Weekending: The Côte D’Argent
“The Côte de where?” I hear you ask. Yep, I thought I’d start my Weekending series with a bit of a hidden gem (…or should that be precious metal, being as this is the silver coast?). The Côte D’Argent stretches over 200km of French coastline, from the mouth of the Gironde river above Bordeaux all the way down to Biarritz. It has the longest straight stretch of sandy beach in Europe, towering sand dunes backed with pine forests and great surf – and is only a few miles from Bordeaux’s famous vineyards. Incredibly popular with French families in July and August, the rest of the year you can almost have the place to yourself. So why has hardly anyone else ever heard of it? Well, the secret’s out…
Starting at the tip of the peninsula are the towns of Le Verdon-sur-Mer and Soulac-sur-Mer – a relaxed, small seaside town with a long, sandy beach. You can catch a spectacular sunset from its seafront promenade or over a glass of wine at one of the beachfront bars and restaurants. You’re just a few miles from the vineyards of Bordeaux’s Haut Medoc wine-producing area here, and can pick up some of the local wines direct from the producers (the tourist information offices in the area can book tours and tasting at local vineyards) or at Soulac’s market, along with other specialities from local producers – try a delicious canelé (or two), a pastry with a caramelised crust and rum custard soft centre.
Heading on down the coast, you come to Carcans and Lacanau. With lakes on one side and the ocean the other, they’re heaven for watersports fans. You can sail on the freshwater lake, or surf (the uncrowded beaches are great for beginners and there are plenty of surf schools), windsurf, kitesurf, kite buggy or any other wind and water-based sport you can think of on the beach.
Further down, Le Cap Ferret – not to be confused with the south of France’s similarly named, celeb-filled, champagne-swigging Cap Ferrat – is a laid-back beach resort whose low-key glamour attracts French VIPs en vacances. The town has some suitably smart boutiques shops and restaurants, but head down the peninsula and you’ll soon be lost among the pine forests and find your own stretch of deserted beach.
Heading south from Cap Ferret, you skirt round the Bassin d’Arcachon, passing oyster-farming villages where you can try them local style – steamed over pine needles. Just south of Archachon is the Dune du Pyla. Around 3km long and 100 metres high, it’s Europe’s largest sand dune… and you’re allowed to climb it. Steps lead up the side of the dune (or if you’re feeling seriously energetic you can climb up the sand), and from there you can indulge your Lawrence of Arabia fantasies and wander off into the sandy distance, or just sit and lap up the views – endless forest one way and endless ocean the other.
Getting there… From the UK, British Airways, easyJet, Ryanair and Flybe fly to Bordeaux (direct from London, Bristol, Southampton, Birmingham, Liverpool and Edinburgh). Or by train you can take the Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord (2 hours 15 mins), then cross Paris to Gare Montparnasse by metro (line M4). The journey to Bordeaux takes 3 hours, and in summer trains run on up the peninsula to Le Verdon-sur-Mer, but public transport is limited so you’ll need a car to really explore.
Sleeping… We stumbled across La Co(o)rniche in Pyla-sur-Mer whilst looking for the dune (handy tip, it’s not that way…) and it’s a beauty. On a hillside overlooking the dunes with epic views out to the ocean, it has Philippe Starck-designed interiors, an infinity pool, a swanky terrace bar and restaurant (their website is worth checking out for the photos – and for the slightly pretentious text about the place’s ‘poetic ruggedness’). Prices start at €190 off season up to €500 plus for a suite.
Otherwise there are hundreds of holiday parks and apartment complexes along the coast, and out of French school holidays prices you can bag a bargain, and maybe even get the pool to yourself (I found an apartment through Holiday Rentals, which slept up to 4 people for £300 for a week in September).
Eating and drinking… If (like me, sadly) you can’t afford to stay at La Co(o)rniche, then you can soak up the views and pretend you belong there with an aperitif at their terrace bar. Or for sunset there is a (nameless) bar right on the sands at Soulac-sur-Mer where you can watch the sun go down over a cold beer. Then the nearby Grill Océan serves up the day’s catch, with simple but delicious dishes like fresh prawns, and sea bass with celeriac mash, and an evily delicious crème brulée. And there’s more seafood down in the Arcachon basin, with its famous oysters (though apparently they’re best in months with a ‘r’).