When a city consistently makes it to the top of an annually published list of where French people say that they would like to retire, it makes you curious why this one place is so attractive. We’d been to Bordeaux several times but had never taken the train less than an hour further west right to the Atlantic coast to visit Arcachon. Adding that 53 minutes to the trip would only cost an additional 5 € so we thought that this would be a good time to see for ourselves why everyone wants to move there. This was a wintertime excursion to a summer beach resort, it seemed, so we didn’t have our hopes too high. To our pleasant surprise we found a lively town with plenty of pleasant walks, shops to peruse, and restaurants to enjoy and it didn’t hurt that our hotel room had a great view of the sea!
Although the City of Arcachon was created in 1857 by a decree from Napoleon III this resort had already been discovered by the aristocracy who had been coming here since 1823 to enjoy the sea baths and fresh salt air. The same year the city charter was granted, the railroad arrived to ensure easy year-round access that continues today, even from Paris with direct high-speed trains that take less than 3 hours.
With cold weather visits now easily arranged in what might have been perceived as a summer-only destination, the aptly-named Ville d’Hiver (Winter City) was created to house all of the new guests. Many of these arrivals were tuberculosis patients hoping to benefit from the fresh air so most of these 19th century villas were constructed in sheltered spots in this hilly area that offers protection from strong sea breezes. Although you can walk up the winding road to the top, we took the easy way, with the elevator (free of charge at the park entrance on Avenue Régnauld) that lets you out inside Mauresque Park for the easy stroll downhill.
Feeling a bit like Lucy and Ethel in Hollywood with their Movie Stars’ Homes map, we set off to explore the neighborhood except in our case the “stars” were indeed the homes. The tourist brochure (pdf link below) mentions several especially extravagant mansions, all with names, and many in a Spanish style such as Teresa, Toledo, and Trocadero. The one called Brémontier, built in 1863 reminded us of Maison LaMourelle built in Carcassonne in 1911, photo comparison below. We could only admire these villas from the outside since they are private homes but I did see listings for holiday rentals in the vicinity.
Back down at sea level we continued our walk through another neighborhood named for a season, Ville d’Été (Summer City). As you would expect, this is the main beach area and where most of the shops, hotels, and restaurants are located.
While strolling here down the boardwalk that stretches for miles along the Atlantic we saw firsthand why retirees might be drawn to the area. A comment from the Mayor told us more, “We take care of our elderly.” That’s helped by 2,035 hours of sun each year, a high ratio of doctors per resident, lots of social groups and associations, and a variety of services directed to seniors. Another resident summed it up with, “It’s very pleasant; the climate, the sun, the sea.”
Housing price comparison: According to the real estate website Meilleurs Agents the average price per square meter of a house in Carcassonne is 1,571 € while in Arcachon that cost is 8,381 €. I don’t think that we’ll be moving.
Photo notes: The large featured photo is Villa Coulaine (on the right) and in the first paragraph is the tower entrance to Villa Le Pin, originally owned by the railroad company chairman that first brought the trains to Arcachon.