Gironde Geography and Natural Beauty

Bay of Arcachon, Gironde, Aquitaine, France

Arcachon Bay

This tidal bay with approximately 100km of coastline is renowned for its boating and oysters. All round the bay are beautiful beaches, little fishing and holiday villages, campsites, dunes and pine forests.

Visit Gujan Mestras close to Arcachon to see oyster farming. Follow the port signs to 7 little inlets with wooden workshop cabins which don’t appear to have changed in 100 years.

Children will love Gujan Mestras’s Aquacity water park and museum of model ships. Nearby La Hume is the summer home to dozens of craft workers.

Watersports enthusiasts can enjoy diving, sea-kayaking, windsurfing and boating and on land there are quality walking and cycle trails for exploring the woodland areas.

The Bay is also a fabulous place for bird-watching if you avoid June to September (too many visitors). Boats from Arcachon take you to Bird Island and Teich Ornithological Park – an important wetland site at the eastern end of the Bay (open daily 1000 – 1800) to see spoonbills blue throat and black kites along with nesting storks.

Gironde Estuary

The Gironde, at over 75km long and 12km wide in places, is Europe’s largest estuary. Formed where the mighty Dordogne and Garonne rivers meet at Bourg, it’s a waterway with strong tidal currents and sandbanks demanding skilful navigation by shipping of all sizes.

Over the centuries, the Gironde Estuary has been a route to the Atlantic for commodities on which the port of Bordeaux has built its prosperity, from sugar to wine. Along its banks grow some of the world’s most prestigious vineyards. Vines even grow on the Ile de Patiras and Ile Margaux which form part of a series of privately owned islands within the estuary.

Another island houses a seventeenth century fort whilst others provide stopping off places for hundreds of migratory birds. Cross the estuary on the Larmarque to Blaye ferry or take the car ferry from Pointe de Grave at its mouth to Royan. In March 2011, a Portland stone memorial was unveiled at Pointe de Grave to commemorate the 'most daring small scale raid of WWII.' In 1942, 10 Royal Marines in canoes mounted a limpet mine attack on shipping in Bordeaux Harbour.

From Royan a boat operates May to September taking visitors to Cordouan Lighthouse, a beautiful listed building built in 1584 and France’s oldest working lighthouse, which stands guard out at sea over the mouth of this great estuary.

Cote d’Argent

200km of silver sand where Atlantic rollers, white with foam, crash on beautiful beaches backed by dunes and forests, stretching south from the Gironde Estuary to stylish Biarritz in the Pyrenees Atlantiques.

The lack of coastal roads north from Arcachon Bay leaves huge areas wild and un-crowded while other Atlantic beaches are a magnet for watersports enthusiasts. Surfing is popular from Le Verdon to Cap Ferret, the most well known resorts being Carcans Hourtin – which has surf schools – and Lacanau where world professional events are held. Behind pine-fringed dunes the lakes of Lacanau and Hourtin-Carcans offer child-friendly beaches and calmer waters ideal for swimming, sailing and windsurfing.

Discover quiet holiday and fishing villages linked by wildernesses ideal for cycling, walking and horse riding. The popular resort of Arcachon with its tidal bay and family friendly beaches is a magnet for oyster lovers.

12 km further south, the highest sand dune in Europe, Dune du Pilat, rises over 100m. Steep as a ski jump, climb stairs to the top for fantastic views over the Atlantic, Arcachon Bay and forests of the Landes – wonderful at sunrise and sunset. This 2700m long sand mountain is constantly re-sculpted by wind and tide and is a favorite with sand-boarders and paragliders.

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