Thursday, September 5, 2013

Imagine living in Arcachon

Last week's day trip to Arcachon has many highlights ... but lunch is not one of them.

The seafood is disappointing, and we wait about 45 minutes for our check after asking for l'addition. I wish I had noted the name of the restaurant so I could pass on a warning to those of you who might visit Arcachon, but once we pay (cash, since the owner won't take our credit card. Comme frustrant!), we skedaddle.

Despite le déjeuner mauvais, we spend a delightful day in the beautiful Archachon Basin, located west of Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast. Over coffee, Laurent, our friend (and temporary student to whom we are teaching Freng-lish) points out the architectural style of the city, much of it built in the 1920s. The Ville d'Été (summer quarter) is overcast but the le soleil promises to make an appearance before too long.

Passing through the gardens of Parc Mauresque, we head towards the beautiful Ville d'Hiver (winter quarter). More than 300 villas, in a variety of styles, many with delicate wooden details, dot the tree-lined streets. Laurent tells us that Ville d'Hiver is a year-round family neighborhood; when the rest of the city's seasonal population leaves town at the end of August, residents here resume their normal lives. 

 A pinasse, the traditional boat of Arcachon,
is "moored" in Parc Mauresque.
I love this mural at the base of the
stairs leading to Parc Mauresque.

How amazing it would be to have a close friend or relative living here, with plenty of room for Ken and I to visit any time of year. Yes, ma soeur, I am talking to you: Forget the south of France. Ville d'Hiver resembles neighborhoods in which you've lived in Vermont and Washington State. This place was made for you! But alas, we see very few à vendre (for sale) signs. And I suspect these belles maisons may be un peu cheres.

Arcachon from above
Overcoming a fear of heights, and of rickety stairs, we climb the Belvédere Conservatoire Sainte-Cécile. The 25-meter tall tower was built in 1863 and offers a sweeping 360-degree view of the Arcachon Basin.

Belvédere Conservatoire Sainte-Cécile

Now, we have to climb down too, right?

In the afternoon, we find the car and head to the magnificent Dune du Pilat, Europe's largest sand dune. After sprawling up the 100-meter mountain, where I suspect my bare feet are getting a complimentary pedicure, we spend an hour or so people-watching and admiring the amazing views of both ocean and pine forest. The traffic jam in the parking lot foreshadows the crowd we find here. It seems most everyone has decided to spend one of the last days of summer on the dune. But because Pilat is so vast -- more than 2,700 meters long and 500 meters wide -- it's tout à fait tranquille at the summit.

I know exactly how he feels.
The climb to the summit of Pilat can be
made via stairs or sand.

On top of the world!

Our "guide" Laurent stayed with us for two
weeks in order to improve his English.

Before braving Bordeaux's rush hour traffic, we make one more stop. Laurent takes us to one of his favorite spots, Lac de Cazaux et Sanguinet, a huge (55-square-km) lake, surrounded by a lush forest. Sitting at its edge, Ken and I are sure that this trip to the coast will be the first of many. It's no wonder so many of the French people we've met choose to vacation here.