B&B and Beyond: Beyond Villa Seabird, Cap Ferret, Gironde, France
The crashing Atlantic waves are just a few minutes from this peaceful retreat hiding in the pines, says Sebastian Lander
Sunday 16 September 2012
Approaching Villa Seabird on foot beneath the dappled shade of lofty pine trees, you could be in the Hamptons or Los Angeles rather than the Cap Ferret peninsula. After the odd architectural caprice, perhaps a house taking its cue from a moated castle, you reach the end of a cul-de-sac that doesn't even hint at the peaceful B&B beyond.
Behind a fence, two whitewashed flat-roofed modernist buildings hunker down into their forest setting. One – the home of jolly owner Sylvie Jauffret – dates from the 1960s; the other was built three years ago to accommodate visitors to this region of Aquitaine in south-west France.
Named after a famous French racehorse, the homely Villa Seabird takes life at anything but a gallop. Weathered decking paves the way to a heated swimming pool surrounded by artfully placed sunloungers. The garden's earthy coolness and leafy privacy create the ultimate retreat.
Villa Seabird isn't saturated with seaside ornaments. The two particularly large and airy double rooms are of similar size and share a quiet eclecticism. Neutral colours, both on the walls and poured concrete floor, and simple lines offset the one-off statement pieces of furniture or artwork: here a side table covered in multicoloured tiles, there a découpage painting. Most are locally made, with an emphasis on natural materials and craftsmanship. Many come with a backstory, too, such as the outdoor furniture, picked up in Dakar, Senegal.
Each room has large French doors opening onto a private terrace. Toilet rooms are separate, and showers – heated by solar panels – are walk-in. In one of the rooms, Sylvie has incorporated design elements for guests with disabilities, such as lowered switches, plus toilet and shower access. There are televisions, but technology does not reign here and Wi-Fi, based in the main house, doesn't quite stretch to the rooms.
In fine weather, it is served outside around a communal table, or in your room if it's gloomy. There is no set menu and the spread depends, Sylvie jokes, "on my humour". Perhaps in frivolous mood, our host conjured up strawberry fromage blanc, pastries and that delicious staple – French bread – with homemade jams. Fruit is always a component and a daily mystery blend of freshly squeezed juices offers up the chance for an impromptu guess-the-contents quiz. There is also a selection of teas and coffee.
Villa Seabird is where Bordeaux-native Sylvie spent her holidays growing up. Fluent in English, she clearly enjoys company. "Every day, I say I'm lucky to be here and have the experience of meeting people," she told us. Sylvie might be bubbly, but she's a polished professional at heart.
While inside all is calm, outside Villa Seabird, a natural playground awaits. Atlantic waves crash against the sand dunes just minutes away on one side, while the oyster-rich Bassin d'Arcachon offers up a gourmet's delight on the other. The glamorous village of Cap Ferret – a finger of land guarding the bay, punctuated with an iconic lighthouse – is barely a 10-minute stroll away, characterised by boutique shops and barefoot French holidaymakers sipping coffee. In September, when the summer crowds have thinned, the tempo might drop but the mercury keeps pace.
The best way to explore this sandy outpost, an hour's drive from Bordeaux, is by bicycle (00 33 5 56 60 49 46; locabeach.com; €7/£5.60 for half a day). There are more than 50km of tracks that pass through the forest. To visit a traditional oyster-farming village, the charmingly named L'Herbe is a short pedal away.
To explore the Bassin, the Union de Bateliers Arcachonnais (UBA) offers boat trips (00 33 5 57 72 28 28; bateliers-arcachon.com; from €8 for the "Grand Tour"). For a leg stretch and a slice of local history, catch the 30-minute ferry ride over the bay to Arcachon (where there are rail links to Bordeaux and beyond) and marvel at the grand houses of the 19th-century rich in the Ville d'Hiver. A rather elegiac wander along the point of the Cap Ferret peninsula will reveal the "blockhaus" concrete fortifications left behind by the Germans in the Second World War, now a canvas for talented graffiti artists.
The pit stop
You can sample what Cap Ferret does best – oysters – in the waterfront surrounds of La Cabane du Mimbeau (00 33 5 56 60 61 67; lacabanedumim beau.com). We enjoyed six medium oysters (€9/£7.10), a plate of bulots (whelks) and pâté (both €6/£4.70), with a bottle of rosé (€17/£13.40) on the terrace. The Bassin and Dune du Pilat – Europe's highest and worth a visit – stretch majestically before you. A cosier room at Mimbeau, with equally commanding views, has just opened.
Villa Seabird, Allée des Bambous, Lège Cap-Ferret, Gironde, France (00 33 5 56 03 70 76; villa-seabird.com). Doubles start at €180 (£143) including breakfast. Sylvie will pick up or drop off guests at the jetty if arriving from Arcachon.
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