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Date : the 18/01/2008
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Philippe starck's bassin d'arcachon

The effervescent designer shows Francesca Fearon what inspires him in Cap Ferret, the laid-back, unspoiled peninsula on France's west coast. Photographs by Patrick Messina. When I was very young someone in Paris told me that there is some- where in France where houses are built on stilts above the water. I thought this was the ultimate dream for a guy like me who loves water, the sea, boats and things like that. I remembered his story for 20 years until I discovered the place for myself, Cap Ferret on the Bassin d’Arcachon, and knew it was for me. I called several estate agents and told them I wanted to buy a house built on stilts and they kept hanging up on me until I found one in Petit Piquey, one of the historic oyster villages on the Cap Ferret peninsula on the northern shore of the Bassin. It is one of the oyster farms which, tradition-ally, are handed down from generation to generation, but I got very lucky. It is an easy location, about an hour from Paris by air, near the beautiful city of Bordeaux which, like Cap Ferret, has this sense of French quality and intelligence. We have fantastic weather, one of the biggest pine forests in Europe, the best wine, the best food, the best oysters. One side of the Cap peninsula we have the big waves of the Atlantic where people go surfing, while inside he Bassin d’Arcachon it is like the lagoon of Venice: very quiet, very sophisticated. I started sailing with my father who owned a big sailing boat when I was very young. I would spend my Sundays in the boatyards where I loved the smell of the wood and the varnish. I became a licensed lifeguard, teaching sea survival, and I have an hauturier permit that allows me to navigate any type of boat in deep sea. I have always owned boats (currently, I have seven, but they are not big) and in the 1980s I was asked to design boats for the French boat builder Bénéteau. The First 32S5 (S for Starck) won Best Boat of the year. This was followed by the 35S5. B~n6teau had not been doing so well at the time and people said I helped rescue the company. I am currently working on a solar hydrogen boat for the Hotel Bauer in Venice that will make speed boats obsolete, and yacht "M" - a revolutionary 120m megayacht that respects the environment because at 25 knots it produces almost no wake. It will be launched this summer. The people of Cap Ferret are very intelligent, smart and sharp and have an incredible sense of humour. They are simple oyster farmers and have the human values and qualities that I love. More than that, this place possesses something very important to me as a creator of ideas, concepts and projects; this place is like the primordial soup. The Bassin is 150sq km of water and mud and extreme tides. At low tide you can walk on the mud- it's like walking on the bottom of the sea - among the sea creatures and you think that you are here at the very beginning of creation. The one thing that interests me in life is the beautiful, romantic story of evolution. In the southern part of the lagoon is the town of Arcachon, but I've only been there once in 15 years. Cap Ferret is in the north and is accessible by road, but it is best to take the ferry from Arcachon as it is much quicker. It is very quiet, no tourists, just the local people. There are a couple of small hotels in Lège-Cap Ferret: the boutique hotel La Maison du Bassin with 11 rooms and one apartment, and the 1920s H6tel des Pins with 15 rooms, so in the whole area there are only 26 guest rooms and one apartment. Some of the rich old families of Bordeaux have places here but they lie forgotten. I am probably one of the few famous people who come here and the locals used to tease me about bringing fashion to the area, but they are happy about it now. We have two properties; the main one at Petit Piquey is made up of one big house and three smaller ones, and like all the old oyster farms is right on the beach; the other house is located on Ile aux Oiseaux [Bird Island] which is a sandbank only 20cm above sea level. We live there very simply: no cars, no electricity (only solar panels), using just rainwater and surrounded by 200m oysters. It is only accessible by boat for 20 minutes twice a day because of the tides. This is a very charming but also a very dangerous place - particularly if you don't know where to walk on the mud. There is a museum at Gujan-Mestras near Arcachon, La Maison de l'Huitre, that introduces people to the skills of oyster farming and there are boat tours around the oyster beds and to the dunes to watch the birdlife. My neighbour Joël Dupuch, an intelligent giant of a man who is descended from several generations of oyster farmers and is president of their association, gives tours of the oyster beds on his boat (a fiat-bottomed, aluminium-hulled Dupasse). Dupuch and I have created a company called Starck Oysters producing pure organic oysters which will be available from next year. We are also the world's only producers of "cubic" oysters: they are highly polished and square-shaped. Frankly, it is really for fun - we've produced something like 12 in 15 years! We keep three flat-bottomed boats at Cap Ferret: one is a heavy-duty barge and another is Ara HI, which I designed 15 years ago. It is 14m long, made in mahogany by a very old man in an old boatyard and looks like a Venetian taxi. It has a beautiful bedroom on it with a fireplace and we motor out on it, wait for the tide to go out so that the boat rests on the mud and then go and pick up oysters, crabs and shellfish which I turn into the best spaghetti vongole in the world on the fireplace. It is out here that my mind is free to work to develop the highest, farthest visions. It is not safe to take the boat through the gap between the lagoon and the sea - it is one of the most dangerous places in Europe and many people have lost their lives trying. The local fishermen have to count the big waves before they can make their way through. I used to try it for fun because I am crazy, but it is better to stay in the lagoon and see Bird Island or the beautiful Banc d’Arguin. It is a sandy wildlife reserve that disappears under the waves for part of the day. People go there to watch the birds, but I am not a birdwatcher nor a fisherman. We like to go there to be alone with a beautiful picnic lunch and some organic champagne. I like the beauty of being in the middle of nowhere. My wife, Jasmine, and I lead crazy lives and when we come back here from Las Vegas, Los Angeles or Tokyo and find ourselves in the middle of the most beautiful place in the world we find a balance in our lives. We follow the same ritual every time we come here. We fly into an old airfield in Bordeaux - I have a Swiss military plane that I fly - and go immediately to what I consider one of the three best bistros in the world: La Tupifia in Bordeaux- it is the essence of a French restaurant. It is the best food in the world and if I went there every day, which I would like, I would put on a kilo a day. My favorite dishes are the French caviar from La Gironde - the nearest thing to Caspian caviar - which has all but disappeared, and la confiture de vieux garcon, a seasonal dessert made from a variety of berries mixed with a bit of alcohol. I do not shop, but when we are in Cap Ferret we visit the local fish and vegetable markets in Lège-Cap Ferret. We go either by boat, on bikes via the cycle paths, by motorcycle, by my amphibious vehicle or we walk the 12km via the beach. We have a lot of fun as we know everyone in the market selling the fish, cheese and vegetables and we start to open bottles of wine with them. Beside the seafood there is another great speciality of the area, le canelé – a rum- and vanilla- flavoured pastry. It's perfect for teatime and there are excellent ones sold at Fr~d61ian on the Boulevard de la Plage. The proximity to Bordeaux means the choice of wine is large, so after the market we go to 20/20, a very good wine cellar, to test the French wines and maybe buy some, although we prefer organic wine and champagne. Sometimes we go to the nice bar at La Maison du Bassin. It's called Le Tchanqu~,after the local name for the cabanes built on stilts in the Bassin. We eat tapas - a par-ticular favourite is accras de morue (codfish fritters). You must ask for the Starck cocktail, which is champagne mixed with ginger, mint and green lime, or the Starki - champagne, Campari, mint and lime. We also go to another fishermen's place on the waterfront at Porte de Claouey, called La Cabane d'Edouard, where we eat oysters fresh from the oyster tank, bigomeaux (winkles), bulots (whelks) as well as the best mussels. We get home a little drunk at about 4pm and Joël and the neighbours come over with 200 oysters, which he can open in seven minutes - he's one of the fastest in the world - and we talk, eat and drink into the night.

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