I was travelling with Bas in the campervan through the French Pyrenees early September 2017 and I was kind of getting so tired of the cold weather! So we decided it was time to move onto the coast. In a few days, Bas would be flying back home from Bordeaux. So we decided to stick around that area. We had a look in the park4night app and realized there were many places to park overnight in the Arcachon Bay area, a popular day trip from Bordeaux. The main reason for this? The amazing Arcachon Oysters and the Dune du Pilat!
So we put our GPS in the direction of the Arcachon Bay area to indulge in some Arcachon Oysters and play in the sand 😉 And all of that within an hour from Bordeaux!
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Located on the Southwest coast of France in the Aquitane region, Arcachon Bay is a unique, very sheltered bay that opens out onto the Atlantic Ocean. It is unique because the flow of the Eyre River keeps the opening of the bay from becoming blocked by sand bank. This would cause the bay to become a freshwater lake like some similar lakes in the area.
Because Arcachon Bay is still open to the salty sea, it offers a lot in the way of unique wildlife and interesting activities! L’île aux Oiseaux (Isle of the Birds) is an island in the middle of the bay where you can see many native bird varieties, as well as houses on stilts. You can easily book a boat trip around the bassin to see the island and surroundings. If you head in the direction of Gujan Mestres (where we stayed) you could also visit the Le Teich Bird Reserve located East of the Bay. Or, if you are not into nature and want to stay more days, head to the aquapark 😉
There are lots of beaches in the bay for swimming and kayaking, and Arcachon Bay is also home to the highest sand-dune in Europe; the Dune of Pilat. Because the bay is protected from the ocean it also offers a very mild climate, and is the perfect place to try some delicious local Arcachon oysters!
Famous Arcachon Oysters
Because of Arcachon Bay’s unique geography it is a perfect location for oyster farming. There is water flow from the ocean into the bay, but it is also slow and protected, it is the perfect environment for oysters. There are many traditional and authentic oyster villages around the bay where you can enjoy some of the freshest oysters you will ever taste!
Gujan-Mestres is named the ‘Oyster Capital’ of Arcachon Bay. There are plenty of little oyster farmers where you can buy the freshest oysters. Also, you can also visit the Oyster House (Maison de l’Huître) to learn more about the history of oyster farming in the area, as well as how oysters are farmed. But I would recommend simply heading into one of the shops on the cosy boulevard and chat with the owners. You will learn so much! 🙂
We had a dozen oysters and a glass of wine each for around €20 on one of the terraces on the boulevard. But another option is to just get your oysters from one of the shops (the size 1 are only about €0,50! each!). You can then get your bubbles from the supermarket and enjoy in your campervan or apartment! The shop owners will open the Oysters for you, and if you pay a bit extra you can even get a lemon if you don’t have one at hand 😉
We had Size 3 Oysters for dinner with some bread and olive oil – these ones I could manage. But then Bas decided to get some more oysters for breakfast and came back with size 1! I tried one, and there is film evidence of me not liking it 😉 I did enjoy the rose though 😀
Dune du Pilat
On the same day as visiting the Bay of Arcachon, you could also visit the Dune du Pilat. This is a very famous spot in the area because it is the highest sand-dune in Europe!
Rising 110 metres above sea level it is made up of about 60 million cubic metres of sand! It also stretches for almost 3km along the coast, completely blocking the view of the ocean until you climb to the top. If you make it to the top, you are rewarded with views over the Atlantic Ocean and the pine forests on the inland side.
The Dune itself is free to visit and you can visit at any time. But, the parking lot costs €4 for 4 hours, or €6 for the day during peak season. In off-peak season it costs €1 for 4 hours or €2 per day. However, if for some reason you wanted to visit between 2 and 7 am, then it would cost €40 for parking! I guess it’s to deter campervans from staying there 😉 . Apparently a cheaper parking alternative a bit further along (which will take you longer to climb the dune). You can find all information about parking and how to get to the dune here.
Based on a friend’s recommendation, we had high expectations of this place! But like many touristic destinations, it was super busy! On top of that it was rainy and grey! We did go up the hill and enjoyed the view, but we quickly went back. This place was not for us 🙂 But I guess when it’s sunny and pretty, it’s much more enjoyable and you can explore more of the dune! See more reviews and experiences at the Tripadvisor page.
Getting there and around
It is fairly easy to get from Bordeaux to the Arcachon Bay area. It does not matter whether you are travelling by car or coming by train. In fact, the Archachon Bay tourism website even has a very useful tool. You can put in where you are travelling from and it will show you all the travel options to get to the area, along with prices, times of departure and transit! If you go to this website, scroll down to the four green buttons and click the “How to get there” button you can plan your own trip very easily. Trains go about every 40 minutes. To get to the Dune du Pilat or Arcachon, you can catch a bus.
Camping in the Bay D’Arcachon
We checked out several campings in the area. They were very well located, most of them right behind the dune. Which would be awesome to watch sunsets and enjoy the beach. Unfortunately, we found them very touristy and large. And, expensive! So we checked Park 4 Night and found out we could actually stay for free with our van at the end of the boulevard and it was lovely!
It was a very windy night and we were a bit scared of being eaten by the ocean, but we woke up again in the morning 😉
I hope I have inspired you to take this day trip from Bordeaux. Especially if you are into local food, trying the cheap Arcachon Oysters is really worth it!