Whilst doing a bit of research on what to do in Arcachon, one of the stops on our road trip through France & Spain, the recommendation that came up the most was a Day Trip To Cap-Ferret. Cap-Ferret is a peninsula that separates the Bassin d’Arcachon from the Bay of Biscay and it’s the place where most of France’s oysters come from. Oysters and champagne in the sun? I was convinced! So we woke up early to catch the ferry from Arcachon to Cap Ferret.
Ferries run all over the Bassin d’Arcachon between the various docks but the one we were getting went from the main pontoon on Arcachon Beach. You can see the ferry timetable here and we made sure to arrive in plenty of time for the 11am ferry. We queued up at the booth and bought tickets, €13 for a return but we needn’t have been so diligent with our timings. The ferries just run a shuttle service backwards and forwards across the bay and there are about 10 of them on the main route between Arcachon and Cap-Ferret. This meant that there was always one ferry unloading and one loading so there were no specific timings although there was a large queue. I think we had to wait about half an hour and four ferry loads of people before we were able to board. Not such a trial when you get to people-watch in the glorious sunshine.
We boarded our ferry and got a great seat, right at the back so that we could see everything. People piled on along with dogs and bicycles (it’s a popular cycling spot) and we set of across the Bassin d’Arcachon. When you start to pull into the harbour at Cap-Ferret you can see some of the thousands of Oyster Beds that the area is so famous for. I saw people having guided tours and I wish I’d organised that as I’d love to know more about the Oyster farming that goes on there. The journey lasts about half an hour and we soon disembarked on the main pontoon in Cap-Ferret. The drop off point is full of bars and restaurants but we wanted something a bit quieter so we decided to head away from the main town and the crowds. We wandered down the high street with all its gorgeous shops selling beautiful kaftans and homewares designed for beachside living. This is definitely the upmarket town in the area. It wasn’t glitzy and glamorous at all, it just had an understated chic feeling about it.
Wandering South for about 20 mins along the shore we happened to come across a line of Oyster Huts that all offered degustations (tastings) – heaven! We settled on Chez Boulan, one of the most famous oyster farmers in the area and headed out into the back garden for lunch. The huts are all very rustic, no fine-dining here, but who needs it when you have some of the freshest oysters in the world. We were told to choose any table we liked and offered the blackboard to choose our oysters from. A very simple menu with a few starters, paté, whelks and king prawns followed by oysters and a choice of white or rosé wine was all that was on offer. It was so lovely sitting staring out over the surroundings – unfortunately the tide was out, I imagine it would be much prettier when you’re surrounded by the sea.
We ordered a glass of the white and a glass of the rosé to share and a portion of the prawns to start. Then we went for the oysters. After my Oyster Tasting Masterclass I have developed a love for these ugly but beautiful and delicious creatures. We ordered 6 of the Cap-Ferret no2s and 6 of the Boulan Special no2s to compare the taste. The numbers indicate the size, the lower the number the bigger the oyster. We went for the biggest!
The prawns came out and they were huge. Fresh and deliciously sweet and juicy, the quality of the produce was obvious. Happy in the sunshine with our seafood and wine there was no place I’d rather be. Then it was time for the oysters. I just loved the presentation on the ice with some seaweed, so rustic and beautiful. We were given a special Oyster fork which I’d not seen before and it seemed that here, the way to eat them is to scoop the oyster out on the fork and eat it and then drink the liquid afterwards. Not they way I’ve been taught so I went with the tried and tested method of tipping the whole thing into my mouth! Absolutely incredible! You could taste the freshness and it was obvious they’d just been plucked from the sea. The salty, metallic flavour was unbeatable and I loved that I was able to tell the difference between the two different types. The Cap-Ferret kind were more metallic and the Boulan Specials had a much milder, sweeter flavour. A perfect way to take the edge off our hunger, having skipped breakfast!
