One of the advantages of Bordeaux (aside from the wine, the countryside, the history, great food – and I could go on) is the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean. In about an hour from the centre of Bordeaux you can be paddling (or sailing) in the Arcachon bay.
The Bordelais migrate en masse to the Bassin d’Arcachon for the summer season. They can choose from the Cap Ferret on the peninsula with crashing waves on it’s Atlantic side and Oyster parks on the bay side with fishermen’s cottages where you can taste oysters straight out of the water with a little glass of Bordeaux blanc.
Or there is Arcachon, on the southern side of the bay, a much bigger town with railroad access which, when installed in the late 1800’s, brought Parisians here to take the air whose reputation of combing the salt of the ocean with the resin of the pines made it a chic resort to recuperate from respiratory problems. Catering to this moneyed clientele the Periere Brothers, who owned the railroad, created the Ville d’Hiver behind the waterfront. The beautiful villas are typical of the town with intricate patterned carved front porches and balconies, overlooking the springs of the Abatilles where people still come to take the waters. Their seemingly random setting, all planned to avoid winds whistling up straight roads from the waterfront only reinforces the charm of this architecture.
Previously reserved for owners of these architectural gems you can now stay in the heart of this picturesque part of town at the recently opened Hotel Ville D’Hiver. The hotel is in and around the original water treatment centre of the town, which dates from the late 1800’s, built to supply water to the city whose population, boomed every summer. Water from a nearby lake was stocked in 2 huge underground reservoirs one of which is now the swimming pool.
The pool at The Hotel Ville d’Hiver in one of the old resevoirs
The 18 rooms are in 4 different buildings around the main historical edifice, which is now the lounge, restaurant and wine bar. Destroyed by fire in 1990 the owners have done a spectacular job keeping the original atmosphere but with a funky and cosy décor.
The original pumping station is now the heart of the hotel.
The eco credentials are on show from the renovation techniques in 2009 to the products used and the organic beauty treatments in the spa.
Arcachon has for many years been a bit of a poor relation, not enjoying the chic reputation of Cap Ferret, unless you are lucky enough own one of the very smart water front homes between the Dune du Pyla, Europe’s highest sand dune and the little village of Le Mouleau.
But this year has seen the unveiling of the renovated town centre, a project that had left the streets of the town in chaos for a long time – but the wait was worthwhile.
The new Arcachon centre
Built around the original town hall and food market, new shops and funky boutiques have take over the ground floor of the buildings surrounding the pedestrian square clearly inspired from the architecture of the Ville d’Hiver, creating a whole new reason to visit the town and drag the visitors away from the beach and the locals from their boats.