Where to eat, drink and sleep in Arcachon Bay
For a great foodie weekend away in southwest France, head to this beach-fringed bay for fresh-from-the-fishing-shack oysters, legendary mussels and chips, fresh fig ice cream and plates of local charcuterie
Looking for restaurants in Arcachon? Want Arcachon hotels to stay in? Here's our guide to Arcachon Bay, including restaurants near Dune du Pilat, hotels in Cap Ferret, and foodie spots in Corniche.
On the windswept, bleached-out Coté d’Argent (silver coast) of southwest France’s Atlantic Coast, less than an hour’s drive southwest of Bordeaux (read our foodie guide here), Arcachon is a stately old seaside resort. It’s also the southern gateway to Arcachon Bay, an oyster-farming basin ringed by fishermen’s shacks – and some very chi chi restaurants, cafes and hotels – that makes for a great foodie weekend.
Stroll around Arcachon’s old town and you pass elegant fin de siecle villas, each with names like Margaux or Heloise, as your path weaves in and out of the town’s seafront.
Soak up the atmosphere and then stop off at Arcachon’s large covered market (open Tues to Sun) to stock up on peaches, freshly baked pain de campagne, meat, fish or even oysters; there’s also an oyster bar within the market where you can perch on a bar stool and slurp your choice of bivalve (more on those further down) with a glass of local sauvignon.
If you want to stay in Arcachon, try Hotel Home, a bastion of rock chick chic with 10 bedrooms, a stylish coffee shop and a lifestyle store in a quieter corner of the town, close to a beach.
LA CO(O)RNICHE, ARCACHON
It’s all about location at this Philippe Starck hotel. One of Arcachon’s greatest claims to fame is its proximity to the Dune du Pilat, the tallest sand dune in Europe, and this boutique hotel is best placed to explore it. Right at the very edge of town, surrounded by soaring pine trees, from the beach below the hotel you can walk on to the Dune du Pilat avoiding the vast majority of tourists (the official approach leads visitors in from the other side).
Unfortunately, that location is quite hard to take advantage of, however. Book in for lunch expecting your seat on the outdoor terrace to embrace the wrap-around panorama of sea and sand and you’ll be disappointed; brusque staff and a tightly guarded tangle of ropes conspire to cordon it off to anyone except overnight guests.
Much more welcoming is the Hotel Ha(a)itza, La Co(o)rniche’s younger sister. Set in a towering, chalet-style building just downhill, towards town, this includes a more formal restaurant, The Skiff Club, as well as a bistro-style Café across the road (an atmospheric space that works as well for a quick bite on the way to the beach as it does for a romantic but unfussy dinner; think steak and tarte tatin).
There’s also a pretty tea room and patisserie, decorated in macaron colours and serving one of the best breakfasts in town, if also one of the most expensive (a freshly squeezed grapefruit juice will set you back €9); stick with a seriously good coffee and a freshly baked, sugar-topped brioche and you can’t go far wrong.
OYSTERS AROUND ARCACHON BAY
The big local food story is oysters (here's our guide to oysters), which grow especially well in Arcachon Bay thanks to the basin’s tides. There are over 300 oyster farms around the bay, producing up to 10,000 tonnes of oysters a year and the majority are sold and eaten locally.
To explore the region’s oyster culture head just out of Arcachon to the east, to a little town called Gujan Mestras, and you’ll find a dedicated oyster museum, the Maison de l’Huitre. Here you can watch a short film about oyster cultivation, seen as an art rather than an industry by many insiders. It’s slow and gruelling work, done in all weathers – and it takes around three years to produce each oyster - but the people who do it see it as a labour of love.
If you want to try the fruits of those labours, there are lots of rustic little oyster shacks along the road just behind the museum where you can try them, super-fresh – as well as glasses of local wine – all very reasonably (most also serve prawns so anyone with an oyster allergy, or aversion, doesn’t have to miss out).
There are also other little oyster fishing villages on the road around the basin towards Cap Ferret. Le Canon is one of the most famous but my favourite was L’Herbe. It’s marginally harder to reach than the others so it’s slightly less developed and there’s a classic French restaurant there (all gingham tablecloths and accordion music), the Hotel de la Plage, where it’s very easy to while away a sunny afternoon over plates of duck and grilled whole fish – as well as oysters, of course. Make sure you take time to wander through the warren of sandy footpaths that weave between L’Herbe’s wooden fishing huts before you leave; it’s a world away from Arcachon Bay’s glitzier corners.