With our appetites sated for the moment we continued on our walk along the coast. It’s such a beautiful stretch of coastline on this side of the Peninsula as the water is so sheltered and it’s so calm with lots of rock pools and inlets. Perfect for children and there were so many families enjoying the great weather. The wildlife was stunning too. have you ever seen a starfish this beautiful? #IThrewItBack
Continuing on, I was desperate to find a restaurant that I’d heard so much about. It was called Chez Hortense and every bit of research that I’d done told me that this was the place to go for the best lunch around! It was a restaurant absolutely not to be missed so we just had to go and see what it was all about. We stumbled across it and immediately I knew that we were in the right place. You could hear the buzz from inside quite a way away and I started to think that maybe we should have booked. A very inconspicuous restaurant, it wasn’t glitzy or glamorous and as we wandered in we could see it was obviously full of locals. When in doubt…eat where the locals eat! Everyone was chatting to each other and the atmosphere looked very inviting…and the restaurant looked very full! One table was for about 30 people obviously having a party of some sort!
We were approached by the owner and we asked for a table for two in my best French and said we hadn’t booked. He looked at us like we were mad and then broke into a smile (I think the French-speaking won him over). I got the feeling there wouldn’t have been a table if I’d asked in English!! He found us a table and handed us the menus – impressed that when given the choice we asked for French ones! Speaking French definitely helps here!
We took a look at the wine list and ordered a 2014 Les Fleurs de Graves while we looked at the food choices! Having had the oysters half an hour ago we decided to just order some starters and share them. When we saw the table next to us get their mussels we knew we had to have those, they looked amazing! Mussels with Bacon? Sign me up! We also ordered the tuna tartare, the Parma ham salad and the aubergine purée.
The wine arrived and it was clean and crisp and fresh, full of citrus and green fruit flavours and a perfect accompaniment to the seafood that we’d ordered. The cold dishes arrived first and we were very glad we’d decided to share! The tuna tartare would’ve been enough for me as a main course so I was glad that Dan was helping me out. It was absolutely delicious though. Tart and citrussy, with fresh onions and delicious meaty tuna topped with caviar, it was exactly my kind of lunch. The ham was another generous portion and the aubergine purée was divine. So smooth and garlicky, I don’t think Dan even got a look in with that dish!
By now we were pretty full but it was time for the mussels – and what a spectacle they were – you can see why they’re the House Speciality! We understood why the table of two next to us just ordered the starter portion between them as their whole meal! An enormous pot of fresh, juicy, plump mussels with crumbled bacon, white wine and garlic – we were in heaven! Then they brought out the most enormous plate of fries to go with them – ‘all yours’ I said to Dan, and to his credit he did make decent headway with them! The mussels were as incredible as they sounded – the bacon pairs so well with them. Kind of like a variation on surf and turf. The salty smokiness just works with the sweet mussels and although we though we were full we polished off every single one!
With our bellies full to bursting it was definitely time for a lie down on the beach (or a nap)! We headed over to the far side of the peninsula as we wanted to see what the beaches were like looking out over the Bay of Biscay. I think Dan was after some waves too! The coastline here is definitely more rugged than on the sheltered side of the island. I loved the dunes and the pines – the surroundings were so similar to those in the Algarve area of Portugal that I love so much! Acres and acres of unspoilt dunes and when we got to the beach we practically had it to ourselves! Plenty of waves from the Atlantic Ocean and glorious sunshine meant that we spent a few hours here letting our ‘double’ lunch go down!
All too soon it was time to head back to the port to catch the ferry home. We walked back through the middle of the island and were shocked by how quiet it was. The whole of Cap-Ferret is incredibly peaceful apart from the main street and we saw hardly any cars and very few people outside of the main town. It’s definitely a place to come for a bit of rest and relaxation in a beautiful setting. The lighthouse can be seen from most of the island and is definitely a beautiful focal point. I read that you can climb to the top and look out over the whole peninsula but unfortunately we didn’t have time.
The walk back to the ferryport was quite a long one and as people whizzed past us on bikes we wished we’d hired them for the day. It would be much easier to get around and it’s definitely a place I’d love to explore more of.
We got back in time for the last ferry at 6.30, but again, they didn’t really stick to the timetable. There were a few after the one that we got! But, make sure you don’t miss the very last one – once it has left you’ll be stuck on the peninsula and it’s a long taxi ride back to Arcachon! We headed back across the water to Arcachon to enjoy dinner…more food!!