The essential sites of the Arcachon basin

The Arcachon basin is a lagoon located in the southwest of the Gironde department, halfway between the Pointe de Grave and Capbreton. Open to the Atlantic Ocean, the Arcachon basin is a small inland sea, triangular in shape, bounded by 80 kilometers of flat coastline and wooded dunes. In the center of the Arcachon basin is the island of birds and its famous “cabanes tchanquées” where oyster farming is practiced, as well as fishing and boating. Since April 2014, the basin is also home to the Arcachon Basin Marine Natural Park. In this article, we are going to discover the essential sites that make up the Arcachon basin, such as the Pilat dune, the Arguin bank, the bird sanctuary of Teich or the famous seaside resort of Cap Ferret.

The Arcachon basin and the Pilat dune

Located on the edge of the Landes de Gascogne forest, the Pilat dune is situated on the silver coast, at the entrance of the Arcachon basin. 2.9 kilometers long and 616 meters wide, the Pilat dune is also the highest dune in Europe, with a summit that reaches 102 meters. Attached to the municipality of La Teste de Buch, the Pilat dune is made up of nearly 55 million cubic meters of sand! Every year, the dune moves and gains on the forest massif, burying the trees of about 5 meters per year. Its slope also varies according to wind speed. On the west side, the slope varies from 5 to 20°, while the west side façade has a slope of 30 to 40°. The formation of the Pilat dune is essentially linked to that of the Arguin bank formed over the centuries by sea currents and strong westerly winds, the grains of sand come from the Arguin bank when it is at low tide. Each year, the Pilat dune attracts nearly 2 million visitors who climb to its summit, making it one of the most visited natural sites in France along with the Mont Saint-Michel. A listed site, the Pilat dune is also a favorite place for paragliding enthusiasts and remains accessible, free of charge, to pedestrians on the forest side.

Découvrez les sites incontournables du bassin d'Arcachon

The Arguin bank in Arcachon

The Arguin bank is located in the center of the Arcachon basin, facing the Pilat dune and the tip of Cap Ferret. Classified since 1972 as a national ornithological nature reserve, the Banc d’Arguin is an important nesting place for birds and is only accessible by boat. Its surface area extends over nearly 4360 hectares and it protects the entire sandbank visible off the entrance to the Arcachon basin. The Banc d’Arguin is an immense stretch of sand known to serve as a stopover for many species of migratory birds. Under the action of the tides and the sea winds, the Arguin Bank is also constantly changing its shape and location. The island’s isolation, as well as the fauna of the Banc d’Arguin, make it an ideal place for birds that winter and breed there. Accessible only in summer from Arcachon, the Moulleau or via the dune, the Arguin bank is a privileged place for tourists because it offers an incredible spectacle and an unobstructed view of the Pilat dune and the Cap Ferret.

The Arcachon basin and the island of birds

Located in the French commune of La Teste de Buch, in the center of the Arcachon basin, the island of birds is, according to various hypotheses, either an ancient sandbank or the remains of a high dune forged by the winds. The island of birds extends over nearly 300 hectares at high tide and over 3000 hectares at low tide! The island of birds has 53 huts and the 2 famous “cabanes tchanquées”, wooden huts perched on stilts intended to monitor the oyster beds. The cabins have also become a symbol of the island and the basin. Surrounded by oyster beds, the bird island is mainly home to migratory birds, but also to sea lions. Accessible by boat from Arcachon and Cap Ferret, the island of birds is a classified natural site since a decree of August 2008. The island of birds has also inspired Pascal Obispo in the famous song “fallen for her” released in 1994.

