The essential French summer vacation

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from cares which will not withdraw from us.” (Maya Angelou)

Like Maya said.

In July, for the first time in a long time, I went away and landed my perfect French summer vacation, or in Véro’s words, a delightful (and unexpected) collection of “petits bonheurs” (those small joys I have learned to spot, catch and enjoy whenever I need a break.)

My favorite one happened on the last day. Tip: When you travel, don’t rely too much on spreadsheets. Always trust…

… Serendipity

There’s a lot to do and discover in Arcachon, a popular seaside resort sprawling around a scenic bay near France’s Atlantic Coast. In fact Arcachon offers all the prerequisites for the perfect French summer vacation. If you’ve watched the short videos I’ve released all week on social media or the virtual tour filmed in the “Winter Town” (the historic district overlooking the resort) you may already be sold.

A must-see in these parts is the famous Cap Ferret peninsula. It sits directly across from Arcachon and is rumored to be a world of its own. It takes a bit more effort to get to (by boat or by car.) It makes sense celebrities and the affluent crowd favor renting secluded villas there. In fact, Le Cap Ferret is the only place where I overheard foreign languages all week.

One morning, I pulled myself away from Arcachon and the cozy rental apartment. I booked a ticket to cross the Bay to Cap Ferret, a 30-minute boat ride, 9 Euros one way.

Those who don’t rent bikes (a popular way to explore the exclusive peninsula) should be ready to walk long distances. It was too hot to do either so I stopped by the local Tourist Office. They highlighted a walkable itinerary on a map and sent me on my way. I sensed right away that “le Village des Pêcheurs” (the Fisherman’s Village) – the Bay of Arcachon is renowned for oyster farming – would be the perfect lunch stop.

Just like that, another “petit bonheur” was about to present itself.

La Cabane d’Hortense

After climbing the 258 stairs of the historic local lighthouse (visitors are rewarded by incredible views of the “Bassin”) I had worked up an appetite. Following the peaceful shoreline in the sun, I reached “le Village des Pêcheurs” and passed several shacks by the water advertising “Dégustation” (oyster and seafood tasting.) Piles of empty oyster shells sitting in the sun were proof “la dégustation” is indeed a favorite local pastime.

One sign caught my attention: “La Cabane d’Hortense.”

Cabane d'Hortense entrance

It wasn’t 12:30pm yet. I hoped a table would be available. I needn’t have worried. At La Cabane d’Hortense friendly service is part of the deal. Everyone’s welcome including solo diners.

A couple arrived at the same time and were standing next to me. A staff member approached us. “Une table pour trois?,” he asked, assuming we were a party of three.

– “Je suis toute seule, comme une grande,” I replied. “Eating solo, like a big girl” (a favorite line of mine) always makes them smile.

Without missing a beat, in this laid-back shack where many favor beach and summer wear, he gallantly offered me his arm with a smile and took me to a small table in the coveted waterfront area facing the Bay. “Voilà Madame. Ça vous va?”

Yes, I liked it. Within minutes, “l’ardoise” (the day’s “Dégustation” menu) had magically appeared. The table was dressed efficiently.

I took a deep breath. I had arrived.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. “Voilà quelques photos” of the special experience I enjoyed over the next hour as the shaded “terrasse” filled in.

As I took in the glorious sights, paddle boarders gliding by on the peaceful lagoon a few feet away, I let peace (and happiness) take over, leaving behind problems and cares. You would have been proud of me, Maya Angelou!

I sampled with gusto my typical seaside fare, “crevettes et bulots” (prawns and sea snails) with a delicious, crisp Bordeaux white wine.

I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving this heavenly place.

So I ordered more. For the first time in years (Here’s Véro swallowing an oyster!) I gave raw oysters a try.

When I ordered, I asked: “I never eat oysters but I feel like I should today. What do you recommend?”

The friendly young waitress replied: “I don’t like them either. I eat one a day to get used to the taste. Get the small ones! The dressing helps push them down.”

I smiled at her honesty and opted for #4 (the higher the number, the smaller the oyster.) They came with vinegar-shallot dressing or lemon wedges. Salted butter and bread were already on the table.

The waitress beamed when she saw I had cleared my plate after following her advice. “Bravo!,” she quipped, “there’s hope after all!”

There’s always hope. There’s always “un petit bonheur” waiting to happen.

My thanks and endless gratitude to “la Baie d’Arcachon” and la Cabane d’Hortense for a perfect French summer vacation…

… and of course, A bientôt!

Bassin d'Arcachon

Dune du Pilat from Cap Ferret, Bassin d’Arcachon

Véronique - France with Véro
Véronique of France with Véro

Véronique of France with Véro

Vero shares her homeland weekly on social media with virtual tours, photo essays, live events and other publications at France with Vero. Learn more.

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  1. Peggy Schmouder on August 3, 2023 at 12:32 pm

    So glad you had a peaceful and restful vacation! I never liked oysters until I had them in Bordeaux last fall with my tour guide Jennifer. Nothing like fresh from the sea.

    • Véro on August 3, 2023 at 1:04 pm

      I believe I know your tour guide Jennifer
      ! 😉

  2. Deborah Ball on August 3, 2023 at 4:46 pm

    Beautiful area ~ loved the clip from Mr Bean 😉

  3. Susan on August 4, 2023 at 11:58 pm

    My hubby and I were there last October visiting a former French teacher friend (I collect them;) who is originally from West Seattle. After living nearly 40 years in Paris she retired to Arcachon as it offers such a familiar sensory blend, reminiscent of the PNW, but with all the splendors of France. We fell in love with the area. Thanks for sharing your holiday.

  4. Bettye Bradley on August 8, 2023 at 9:10 pm

    We loved visiting the bay last year. Our host in Bordeaux recommended the small town of Andernos les Bains and like you, I had never eaten raw oysters….unlike my sister, Cynthia who adores them.
    Needless to say they were delicious and the seaside town did not disappoint! Thanks for sharing as always Vero!

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