CHEZ HORTENSE, CAP FERRET RESTAURANT
People often mistake Cap Ferret for Cap Ferrat, on the Cote d’Azur, but while Cap Ferret is still pretty glam (especially in high season when its luxury villas are snapped up by well-to-do Parisians and their families) the vibe here is more laid-back than that of its Riviera counterpart.
Cap Ferret is also very flat so it’s a relaxed and reasonably quiet place to get around since most people travel by bike, stopping off to look at its famous candy-striped lighthouse – or to eat in one of the lovely waterside restaurants – before hitting its beaches.
If you’re in search of more oysters, you’ll want to book in at Chez Boulan, a chic waterside restaurant specialising in a range of different oysters it farms itself (from the tiny aperitive, a cocktail oyster, to the grand Cru – fat and sweet). Like many other visitors, however, I made a beeline to Chez Hortense, at the end of the peninsula.
Opened in 1938, this breezy, relaxed seafood restaurant is arguably the best-known in Cap Ferret and I worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype. It did. Friendly staff, simple wooden tables, jaunty bottle green paintwork, a shady vine-framed terrace and sea views (in fact you can see right across the bay to the Dune du Pilat on a clear day) set a relaxed vibe.
The food was equally impressive with a short menu that includes oysters (a sister restaurant, the Cabane d’Hortense just down the coast, focuses more explicitly on those), whole grilled turbot and the house speciality, Moules Façon Hortense: moreishly simple with garlic, parsley, olive oil and bacon and served with skinny chips (note that portions are enormous so one is easily enough for two).
huitresboulan.fr; Chez Hortense, 26 Avenue du Sémaphore, Cap Ferret (00 33 556 606 256)
HOTEL DES PINS, CAP FERRET
There are few more romantic places to stay around Arcachon Bay than the 1930s-themed Hotel des Pins. Book one of its 14 antique-peppered bedrooms (or the roulotte for two parked up in the garden), play billiards – or the piano – over a cocktail in the bar then book a table in its glass-framed dining room for a decadent dinner overlooking the gardens; think plates of local oysters; grilled seabass; fillet of beef with a Bordelaise sauce (red wine, bone marrow, shallots, thyme and pepper); and lavender crème brulée.
O SORBET D’AMOUR ICE CREAM, ARCACHON BAY
This local ice cream company, with its minimalist branding, 12 outlets around southwest France and over 100 (largely seasonal) ice cream and sorbet flavours, may appear every inch the contemporary artisan ice cream maker but there’s real local substance to it, as well as style.
O Sorbet d’Amour’s first branch opened in Arcachon in 1935 (then known as Au Cornet d’Amour) and has long had a branch in Cap Ferret, among other destinations around the bay, so it has a deep-rooted history in the area. For tourists without the nostalgic associations, however, it’s all about the flavours, and they’re outstanding. All the basics are covered well but you’re missing out if you don’t try the walnut, blood orange, fig or orange flower water varieties. If you’re seeking a regional sugar hit, try the canelé, inspired by the tiny Bordeaux cakes of the same name.
SAIL FISH CAFÉ, CAP FERRET
The closest Cap Ferret gets to Ibiza, in the summer months this cult open-sided, all-day café-bar on Cap Ferret’s main drag, the Boulevard de la Plage, is a prime people-watching spot.
A bright and slick, surfer-inspired interior – all white-painted rattan chairs and bright turquoise or poppy-coloured cushions – makes a relaxed spot for breakfast (juices, granolas, patisserie and strong coffee), lunch (sushi, salads and burgers), afternoon tea (loose-leaf teas are served with free little fingers of cake but the desserts are one of the stars of the menu here so it’s worth ordering that strawberry pavlova or lemon sponge too), cocktails or a casual dinner.
There’s usually a DJ playing in the evenings, so go with friends and share plates of charcuterie, tempura or sushi over a bottle of Cotes de Gascogne or a few Ferret Ferrets (vodka, Champagne and fresh strawberries) rather than booking in for a demure dinner a deux.
HOW TO GET TO ARCACHON BAY
Return flights from a range of UK airports to Bordeaux cost from around £50 (easyjet.com).
Comfortable and good-value double rooms at Hotel Ibis Arcachon La Teste start from £53, room only (accorhotels.com).
For more information visit arcachon.com or search for #OliveEatsArcachon
Words by Rhiannon Batten
Photographs by Rhiannon Batten