“The Côte de where?” I hear you ask. One of France’s hidden gems (or should that be precious metal, being as it’s the silver coast?), the Côte D’Argent stretches over 200km of coastline from the mouth of the Gironde river above Bordeaux all the way down to Biarritz. It has the longest straight stretch of sandy beach in Europe, towering sand dunes backed with pine forests and great surf – and is only a few miles from Bordeaux’s famous vineyards. Incredibly popular with French families in July and August, the rest of the year you almost have the place to yourself. So why has hardly anyone else ever heard of it? Well, the secret’s out.
Starting at the tip of the peninsula are the towns of Le Verdon-sur-Mer and Soulac-sur-Mer – a relaxed, small seaside town with a long, sandy beach. You can catch a spectacular sunset from its seafront promenade or over a glass of wine at one of the beachfront bars and restaurants. You’re just a few miles from the vineyards of Bordeaux’s Haut Medoc wine-producing area here, and can pick up some of the local wines direct from the producers (the tourist information offices in the area can book tours and tasting at local vineyards) or at Soulac’s market, along with other specialities from local producers – try a delicious canelé (or two), a pastry with a caramelised crust and rum custard soft centre.
Heading on down the coast, you come to Carcans and Lacanau. With lakes on one side and the ocean the other, they’re heaven for watersports fans. You can sail on the freshwater lake, or surf (the uncrowded beaches are great for beginners and there are plenty of surf schools), windsurf, kitesurf, kite buggy or any other wind and water-based sport you can think of on the beach.
Further down, Le Cap Ferret – not to be confused with the south of France’s similarly named, celeb-filled, champagne-swigging Cap Ferrat – is a laid-back beach resort whose low-key glamour attracts French VIPs en vacances. The town has some suitably smart boutiques shops and restaurants, but head down the peninsula and you’ll soon be lost among the pine forests and find your own stretch of deserted beach.
Heading south from Cap Ferret, you skirt round the Bassin d’Arcachon, passing oyster-farming villages where you can try them local style – steamed over pine needles. Just south of Archachon is the Dune du Pyla. Around 3km long and 100 metres high, it’s Europe’s largest sand dune… and you’re allowed to climb it. Steps lead up the side of the dune (or if you’re feeling seriously energetic you can climb up the sand), and from there you can indulge your Lawrence of Arabia fantasies and wander off into the sandy distance, or just sit and lap up the views – endless forest one way and endless ocean the other.