Arcachon Bay and Oysters in Cap Ferret

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In the summer months, this stretch of beach shacks is bubbling over with low-maintenance, French vacationers. Local oysters are unloaded from the beds each day.

The ‘cape’ one hour west of Bordeaux is slightly different from the ‘cape’ four hours north of New York, yet certain characteristics overlap more than one might think. Cap Ferret is situated on a ‘spit:’ a waterway that divides the Atlantic Ocean and the Arcachon Bay, also known as Le Bassin. The pull is the French seaside lifestyle, the relaxed glamour of a glass of wine and plate of oysters on a wood dock overlooking bobbing sailboats, music playing in the background, nautical decor strung about…

Cap Ferret is isolated and elite but not as ritzy as it’s oft compared sister, the Cote d’Azur. Restaurants are found in unpretentious, wooden, seaside shacks, evoking a charm scarcely happened upon on the glammed-up Riviera. Careful not to confuse Cap Ferret with Cap FerrAt, where American rapstars (and Paul Allen of Microsoft) can oft be found pretending they are second generation Humphrey Bogarts and Charlie Chaplins, or perhaps hiding their seven figure sports cars behind garage doors so as not to attract tax authorities. No, no hidden ostentatiousness in Cap Ferret; this cape more closely resembles a Francophiled Martha’s Vineyard combined with the Bahamas: a mix of preppy Bordeaux inhabitants, artisan types, and casual fishermen.

Indeed it is an exclusive beach destination, but it is also the center of the country’s oyster industry: this stretch of coast supplies nearly all of France with fresh oysters. So in the colder months, when the restaurants are closed and the beaches see only the fulltime fishermen, there is still work to be done, oysters to be caught, crated, stacked, and sent on their merry way. There are quite a few small beach towns on the diamond-shaped Arcachon peninsula, many of which cater to the oyster farms. The country protects both the land and the oyster business like a mother hen, meaning that oyster beds can only be passed down through a family or sold to others already in the business, and construction is not allowed on the peninsula’s Atlantic shore. The result is a seemingly rustic, undisturbed stretch of land with a trickling of buildings leftover from the war, enabling a boat cruise around the peninsula to remain blissfully peaceful.

A few French celebrities quietly escape to Cap Ferret, but the commitment to nature means that the quaint town will never rise to St. Barths status. Indeed if you are looking for a rocking after-hours scene where you can mingle with Beyond, Russian moguls, and Victoria’s Secret models, by all means, bypass charming, unpretentious Cap Ferret.

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Our captain for the day. He spends half the year in Cap Ferret and half in South America. Ask him his favorite city? San Francisco.

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Looking out over sea in Cap Ferret

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Nothing but a few sailboats in late September.

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Keeping tally

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A charming, rustic setting for afternoon oysters, wine, and of course, bread.

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Small, colorful houses and long docks. Le Bassin’s rustic charm almost reminds me of a beautifully serene summer camp.

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Oysters, bread, and outstanding butter. A complete French meal.

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The most idyllic setting for afternoon oysters.

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