When the weather was nice a couple of weeks ago, we had the opportunity to visit Arcachon and the Dunes of Pilat (https://www.dunedupilat.com/en/) on a beautiful Saturday. They are the largest dunes in all of Europe and sit majestically overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. In order to get to the top of the dunes, we climbed with several hundred other people to the top of the first dune. Having hiked many a dune, I was prepared for this hike and elected to keep my shoes on. I knew how cold the sand could be in the winter since I spent my teen years on the West Coast of Michigan. We had amazing dunes from Ludington to the famous Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. One summer I was even lucky enough to have a volleyball coach that thought running the dunes would make us jump higher. My son and husband elected to go barefoot to keep the sand out of their shoes. I knew that nothing would keep the sand off of us. I told them they would find sand in place that make no sense when we got home but they still thought bare foot was better.
I had an insider tip from a coworker that the key to the dunes was to get out past the first dune. In driving winds that pummeled sand into our eyes and face, we hiked past the first dune and went to a remote area of the dune to get an unobstructed view. When the winds would get particularly high, my son would crouch down into what he called turtle defensive position. But the hike was worth it. We walked for about an hour and wound up almost totally alone on top of the dunes. My colleague had let me know that most visitors don’t make it very far on the dunes and she was right. We were able to just sit and look out onto the Atlantic without any noise from other people. It was truly incredible.
After the dunes, we ventured about 20 more minutes down the road (we had rented a car) to Arcachon which is an adorable little beach town. We found a parking spot and walked around looking for a place to have lunch. Even though it is March, there were a decent amount of people walking the beaches and enjoying the afternoon. My son had just played and run on the dunes for 2 hours, but he was still so excited to play in the sand on the beach. It was warmer than it has been but still was only in the mid 50s. Even so, he buried himself in the sand up to his head and insisted we get a picture of him.
All along the beach, there are French cafes with outdoor seating (of course they also have heating lamps to make them year round dining spots). They have Italian, tapas, traditional French brasserie, and seafood choices. We grabbed a spot in one of the Italian cafes and had a wonderful lunch. Since the cafes sit right on the edge of the beach, we were able to let our son go play in the sand. French friends of ours had told us that the French don’t allow developers to develop house and condominiums on the beach. They believe the beach should be for everyone so there are not any buildings that sit right on the beach. My son loved the lunch spot because he didn’t have to sit while the slow adults finished eating and we loved having some time to chat.
We had such a great time that when my sister came to visit this week, I knew Arcachon would be on my list of things I really wanted to show her. She and her husband brought their three children who are just slightly younger than my son. He was delighted to have his family here (and to have children to speak English with). We have mostly been exploring Bordeaux but one day we went back to Arcachon. This time we took the train since there were 8 of us and between car rentals and gas, cars can get expensive. Time wise it is pretty much a wash with the train taking 52 minutes and the car about 45. For all 8 of us, the train was only 40 euros and it drops off about 4 blocks from the beach. It was also nice because the kids could sit in one set of chairs while the adults could chat in another. I love European train travel! It was horribly cold but by some unexplainable phenomenon, children don’t feel cold. They even put their feet in the ocean and informed us it wasn’t so bad. We were again able to sit in the cafe watch the children play. We had such a great time and even managed to avoid the rain for one day.