Arcachon – what a great surprise! This glitzy west coast resort is home to a natural, powerful, and somewhat elegant tourist attraction. It might only be a sand dune, but what a sand dune it is. The King Kong of all sand dunes in fact, busting all other imitations out of the water.
Traffic is bumper to bumper during summer months on the single autoroute to La Teste-de-Buch that leads to the suburbs of Arcachon’s ‘Winter Town’ maze of magnificent Victorian villas. These ornate wooden-balustrade holiday homes belong to wealthy Bordelais and Parisians appear surprisingly tropical against the wooded hillside. The town was once the party destination du jour, and its forest walls whisper with tales of century-old aristocratic soirées. Next to the campsite the view is just as impressive. The largest sand dune in Europe was an 18th-century ‘accident’ that the wind slowly blew in over time. It measures 1¾ miles (3 km) in length, and is 550 yards (500 m) wide and 115 yards (107 m) high. From the campsite below, matchstick silhouettes can be seen trekking towards the summit, the reward for their 30-minute climb being a sublime pinky-blue sunset that engulfs the Bay of Arcachon, from the campsite across the waters to Cap Ferret.
Tourists aren’t the only visitors flocking to this one-mile-wide bay. The Banc d’Arguin nature reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a nesting home for thousands of birds that are attracted to the shallow coastal waters and protected mudflats of Île aux Oiseaux. But all guests are outnumbered by the zillions of oysters that thrive here. Dotted along the Cap Ferret Peninsula are 100-year-old oyster-farming villages, where colourful cabanes sit on stilts, storing the daily catches gathered in sprawling fishing nets.
Cap Ferret is an upmarket but laid-back shoppers’ paradise serviced by regular, 20-minute ferries that zip back and forth from La Pyla, near the campsite. But if shopping’s off the menu, make sure oysters are on. Pick a restaurant with views across the bay and feast on shellfish that is plated over ice within minutes of being caught. Afterwards, walk off lunch by climbing the 258 steps of the Pointe du Cap lighthouse. The view at the top is of a landscape that hasn’t been destroyed by waterfront hotel or property developments; therein the beauty of Arcachon. You can eat back at camp if you’d prefer. Fresh fish, sea scallops, meat, foie gras, plats du jour, salads, and desserts are for the taking (Camping Panorama du Pyla is part of the Yelloh! Group that runs 45 sites in France, and their standards are high).
Obviously, a stay here isn’t cheap, but it’s worth every centime. The fancy à la carte restaurant, ice-cream parlour and crêperie, two swimming pools, and kids’ entertainment create a boisterous atmosphere in high season, to say the least. The ergonomics work, however, with amenities grouped near the entrance to the site so that the noisier activities precede the quiet calm among the coniferous trees. Terraced slopes allow personal space at numerous pitches, but for greater seclusion aim for a spot by the side of the dune. These pitches are still near the beach – the sea glistens through the trees – but you’re further away from any of the pedestrian paths. Temperatures average 22oC (72oF) in summer, though sea breezes make the midday heat bearable. If climbing the dune feels like walking on hot coals, use the steps etched into the slope at the start of every summer. After the sun has set and you’ve washed the sand off, steam oysters over a bed of pine needles (it’s what the locals do) and dream about the wonderful surprises that lie in store tomorrow.
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ReviewsAdd Your Review
Not for me....
We really liked the Arachon area and would have loved to camp by a beach but the campsites are all several miles out of town and facing the enormous dune. As we drove along the strip I recalled seeing this campsite on Cool Camping and joined the queue of folks hoping to get a pitch. An hour later and we were shown to a sandy pitch which was closer to the road than the beach and in an area which was scrubby and a bit gloomy. Our campervan immediately got stuck which was a great way to meet our lovely neighbours but eventually, the campsite sent a tractor - I guess they are used to it....
The facilities are good in terms of plentiful and clean showers and toilets. There is a smallish pool and a restaurant/bar area - the pizza was superb - but we were there for the beach which is easy to get to by walking through the campsite at which point, you arrive on top of the crazy, big sand dune. The beach is a long way down and you need to pack for the day as there are no facilities.
Frankly, it was a pain and in the end, the dune was my problem.... We wanted to see the sea but the ominous presence of the dune spoiled the view. With the road noise, the gloominess of the forest and the distance from town, we only stayed two nights. Some people were obviously loving it but not for me.
Not good for buggies
Prefect Campsite & Location = Super crowded and expensive
Panorama du playa is an extreme campground, extremely pretty and well maintained and extremely expensive and over-crowded. You just have to figure out if the pros outweigh the cons for yourself.
Ideal location right next to the dune, only a short walk to the beach and a surreal sight of paragliders everywhere; Very well managed and maintained; Very good sanitary facilities, clean and never over-crowded; Plenty of extra program, like mini-golf, sauna, etc.
Very expensive (2 people in a small tent and car) payed 46€ per night (August); Internet is not free and costs 4€ per day but the network spans the whole campground; Restaurants are also very expensive, no dish under 15€ and a coffee for 4€; Very crowded in August;
We have just returned from a 10 night stay at Panorama du Pyla. The campsite and location are wonderful but there is a very loud night club nearby which opens from midnight until 6am every night/morning. We were prepared to put up with it as we had travelled a long way but we would not recommend this site. Earplugs were heavily used and the ground was vibrating with the noise. The coniferous trees are absolutely not an area of 'quiet calm' at night.
We were really looking forward to this site after a long drive, especially after the Cool Camping hype. In fact, we took a tour of the nicely empty site and decided it wasn't for us. While it's certainly impressive, the dune is also oppressive, looming over the camping ground and, together with the trees, giving a gloomy and seedy atmosphere. It was early June and still out of season, but we could see beer and barbecue tents being set up around the site, some right next to the pitches. We expected a bit of glitz and found it rather grotty instead.
Panorama du Pyla
Visited in June. Wonderful setting. Absolutely stunning views and site. So stunning it is quite hard to describe! If camping in a tent in the summer, try to avoid the very front 'beachside' pitches as there is very little shade and it can get very hot, plus pegging in the sand is not so easy. We took a front facing pitch a few places back near the restaurant and found it easier, although I would still recommend strong sturdy pegs. It is a big site so I dont know what it would be like mid-summer and pitched in the middle with no view. (booking essential July onwards i would say) It really was perfect in the evenings sitting just looking at the view. Site facilities - ate at the restaurant one night and it was great. Toilets and showers - basic but as you would expect. Pools - really great to have them as well as many other leisure facilites that we just didnt get time to use. The walk from the site down to the sea is great - but really quite a challenge on the way back up (it was 40degrees when we visited!!). As a Yelloh site it does follow the standard and as a package the campsite ticked every box.
Panorama du Pyla
My girlfriend and I stayed here for two nights in the summer of 2012 as part of our 2.5k mile trip around France in her Fiat 500. This was certainly one of the best campsites we visited. It was one of the biggest, but that didn't detract from it's cool vibe. Without doubt its best feature is its location. We were lucky to have a pitch not far from the cliffs and the view from the edge of the dune was stunning. We took our camp stove and cooked on the top of the dune and watched some fantastic sunsets. We were also lucky in the sense that we were camping next a lovely English couple. It has it's own bar, but the beer was massively pricey and so was the food. It also has it's own shop, which we didn't discover till the day we left. I'd definitely recommend staying here if you are nearby, i think few campsites can match up to the views.
Beautiful campsite but notes to add
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