Point France, both of which offer direct beach access to the Plage d'Arcachon. For beautiful rooms and an on-site pool, spa, and restaurant, Hôtel Ville d'Hiver Arcachon is your best bet. Note: All of the above accommodations are walkable from the Arcachon train station. For adventurous travelers, Arcachon has numerous campsites for those arriving in RV.
Unmissable Arcachon Activities
Beyond eating oysters and drinking local wine, there are a number of exciting activities to partake in when visiting Bassin d'Arcachon. Here are a list of our favorites:
Visit the breathtaking Dune of Pilat
Enjoy the birds from the cabins on Île aux Oiseaux
Soak up the sun on Plage d'Arcachon
Check out the lighthouse at Cap Ferret
Hop a local boat trip and sail around the bassin
Take in the salt meadows at Arès-Lège
Taste some local cuvées at nearby wineries
Discover the alleys and 19th-century villas at Ville d’Hiver
Shop (and taste) through the local oysters markets
Why Now? (Spring)
As winter can be cold and sleepy—and summer often overrun with tourists—there’s no time like the spring to visit Bassin d'Arcachon. Like many popular “summer” destinations, hotel prices skyrocket come June, July, and August, and most of the area’s restaurants / attractions tend to get overcrowded. Our tip? Avoid the high season and visit just before to both save money and enjoy some space—plus, is there any better way to get excited about the warmer weather days ahead?
How to Bring a Taste of Bassin d’Arcachon to Your Home
While jetting off to southwest France may not be in the cards for you, bringing a taste of Bassin d’Arcachon to your at-home happy hour is as easy as grabbing some local ingredients and a solid bottle of wine! Head to your nearest seafood purveyor and pick up some briny oysters, whichever size you prefer. Pro tip: The Huîtres Arcachon Cap Ferret website recommends serving open oysters on a bed of crushed ice or seaweed.
For an elevated touch to your at-home Bassin recreation, the nearby town of Biganos (24.5 km / 15 miles east of Arcachon) is known for its caviar production—you see where we’re going with this. Don’t forget the potato chips and crème fraiche! Should caviar be a bit too fancy, try and find some local salt from the (Sel du Bassin d’Arcachon) and sprinkle it atop your snacks and dinner du jour.
From there, make a visit to your local wine shop and look for a bottle of white from Bordeaux or Southwest of France. (Added bonus: Many of these wines are quite affordable!) Pop on some French jazz music for ambiance, light up an ocean-scented candle, and you’ll mentally be at Bassin d’Arcachon in no time.