Like an habitué in Cap Ferret, France

July 31, 2011 14 comments

Cap Ferret is a well known French secret not often shared with foreigners. A summer destination near Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast with incredible charm and bohemian living. Not to be confused with St Jean Cap Ferrat on the Riviera, famously full of glitzy russians and wealthy americans, Cap Ferret is laid back, hidden on a peninsula, yet with its own codes and bourgeois values inherited from the big families of wine merchants around Bordeaux.

Having just spent 2 weeks here with Marcelo (5) and Amalya(2), Cap Ferret lived up to its reputation. A wonderful family destination away from the big crowds, close to nature and with healthy and active living, all of this in a chic yet understated way. Unfortunately, my photos are not doing it full justice as the weather was bad and the light not so good.

Cap Ferret sits at the tip of a peninsula and even though the village itself is rather charmless, its location is stunning, with the busy bay of Arcachon on one side, and the very long empty beaches across sand dunes on the Atlantic side.

Life revolves around the oh-so delicious daily food market, the tides schedules, the many sports actvities available and aperitif time made of the world famous oysters from the bay and a glass of crisp white from Bordeaux or fruity rose from Provence. Alternatively, try a glass of Lillet, a very local aperitif.

   

Everyone goes around by bicycle, which is what we loved the most – Amalya in her carriage, Marcelo on his first little bike (bravo!) – and children & adults have many sports available at their fingertips. One can be easy lazy all day long, lounging from the bassin (bay) beaches to the ocean beaches, or a non-stop doer from surfing to sailing to kayaking to kitesurfing to tennis playing to deep sea fishing to…boating.ok, that’s not really a sport. On top of that, there are quite a number of pleasant half day trips for the culturally adventurous.

On the photo below left, Sabot (Clog) , Papillon (butterfly) and Noisette (hazelnut) denote different oyster sizes. 

      

If the weather is crap (it’s the Atlantic coast after all, not as predictable as the Mediterrannee), you can always get the family in the car and drive 1h30 away to several of Bordeaux’ great Medoc – with a designated driver bien sur.

And if the weather is really crap (like it’s been for us most of the vacation, but everyone said it was an exception. Can we believe the locals?), the food will always be amazingly good, whether you cook simple dishes with the local market supplies or try one of the delicious fish restaurants. And with a good supply of paint, crafts and recipe books, vacation is always vacation. Smile.

   

Here’s my Best Of Cap Ferret:

PLAY in Cap Ferret

Take a boat tour with Balade sur Chaland, a small business of fishermans’ boats who will tell you all about the bay. Marcelo loved fishing with our captain Vincent and catching a sole that I then cooked for dinner.

   

You could also just get onboard one of the many general excursions departing the main dock in town. Or you could charter your own speed boat and picnic on the famous Banc d’Arguin National Reserve in the middle of the seas (try the Taxi Boat  06 64 04 04 01 or Danny on 06 12 59 30 75). Organize a picnic beforehand, or have it prepared by La Pinasse Cafe and pick it up at the dock, tres chic. Try also Les Pinasses du Bassin if you want an authentic local pinasse boat.

Ride the Petit Train back and forth to the Ocean beach from the bay dock. It runs every 30minutes (click here for the detailed schedule) and is fun for the young children. That beach is very pleasant and safeguarded. Other beautiful ocean beaches incldue the one of the Sail Fish (more remote), and the Beach de la Pointe (amazing views).

Bike Rental: You’ll find plenty of shops in town for bike rental, but the best is Westside Sports (05 56 03 77 48 [email protected]) as they have the stylish and so comfortable Beach Cruiser bikes. The owner is very friendly and has a good deal: for Eur17 for the day, you’ll get a bike, a 6 oysters tasting and a glass of white wine. What else do we need?!

Surf Classes: Cap Ferret is a big surf spot, with many different schools and places to rent equipment. The two most recommended surf schools for children are: Alex Surf Club (06 47 35 34 84) by the Small Train beach, starting 4 years old. And Nomad Surf School ( 06 60 87 62 90) starting 6 years old.

Tennis Club de l’Ocean. They have weekly kids programs starting at 5 years old. (05 56 03 79 61 – right by the “Sail Fish” restaurant)

Sailing Classes at the Club de Voile Cercle Nautique du Cap Ferret (05 56 50 44 06 – [email protected]). It’s located on the Plage du Phare ie the lighthouse beach near town, with half day courses morning or afternoon.

And many families enroll their children in kids beach clubs, for half or full days. Often, the staff will not speak French but if you’d like to give it a try, check out the most famous one Le Club du Phare (05 56 60 69 63).

There are many more sports and activities available, check out the Tourism office for full details. There’s an office when you reach the peninsula, and one right in the village of Cap Ferret, or email them on this link.