The ornithological reserve of Teich

The ornithological reserve of Teich is a space fitted out allowing the public to observe the wild birds. Located in the commune of Le Teich, the bird sanctuary covers nearly 120 hectares of forests, meadows, lagoons and maritime marshes. Open to the public since 1972, the reserve located on the route of migratory birds allows the observation of more than 260 species, 80 of which nest on site. Present mainly in autumn and spring, you can observe migratory birds such as white storks, egrets or herons. Open every day of the year, the bird sanctuary of Le Teich offers 3 routes, including a 6 km loop and 17 observatories through a footpath. Closed observation huts allow a comfortable visit of the site whatever the weather. The tour of the site is usually completed in 3 to 4 hours.

The colorful huts along the harbors and house the fishermen's equipment
The colorful huts along the harbors and house the fishermen’s equipment

The Arcachon basin and the Cap Ferret

Lège-Cap Ferret is the peninsula located between the basin of Arcachon and the Atlantic Ocean where are, from north to south an agglomeration of several oyster villages. The seaside resort located on the southern part of the peninsula is called Cap Ferret. Consisting of dunes and sandy terrain, Cap Ferret is also subject to sea spray and strong marine erosion. The film “Les petits mouchoirs” directed in 2010 by Guillaume Canet and starring Marion Cotillard has contributed greatly to the reputation of Cap Ferret. Nicknamed the Saint-Tropez of the Atlantic, Cap Ferret is also, each summer, frequented by many personalities. The Cap Ferret lighthouse, built in 1840, has been listed as a historical monument since November 2009. Its staircase composed of 258 steps allows to reach the top of the building and offers an extraordinary panorama on the basin of Arcachon, from the top of its 60 meters. For nature lovers, 150 kilometers of beaches are available on the Atlantic side and accessible from the road by footpaths.

Arcachon, eponymous town of the basin

Arcachon is the sub-prefecture of the Gironde department. Created in 1857 by the detachment of a part of the municipality of La Teste de Buch, the city of Arcachon is part of the Landes de Gascogne and the Landes forest. Like Royan, La Baule and Les Sables d’Olonnes, the city of Arcachon has become an important seaside resort on the Atlantic coast. With its 21 hectares of surface and its 2600 boat places, the port of Arcachon is the second marina of the Atlantic coast, after that of La Rochelle. Every year, the city organizes the Cadences festival, which brings together artists from around the world to perform in theater and dance. Its observatory named “Saint Cécile” offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the city and the basin.

Cap Ferret and the beach of Petit Piquey
Cap Ferret and the beach of Petit Piquey

Oyster farming villages of the Arcachon basin

The basin of Arcachon includes villages and oyster ports. Colorful huts line the harbors and house the equipment needed to grow oysters. The most famous villages of the Arcachon basin are :

  • La Teste de Buch: known for its famous dune of Pilat, La Teste de Buch is also famous for its oyster port, as well as for its large market. La Teste de Buch was also, in the past, one of the largest communes in France when it gathered all the communes of the peninsula.
  • Gujan-Mestras: located in the south of the Arcachon basin, Gujan-Mestras is considered, with its seven ports, as the capital of the Arcachon oyster industry.
  • Biganos: located in the heart of the Landes de Cascogne National Park, Biganos is at the crossroads of the north and south of the basin.
  • Andernos-les-Bains: located in the north-east of Arcachon, Andernos-les-Bains is, with its numerous shops and companies, one of the most dynamic cities on the economic level of the Arcachon Basin.
  • Arès : very popular with vacationers, Arès is also known for its famous oyster festival that takes place every summer.
  • Lanton : Lanton is composed of 4 towns : Lanton, Cassy, Taussat-les-Bains and Blagon. The city hosts each year the short film festival “les toiles de mer”.
  • Audenge : The small port of Audenge is quite authentic, like its small colored wooden huts which border it.
  • Le Teich: Le Teich is especially known for its bird reserve, the domain of Fleury and the Delta of the Leyre. Its port is a true haven of peace, nature and greenery.

The Arcachon basin is also accessible by train from Paris-Montparnasse (TGV to Bordeaux Saint-Jean, then TER to Arcachon station). Campsites, bed and breakfasts, hotel reservations, restaurants… to organize your stay, we invite you to visit the website


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