Directly due west of Bordeaux, at the midpoint of La Côte d’Argent lies the jewel that is the Bassin d’Arcachon. From chic Cap Ferret at its most Northern edge touring past houses on stilts, stopping at some of the finest fish restaurants on the planet, and round to the spectacular Dune du Pilat, the largest sand dune in Europe, offering a challenge to kids of any age, the Bassin epitomises the best of France in every way.
The diamond of the Bassin d’ Arcachon was, for us, the Parc Ornithologique du Teich. As seasoned birdwatchers, we were stunned by the variety of environments – salt marshes to fresh water habitats - that have been created there. With over 20 hides, and up to 280 species of birds to spot, this place is twitchers’ heaven.
What? Europe's largest sand dune at Pyla in south-western France. Not only is there a mountain of sand to run, roll, or slide down, pretend you're Lawrence of Arabia in, and generally fall about laughing on because you can't walk properly (parental supervision maybe required), but there are also miles of sandy beaches and smaller dunes to muck about in too.
Why? Because it is one of the most fun, memorable, exhilarating things the whole family can do together, and it's free. (Our four-year-old still talks about running down the Pyla dunes last summer.)
When? Any time between May and September should give you good weather. August is predictably busy, but the sheer expanse of the sands means it's never going to be packed.
We stayed at:
Le Petit Nice (Sunelia - camping)
Route de Biscarosse
This is one of the few campsites (on the edge of the Pyla dune) which offers stunning sea views (many sites are hidden behind the massive dune). Tent pitches, mobile homes, swimming pool, daily children's club, paragliding and watersports nearby (but watch out for the very strong currents), not to mention miles of pine forests.
We took our car on the Brittany ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo and drove the 600 odd km (about 7 hours) to Pyla.
Nearest train station: Arcachon (15 km)
Nearest airport: Bordeaux (50km)
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