Arcachon is to the west of Bordeaux, and is at the northern end of the longest, sandiest coast in Europe, stretching 200 kilometres to Biarritz - known as the Côte d'argent ('the silver coast'). It is a popular area for holidaymakers from Bordeaux and Paris to escape to, being easy to reach by train.
The big attractions in Arcachon are the sandy pine tree covered beaches, the town of Arcachon, and the lovely beach restaurants with delicious fresh seafood. The town itself is very attractive, and the huge covered market with its oyster bar restaurant is to die for. Arcachon is not exposed to the full might of the Atlantic waves, being on the edge of a large inlet, the Arcachon Basin, rather than facing the sea directly. There is a chance for surfers on the Atlantic coast on the other side of the basin.
The town is divided into two parts - the summer town (Ville d'été) and the winter town (Ville d'hiver) slightly further inland. As a visitor you will probably spend more time at the waterfront in the summer town. The summer town runs along next to the beach and has a fantastic selection of restaurants, bars and shops.
The winter town, the 'Ville d'Hiver' has magnificent and often quite eccentric houses that were built in the second half of the 19th century. - Arcachon contains a large number of interesting and ornate old houses, sometimes almost verging on the Disneyesque, a tribute to the days when many rich merchants set up home here.
Various boat-related trips are available from the jetties in the bay. Traditional boats called 'pinasse' are used for these. The boat tours will take you past the beautiful 'cabanes tchanquées' which are fishing cabins on stilts right out in the middle of the bay. They have almost become the symbol of Arcachon. The trips will also take you to a beautiful bird sanctuary and to the point where Arcachon Bay meets the ocean.
Cycling is enormously popular in Arcachon and if you bring a bike with you (or hire one) there is a lovely promenade and cycle path that heads south from the beach and continues 30 kilometres to Biscarrosse, via various beaches and coastal towns en route.
If you enjoy cycling, don't forget that the whole of the Arcachon coast is backed by the largest forest in western Europe - Les Landes. Until a hundred years ago this was just infested swamp, but was reclaimed and planted with pine trees, and is now a 'Regional Natural park'. It is criss-crossed with cycle paths.
Of course, beach activities and boat trips off the coast are available to suit all. If you are a beach lover, even a busy weekend seems unable to overcrowd the beaches south of Arcachon, so you should always be able to find somewhere quiet, if that is what you are looking for.
The beach in Arcachon itself is sandy and very calm - sheltered from the strong waves and currents of the Atlantic Ocean beyond the bay. Perfect for families with small children. There are four main beaches in Arcachon, the Plage Pereire, the Plage d'Arcachon, the Plage d'Eyrac et la Plage des Abatilles. 2km away is the Plage du Moulleau.
If you are looking for something more dramatic then there are literally miles of white sandy beaches, backed by pine forests and with plenty of waves for surfing and body-boarding. These beaches also have lifeguards surveying portions of them to make them more safe for young and teenage children. If you wish to learn how to surf there are lots of surf clubs offering reasonably priced lessons.
And the famous local oysters will undoubtedly tempt you into one Arcachons many restaurants, after all that activity. A large percentage of France's oysters are farmed here and you can visit the farms and learn all there is to know.
But perhaps the two biggest attractions in the area are found a few kilometres away:
Dune du Pilat (Dune de Pyla)
The 'Dune du Pilat' sand dune is a few kilometres south of Arcachon, and is the largest sand dune in Europe, at more than 110 metres high. It is about 3km long, and steep! The appeal is two fold:
Firstly, you and your children can pass a happy hour in the baking sun struggling to reach the top of the sand dune (stairs are also available!), and secondly, the views from the top are simply stunning - out to sea, along the coast, and back across the dunes and Les Landes forests. Fabulous!
It really is an interesting and fascinating place to visit and lots of fun. Children (and adults) will spend hours hiking up to the top and then running down at full speed and then starting all over again.
It is also possible to para-glide from the dunes, a wonderful experience and again one that is relatively inexpensive considering the time and expertise involved. Certainly an experience you wont forget.