Craving some late season camping sunshine in a unique setting?
La Teste-de-Buch in the Arcachon Bay area of the South West of France boasts Europe’s largest sand dune, Dune du Pilat (also known as the Dune du Pyla) a truly awe inspiring natural feature served by numerous camp sites nestling alongside it’s sandy peaks.
Late season camping
Last month I camped at Le Petit Nice, picking it on a whim from the range of camp sites that sit metres from the Middle Easternesque beaches in Archachon Bay.
The nearest major airport to the Arcachon Bay area is Bordeaux, giving you an opportunity to spend a day in the vibrant French city, unfortunately we chose to fly into Bergerac airport as it was cheaper. This backfired when we had to spend the first night of the holiday in the French equivalent of a Travel Lodge. However Bergerac Airport could be worth a visit for the hilariously low-fi arrivals lounge that is literally a metal shed with hand powered baggage belts.
Arriving at Arcachon
After a pleasant train journey we arrived at Arcachon station and quickly found a bus that connects to the camp site. One disadvantage of out of season camping in this area is the local bus service terminates a few stops short of the camp sites near Dune du Pilat.
Several bus drivers suggested hitch hiking to the camp site, an hours walk up a fairly steep road. But feeling nervous about our lack of French we decided to walk it. This was hard work! Particularly as Le Petit Nice is one of the last camp sites along this section of the Route de Biscarrosse.
Le Petit Nice
The effort of the walk was softened by the sight of the towering dunes with para-gliders drifting overhead so we were relieved to finally arrive at Le Petit Nice. The staff are friendly, speak good English and allowed us to choose our pitch. The site is part of the Franceloc scheme so if you’re staying more than a few nights it works out cheaper to buy a membership card.
Le Petit Nice is situated on a gently sloping hill leading down to the beach with each pitch having it’s own platform built into the hill, the effect is like a rice paddy of tents. The site also caters for motorhomes and there are a variety of static caravans to rent. Be warned the ground is extremely hard in places with the pitches consisting of hard packed rocky sand, so a mallet will be useful (or a good sized rock).
The site boasts a swimming pool, tennis court, basketball court, table tennis tables, restaurant and shop.
The shop is the only disappointing facility with a fairly poor selection of food, sundries and expensive, slightly dubious looking vegetables. This was a highlighted when we snuck into Le Petit Nice’s neighbour to find a much larger supermarket and bistro, however it is a few Euros a night more expensive.
Sand and nudity
The main draw of Le Petit Nice and it’s rivals is the beach and dunes. The beach is a few minutes walk from the site with a large dune that must be traversed to get to the sea (this is fun!). There are steps and walking mats installed on the dunes but it’s hard going climbing back up.
The beach seems to be popular with ‘older’ nudists so if you’re adverse to wrinkly bottoms you may prefer to sunbathe in the dunes. The area has a healthy population of mossies so remember the insect repellent. Visiting in September the temperatures were in the high twenties with a gentle breeze from the sea. The beaches were quiet with most activity coming from the paragliders launching themselves off the dunes.
The site has several BBQ areas and bringing the charcoal back from Arcachon we decided to try hitch hiking and were surprised to find cars stopping within minutes. It seems to be an accepted practise in this area of France so if you’re travelling in a couple I can highly recommend it as a method of travel.
Outside of the camp site, Arcachon Bay is a regional centre for water sports and paragliding with equipment available for hire in Arcachon Town.
Le Petit Nice comes highly recommended, the location is the star feature and there are plenty of alternative sites in this area but you won’t be disappointed.
Le Petit Nice
Route de Biscarrosse
33115 Pyla sur Mer
Tel: 05 56 22 74 03