We’ve just come back from a week in Arcachon which is about 70km south of Bordeaux. There were lots of Brits in the area and I discovered that this is due to the Easyjet flights from Luton or indeed Bristol to Bordeaux. We flew down to Bordeaux, picked up a car for the week (about £230 for the car) and drove south to Arcachon.
It’s a beautiful seaside town with more than scent of the grandeur of its heyday: the period from about 1860 to the 1930s when Europe’s aristocracy came to take the healthy sea air and inhale the pine scented breezes which were thought, at the time, to have a beneficial effect on tuberculosis sufferers. The Empress Sissi was a regular at the Grand Hotel which dominates the seafront and the young Gustave Eiffel cut his teeth on building metal walkway structures here before starting work on his tower.
We stayed in the Ville d’hiver where the wealthy built their magnificent villas, each one more imposing and elegant than the last. Many have been converted into hotels or holiday appartments, and if you aren’t looking for the last word in mod cons (these are historical, listed buildings after all) then it’s the place to stay. The Saki fans among you will understand why I expected to bump into Clovis Sangrail round every corner. That kind of vibe…
Arcachon is the main town on the bassin d’Arcachon which is, as the Arcachonnais realiably informed us, the centre of the oyster growing industry in France. They even sell their baby oysters to the Bretons, so Breton oysters are, again according to the Arcachonnais, really Arcachon oysters! All manner of seafood, fish, and of course the aforementioned molluscs are the local speciality and I like to think we did them justice… Basque traditions also pervade the local cuisine and very good tapas bars can be found in places such as Le Moulleau.
Around the bassin you have any number of extremely pretty beaches such as Pereire, Le Moulleau and across the bay, Cap Ferret. If you head south, you come to beaches such as Biscarosse which are also vast stretches of perfect white sand but lack the protection of the bassin. The Atlantic waves make these beaches into a surfers’ haven and we saw more than one battered pick-up truck with daisies doodled on the side. We kept up our street cred level by talking about ‘Point Break’ in loud voices.
And then there’s the wine. Ooooooh the wine. It really would be worth making the journey by car if you can handle it, just to fill up the boot with the precious liquid. Bordeaux is cheaper in the supermarkets than it is where we live, so I can only imagine what the price difference with Britain would be. We flew so we had to limit ourselves to 2 bottles wrapped in our beach towels (they made it) but we talked to a couple of viticulteurs who spoke, misty eyed, about les anglais who come and fill up their cars…
I was a bit limited in terms of music, but my beach sounds were essentially Grace Jones, Island Life, and Rufus Wainwright’s Release the Stars. For the car, I managed to pick up, at one of the area’s great markets (Oh my God, the food!!) a second hand copy of Laurent Voulzy’s ‘La Septième Vague‘ which consequently became the official soundtrack of the holidays. Voulzy is a French crooner with a great affinity for 1960s London, Carnaby Street, etc. He has even written songs about Mary Quant. For this album, he simply made a list of 18 songs he really loved enough to cover, and proceeded to do his own version. Some of them may surprise, but I wanted to draw your attention to this as it really was the perfect soundtrack for exploring the seaside scenery of the Bassin d’Arcachon. And listening to the words of ‘La Madrague’ as we were leaving elicited a heart-felt ‘Waaaaaaaaaah’ from yours truly. I hope you have all had splendid hols. FP.