I don’t know what possessed me to willingly to go on a trip to an oyster farm. Remember that scene from Friends when Phoebe is at Ross and Monica’s parents’ anniversary party and she takes the oyster and pretends to eat it while actually dropping it on the floor? Joey slips on “the giant booger” before wiping it on Chandler’s coat. If I could have discreetly dropped them on the floor, I would have any time my dad or anyone else tried to get me to taste them. Until I tried the Arcachon oysters…
My Chateaux, Rivers & Wine Viking River Cruise had a few optional excursions and this one was described as: Arcachon Excursion: A Day on the Bay. We’d travel by bus to where the the Eyre River empties into the mouth of the bay known as the Arcachon Bay and learn about oyster farming. In other words, there would be lots of giant boogers proud French oyster farms would no doubt want me to throw my head back and shoot down the hatch. And they would probably be incredibly offended if I didn’t. So naturally, off went the girl who hates oysters to learn about oysters.
As the bus drove through miles of forest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Finally arriving in the village of Arcachon, colorful cookie cutter houses straight out of a fairy tale passed by. It was lovely, but I couldn’t grasp the full beauty until we hopped on a boat that took us across the bay to Cap Ferret.
Cap Ferret is a narrow strip of land between the Bay of Arcachon and the Atlantic Ocean where little fishing shacks on pylons line the beach. It’s here that a large part of France’s 130,000-ton oyster harvest is produced. As our boat skirted around the oyster farms during low tide, we saw some of the flat bottom oyster boats out collecting the day’s fresh catch of Cap Ferret oysters.
Before long I hopped off the boat for a short walk to Chez Yannick, one of the no frills wooden oyster shacks lining the beach. The menu simply lists different sizes of Cap Ferret oysters and their prices.
Yannick himself explained, telling us that the classification system is 5 – 0, with size 5 being the smallest oyster. The biggest oysters are best used for cooking something like an oyster stuffing, which my grandma loved to make for Thanksgiving (and I always managed to hide the heaping scoop of oyster stuffing or slip it in to napkin). For eating raw, sizes 3 – 4 are best.
He effortlessly showed us how to open the oysters with his knife and shucked a bunch of the freshest oysters you’ll ever eat. They’d been plucked from the oyster beds earlier that morning. I sat with a stellar view of the bay, a plate of freshly shucked oysters, some crusty French bread and a glass of white Bordeaux.
Yannick came over to the table and stood right by my side. “How do you like them?”, he asked with a big smile. Preparing to just gulp one down to appease my gracious host, I loosened it from the shell and gave it a generous squeeze of the fresh lemon wedges hoping to mask the taste. But I was pleasantly surprised. This was the best oyster I’d ever had in my life. “They’re delicious!”, I told Yannick. And I truly meant it.
I was actually thrilled that some of the others in my group thought that the oysters were gross giant boogers and I gobbled up their share. I even considered buying a bag to stash in my mini-fridge in my cabin on the ship and eat later.
I would have happily eaten my fill of fresh oysters and crusty bread, but the boat was ready to sail us further down Cap Ferret. We sailed on to L’Escale, where a seafood feast awaited us for lunch.
The restaurant was packed, but everyone was speaking French and I could see that this was the place to be. The menu featured tons of fish, seafood and oysters, though our excursion had a pre-set lunch menu for the group. We started with a grilled calamari, a type of meaty white fish accompanied by mashed potatoes with a side of garlic aioli to mix in followed and the meal was sweetly finished with the most delicious lemon meringue tart I’ve ever had.
My only regret of the Arcachon excursion was that there wasn’t time to visit the Dune du Pyla, Europe’s largest sand dune at more than 100 meters high. From my vantage point on the boat, the dune appeared to swallow up the coastline. You can actually climb up the back side by a staircase installed every summer and go paragliding off the top of it.
Between the delicious oysters, beautiful setting and the adventure sports like dune paragliding and kite surfing on the bay, you can bet that we’ll be back for another visit to Arcachon.
Know Before You Go
My Arcachon excursion was provided by Viking River Cruises as part of my Chateaux, Rivers & Wine cruise in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own.