Cap Ferret is located on the coast about one hour drive from Bordeaux.The Cape Ferret is exposed on its western side of the Atlantic and its eastern shore looks out on the Bassin d’Arcachon, a very vast lagoon that is open to the business of ostreiculture. The Cape supplies almost all of France with oysters. It is a real place rather than a holiday resort. There are no museums and no attractions apart from the chance to live the French life and you can also drive a bit and do wine tasting in Bordeaux. You can always go to Hortense, a destination restaurant where you may see the actor J.Paul Belmondo looking back at you across the tables. It reminds me in some way of a European Martha’s Vineyard exclusive.
The best place to stay in Cape Ferret is La Maison du Bassin, it is tucked away down a very small street in the Village des Pecheurs ( fishermen’s village). This small hotel is a true treasure very chic & comfortable. The rooms are fairly small and there are no TV’s, these are not shortcomings ; they make the place feel cozy. The hotel is both stylish and homely, sophisticated and warm.
If you are not staying at the hotel just stop by for a kir. The hotel is full of locals and regulars – The day I was there you could tell because everyone who came in received a warm welcoming kiss from the barmaid. After an apero or two , you are always tempted to stay for dinner. The food is flavorful and elegant and the bistrot serves 30 desserts daily, set out very beautifully you will see an array of tarts , flans, pies, pies, fruit salads and sweetmeats. You can wander up and help yourself to whatever inspires your palate.
The lagoon is sailable when the tide is in and walkable when the tide is out. The tide turns the bassin d’Arcachon from a damp desert into a huge boating lake and back again. If you look out you can see the tall staves in the water that mark out the oyster- beds. The beds stretch all along the shoreline, their rectangular forms look well- tended. Oyster- farming on the Cape is a family business because the beds are passed down from one generation to the next. In many restaurants you are very often waited on by the wife or daughter of the oyster-farmer. There are quite a few waterside restaurants that serve almost nothing but oysters and are located not that far from the beds.
The ferry for Arcachon leaves at the northern end of town and just takes half an hour to reach it. Arcachon has more of a seaside feel than Cap Ferret and is truly worth exploring. It was developed as a resort in the 19th century and the promenade is populated with large & luxurious hotels. The shopping district and the hotels are designed to entertained the holidaymakers arriving by train from Bordeaux. If you follow the promenade south you will find yourself in the Ville d’Hiver ( winter town). There are mostly very large villas built for the rich. The street of the winter town is shady and inviting for a winter stroll, which ends in the Park Mauresque. You can rent a bike and tour the nearby villages of L’Herbe and Le Canon and the very wild Atlantic coast. L’Herbe is a small stretch of a promenade and at the end you will find the small hotel de la Plage. The hotel is the beginning of L’Herbe’s main street with row of traditional houses that are part-bungalow part beach hut. You can always take a seat & watch while the sea -farmer opens the oysters and squeeze some lemon over the open shells and this is lunch being served in Cape Ferret.
If you go to the next village up, Le Canon, you can catch a boat that will take you to L’Ile aux Oiseaux ( Bird Island) and there you will find the cabanes tchanquees, two very picturesque little houses standing on stilts to raise them above the tide. The cabanes are the symbol of Cape Ferret. They were built as a base from which the oyster- men could keep an eye on their watery domain. They are watchtowers, built to ensure that no one could make off with the very lucrative crop.
If you bicycle the paths on Cape Ferret you will go through dense pine forest The trees on the Atlantic side are under the action of a powerful wind, all lean back at the same side angle, it reminds me of Point Reyes here in California. When you get to the lighthouse, the trees all bend on one side because of the powerful winds.
Where to stay in Cape Ferret
La Maison du Bassin http://www.lamaisondubassin.com and Cote Sable http://www.cotesable.fr
Where to eat
Le Bistrot du Bassin offers both indoor & outdoor dining. Be sure to book a table in advance, it gets busy.
Chez Hortense Reservations are also necessary. Ask for a table with a view across the bay ( 00 33 5 56 60 62 56).
L’Escale http://www.lescalerestaurant.com and Pinasse Cafe http://www.pinassecafe.com
Chez Boulan ( 00 33 5 56 60 77 32) an authentic oyster restaurant on the southern side of town.
Where to go for a drink
Au Bureau a cafe-bar located in Arcachon’s ville d’ete ( 00 33 5 56 83 22 21)
The bar at L’hotel de la Plage ( 00 33 5 56 60 50 15)
Le Mirador is a very decent cafe-restaurant at the end of the cape. ( 00 33 5 56 60 64 19)
What to do
You can visit the Market in Arcachon ( open Tuesday to Sunday) and buy some ingredients for a beach picnic. Rent a bicycle and explore all the little villages, there are a lot of cycle routes. Localbeach http://www.locabeach.com is a good bike hire shop with several locations. You can also take a boat trip to Ile aux oiseaux http://www.bassin-arcachon-info.com, you can see the cabanes tchanquees up close.
Happy new year 2013 to my readers and to the world.