Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Hiking the Dune du Pilat in the Arcachon Basin near Bordeaux, France

My friends Mel and Sue say that everyone has a dune story to tell when they come to this stunning southwestern French Atlantic outpost near Bordeaux.

When I hiked the Dune du Pilat, my dune story was the thrill of climbing to the ridge of the immense dune and having the constant bird's eye view of forest and ocean on either side. It was as if walking on the spine of a giant slumbering beast: I could also see the Arcachon Basin, an amazing estuary rich with diverse bird and sea life. I could just make out the waves at Cap Ferret, a narrow finger of land that almost closes the basin off from the ocean. And on my way up, I met a smart young Bavarian woman who was an agriculture student and spoke passionately about (re)creating a world where we grow good food locally and with sustainable practices. I hiked and learned and saw the potential of that world all around me.

When I descended from the spine after trekking the 6-kilometers long trail, I discovered a little open-air dune-side restaurant serving simply prepared, just-foraged mussels, perhaps the best I've ever eaten. The mussels came from just over the rise in the Arcachon Basin, and the chef was happy to share her recipe, noted below.

Arcachon and the Dune du Pilat are an easy day-trip from Bordeaux: Take the train from Bordeaux’s St-Jean station to the town of Arcachon where right in front of the train station is a bus going to the dune.  

Dune du Pilat Tarragon Mussels

1 ½ to 2 pounds fresh mussels, cleaned, rinsed, and discarding any that are open or broken.
1 small white onion, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
¾ cup dry white wine
¼ cup fresh tarragon leaves stripped from the stem but not chopped.
Salt & pepper to taste

Sautee the onions in the olive oil in a large pot. Add the mussels, white wine, tarragon, and salt and pepper. Cover and bring the pot to a boil and then lower the heat to steam the mussels until they open. Once they open, take the mussels off the heat and discard any that did not open.

Enjoy the mussels with a glass of dry white wine (ideally, the same one you cooked with) and crusty bread or french fries.