If you’re not afraid of heights, and are both willing and able to climb a few steps, the Observatoire Sainte-Cécile in Arcachon’s Ville...

Observatoire Sainte-Cécile: a 360° view from Arcachon's Eiffel tower

If you’re not afraid of heights, and are both willing and able to climb a few steps, the Observatoire Sainte-Cécile in Arcachon’s Ville d’Hiver quarter will reward you with one of the finest possible views over Arcachon bay.

This observation tower, completed in 1863, was the brainchild of Paul Regnauld. Regnauld, who was also the man behind the casino in the nearby Parc Mauresque, was an engineer with the railway operators Compagnie des Chemins de Fer du Midi, owned by the brothers Émile and Isaac Pereire, who did much to promote and develop the town of Arcachon. Regnauld was also behind the conception of the first wave of elegant villas in the Ville d’Hiver quarter, as well as designing a railway bridge in Bordeaux, the 1858-1860 construction of which was led by a young man called Gustave Eiffel.

Eiffel also assisted Regnauld with the design of the Observatoire Sainte-Cécile, and some of the ideas used in Arcachon undoubtedly inspired - whether directly or indirectly - the design of Eiffel’s later creations, that include a 324-metre-high tower in Paris which is documented elsewhere on the internet.

Back to the Observatoire Sainte-Cécile, the main frame of which is made out of train rails that Regnauld must have “borrowed” from his main employer. Admission to the general public is free and unsupervised, but visitors are requested to keep the number of people on the structure at any one time to no more than eight.

Meeting people on your way up or down the staircase is certainly a precarious task – as well as the narrowness of the passageway, the stairs shake from side to side in disturbing fashion. They are of course safe though, supported by a single taut steel cable that runs from the top to the bottom of the structure through the middle of the staircase. This central cable is reassuringly stable, unlike those that run parallel along the outside of the staircase. 

Once you get to the top of the tower, the observation deck of which sits at a height of 25 metres above the ground, your vantage point is some 74 metres above sea level! For many years, it must have been tempting to climb a little further: the tower sported its own boat-like crow’s nest and mast!

Looking westwards towards Église Notre-Dame and Cap Ferret.
The view over the rooftops of Arcachon's Ville d'Été district.
You can also make out the unmistakeable landmarks of Arcachon Bay, the "Cabanes Tchanquées" (literally, huts on stilts) by the Île aux Oiseaux.

The Observatoire Sainte-Cécile was restored in 1990, as was the neighbouring footbridge: Passerelle Saint-Paul. This second metallic structure, completed shortly before the tower, was also the work of Paul Regnauld and his acolyte Gustave Eiffel.

The 32-metre structure bridges the gap between two mounds, originally known as Dune de Saint-Paul and Dune de Sainte-Cécile (hence the names of the footbridge and observation tower). The footbridge sits some 15 metres above the quiet one-way road which winds up from the Ville d’Été quarter, and judging by the views on old postcards, the only thing which has really changed is the surrounding vegetation! 


  1. If I squint hard enough across a twenty-year gap, I can almost see my flat down there by Notre Dame. :-)

    1. That is one foggy 20-year gap but I think it's still there behind the trees in the foreground!

  2. Interesting post. I love towers like that where you can see such fantastic views. I will remember this one when down in that direction. Thanks Diane

    1. It's one of the "essentials" to get to see if you're down that way - and yet you'd be amazed at how many people don't get beyond the beach and the shops!