Monday, May 11, 2009

Europe 2009: Monday, May 11th, Arcachon, France

On Sunday, after a celebration breakfast with Mogens and Jane Ellen's friends and family, we took the train from Nykobing to Kopenhagen. Then Mary, Georg and I flew to Paris, arrived about 8:30pm and picked up our rental car. Instead of paying for a hotel for the night we opted to drive straight through to Arcachon: about a 6 hour drive. We were lucky to get a roomy VW station wagon, which gave Mary plenty of room in the back seat and room for our luggage as well. Georg was a machine; he drove the whole way, while Mary and I took turns falling asleep. We arrived at our apartment in the dark, about 5:30 in the morning. It took us awhile to find the right building. A man was walking his little dog and let me in his building. We searched for awhile before realizing it wasn't our building. Eventually we figured out it was next door. We looked everything over quickly before collapsing into our beds.

We are in the south of France on the Atlantic in a beautiful resort town called Arcachon. There are miles of beaches, bike paths and walking paths. The region is known for its oyster farming and wood manufacturing. We are renting an apartment three blocks from the beach and within walking distance of lots of great shopping and eating. We have two bedrooms, Mary in one and Georg and I in the other, a living room, dining area, kitchen and two bathrooms. The best part is the wrap-around balcony from which we have a birdseye view of the neighborhood, since we are on the top floor.

Pictures of our apartment in Arcachon:

This casino is just two blocks away, right on the beach:

We arrived in Paris from Copenhagen later that night. I had booked a cheap inter-Europe flight on SAS. It was about $120 one way. That was cheaper and much faster than if we had tried to do the train. We were proceeding on to Arcachon in the south of France where we had rented an apartment for a week. I had agonized over how to get to Arcachon: there was no train that late. Should we pay for a hotel for one night only to leave in the morning, or should we rent a car and drive through the night to get to our destination where our accomodations were already paid for? We opted to drive through the night. We picked up our rental car at the airport through Europcar. We got a Volkswagen Passat, which was like a station wagon. Yay! There were three of us with LOTS of luggage, so we had plenty of room. We had brought a GPS from home, which proved to be a huge help getting around.

Once we got out of the city (which took awhile) we were thirsty and famished, so I'm ashamed to say our first meal in France - the land of the best food on the planet - was at McDonalds. The route down to Arcachon was on toll roads but very easy to drive. Kudos to my husband, who was our chauffeur, for staying awake. My girlfriend and I kept falling asleep out of exhaustion. We arrived at our apartment at 4:30 in the morning and slept well into the day.

I had found the apartment through VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner). It was a two bedroom unit on the top floor of the building. The balconies provided us with a view of the surrounding area and we enjoyed our first breakfast there. The apartment owner (an American who lives in Toledo, Ohio) also supplied free internet, a laptop, free calling anywhere in the world and bikes for us to ride. The rental was only $700 for the week.

We loved Arcachon! It's a resort town right on the Atlantic ocean. There is a boardwalk where you can ride your bike along the water for miles and miles. There are fabulous restaurants and shops. And the architecture is some of the most interesting I've seen. Each home has a name plaque on the front. We all fell in love with the area and purposed to return in the future for a longer vacation. We visited the grocery store to stock up on food for the week. I brought home speckled quail eggs (quail eggs at the supermarket!), lovely cheeses, chocolate croissants, beautiful lunch meats. I was in heaven. Later in the week we visited the farmer's market next to the train station, which was foodie heaven.

The area is known for its oyster farms, so we headed to the port for a visit. The water's edge is lined with the colorful shacks of different commercial oyster purveyors. There are several shacks where you can sit down and taste the oysters, which we did. The owner served us a dozen freshly shucked oysters, bread and glasses of wine for a grand total of about $12. What a great experience! Later that evening we had dinner at Le Cabestan. Wow. One of the highlights of our dining experiences on this trip. It was just around the corner from our apartment. If I lived there this would be a weekly visit. Fresh food, great service and reasonably priced.

This is more information on the region:
The Arcachon Bassin
The Bassin d'Arcachon is like an inland sea and is Europe's largest beach with sunbathers drawn to the peaceful shores and calm seas. All round the bay are beautiful beaches, little fishing and holiday villages, campsites, dunes and pine forests. Watersports enthusiasts can enjoy diving, sea-kayaking, windsurfing and boating and on land there are quality walking and cycle trails for exploring the woodland areas. This region is a centre for oyster farming and each summer it celebrates the Oyster Festival, with tasting sessions, fêtes, music, dinner dances and firework displays to light up the bay in true Gironde festive tradition.
The bay is also a natural home for birds, especially L'île aux oiseau - a fragile, protected island in the bay which is a refuge for dozens of species of sea birds and home to oyster farms and the picturesque cabanes tchanquées (huts perched on stilts).

A beach resort located about 60 kilometres southwest of Bordeaux on the southern shore of the Bassin d’Arcachon, Arcachon is one of Gironde’s oldest seaside towns. The Ville d’Ete, or “Summer Town” has wonderful beaches for swimming, sunbathing and watersports, a pretty seafront promenade, playgrounds, boutique shopping and plenty of seafood restaurants. Arcachon’s exclusive Ville d’Hiver or “Winter Town” just south of the “Summer Town” offers a totally different vista. Set on a wooded hillside, the Second Empire holiday villas built at the end of the nineteenth century, are delightful with their wealth of elaborate brickwork, flamboyant balconies and stained glass. Today, the attractions of Arcachon are seafood (especially oysters), beautiful long sandy beaches, pleasure boating, excellent golf courses, great weather and the amazing Dune du Pyla.
Dune du Pyla
Europe’s highest sand dune at 117 metres, the Dune du Pyla begins 8 kilometres south of Arcachon and stretches for almost 3 kilometres. It is thought to have started forming some 8000 years ago reaching its present size in the 17th. century. It is constantly moving and every year it moves a little more inland. The steep climb to the top is well worth the magnificent view and a favourite launch point for sand-boarders and paragliders. To the west are the shoals at the mouth of the Bassin d'Arcachon and Cap Ferret. Eastwards stretches the magnificent dense pine forests of the Landes.

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