STAY in Cap Ferret

My favourite area is towards the end of the peninsula ie La Pointe, after the lighthouse (the 44 hectares and around). It’s very quiet, yet still an easy biking distance from the heart of town and very near both sides of the peninsula. The environment is extremely protected and the streets are often made of sand, with little or no signage and no street lights at night. Most houses are hidden behind big pine trees giving a great sense of privacy.

   

Otherwise, staying inside the town of Cap Ferret gives the advantage of being walking distance to the shops and the market yet still very near the beaches. And there are two particularly beautiful little towns facing the bay right before Cap Ferret, technically separate but still forming the same community: L’Herbe and La Vigne. They are originally oyster fisherman villages and have retained the charm of the small wooden house painted in many colours.

   

All around, the way to go with a family is to rent a house. Try these two real estate agents as they have a good quality supply: Agence immobiliere du Cap & Agence de la Presqu’ile . For the summer months, you are advised to book way in advance. We found our very charming rental on Homelidays, a favorite resource that puts you in touch directly with the owners.

If you’re in for a shorter stay, the 3 best hotel addresses are: La Maison du Bassin, filled with antiques on the bay side, Cote Sable, more design inside town and l’Hotel des Dunes, right near the sand dunes on the ocean side. Note that we have not stayed at either of those but they seem to have a good reputation.

EAT in Cap Ferret

Oh..I don’t know where to start!

For the most memorable & delicious meal, you must go (and reserve way in advance for a nice table) Chez Hortense 05 56 60 62 56, lunch or dinner, children most welcome. An institution at la Pointe du Cap (facing the majestic Pyla Dune). It’s a wonderful family bistro. And there, you should not miss Les Moules in the menu, a secret recipe of mussels, tons of garlic (this is France) and ham from the basque country.

For extra thin crusts pizza to stay or take away, Chez Joel inside town (remember that delivery -and great service in general- is not part of the French vocabulary!!). 05 56 03 71 77. 2 Rue des Rossignols

For fresh fish in the fisherman’s village, le Bouchon du Ferret (05 56 60 77 32) is a relaxed and pleasant restaurant, owned by Chez Boulan across the street where you can taste different oysters by the water.

For more fresh fish and a beautiful view of the bay, Le Pinasse Cafe 05 56 03 77 87. The menu is very good and children can play on the sand right in front of you.

For a more elegant, kids-free evening, La Maison du Bassin has a very recommended table. Or just get a drink at the bar next door, Le Tchanque.

For the best oysters to take away, Chez Sebastien Degrave in the oyster village of Cap ferret. They also have a most romantic terace at the back for tasting til 10pm. Make sure also to pay a visit to the authentic and incredibly charming villages of L’Herbe, La Vigne and Le Canon where communities of oystermen and fishermen still live all year long.

For the best canneles (a typical pastry from the Bordeaux region, de-li-cious) or a waffle after the beach, you need to queue like everyone else Chez Fredelian in the heart of town. You cannot leave Cap Ferret without trying one of those.

And do get that very special treat that all the locals queue for at the market, a Dune Blanche from the bakery Chez Pascal. To die for. Can’t tell you more.

Oh..and Last:For the freshest fish to cook at home, buy it chez Poissonerie Lucine (05 56 60 47 07) Ask for advice – I have been experimenting many different fish carpaccio recipes thanks to them.

   

Slightly outside town, for old-school atmosphere and a great terrace, Chez Magne at Hotel de la Plage in the village of L’Herbe (a must-visit little village – see above) is another institution. Or next door, on the beach, for oysters & a glass of white wine while kids play on the beach.

Don’t shy away in asking for children’s menu wherever you go. It’s not always explicit but surely available.

SHOP in Cap Ferret

The daily market (til 1pm) has an ecclectic set of stands so you’ll have to dig in to find good surprises. Try to find the stall of Laingo, a family from Madagascar selling very sweet children pieces made of liberty fabrics that they source in England. In the summer months, the market is everyday. Otherwise it’s on Saturdays & Wednesdays.

Esprit du Cap is a smart antique-filled shop in the fisherman’s village.

TIPS

Arrive into Bordeaux by TGV(high speed train) or by plane (several international airlines including Easy Jet and British Airways). It’s a 45min drive to Cap Ferret, a hefty Eur140 taxi ride, so you are better off reserving a car rental- but you might never use your car once in Cap Ferret…

Ask for a babysitter’s list at the Office du Tourisme. They will email you one in advance

Stop at the Tourism office to pick up many valuable maps and advice

Book restaurants or activities in advance in peak season (which arguably might not be your idea of vacation…but that’s the way not to be disappointed in Cap Ferret)

…And if all of this is not enough info, check this recent article on Travel&Leisure

 

 

Voila.  Now you can claim to be an habitué du Cap Ferret…

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