La Co(o)rniche

Le Porge / France / 2010

9 Love 3,763 Visits Published

La Corniche is a hotel in an extraordinary location. The key landmark in the Pilat-Plage district, the vantage point over the Arcachon basin, backing onto the highest dune in Europe, it is suspended between sea and sky, nestling between sand and pines. It is a mythical place which evokes the golden age and invention of the Côte d’Argent. A former 1930s hunting lodge in the heart of a preserved site, where aristocracy and the upper middle classes, attracted by the quality of the air, the magic of the site and the fashion for bathing in the sea, came to have Louis Gaume construct them a Neo-Basque home sheltered among the pines.

The new owner of the premises, William Téchoueyres has joined forces with the Gaume family to breathe new life into La Corniche. With the collaboration of Philippe Starck, he has awoken a sleeping beauty. So La Co(o)rniche was born, giving an additional exclamation to this stunning viewpoint. The preserved authenticity of the Basque house is combined with the atmosphere of an oyster shed giving onto the panorama. The hotel, restaurant, terrace and bar have been transformed with essential and informal luxury. Like a lively village square, La Co(o)rniche is dedicated to all lovers of the basin. Between intimacy and discretion, they are guests at a continual party, where they are sure to find the experience they are looking for.

At the same time as early 19th-century dream, never realized, of a boulevard linking Arcachon
to Biarritz, the concept of the Côte d’Argent was born. Harnessing this momentum and the craze among the very rich for a paradise destination, Daniel Meller designed a seaside resort which extended Arcachon towards the dune. Playing on the similarity of names and the fashionable references to the Classical, he named the resort Pyla-sur-Mer. “Pyla, port of the Basin” was a strong slogan in attracting buyers from Paris and Bordeaux. The Gaume company went on to build some of the most beautiful villas in this new resort and formed close relationships with powerful investors who fell in love with the spot: the Duke Decazes, Philippe de Rothschild, Henri de Monbrison, among others…

With their support, Louis Gaume could accomplish his dream of a district stamped with his vision: Pilat-Plage. It emerged alongside the dune, beneath the pines and facing the sea, subject to the beneficial limitations of specifications which adopted a precocious sustainable development approach.

To promote and preserve this remarkable location, Louis Gaume came up with a comprehensive
concept for the layout of the site. To make it better known, two hotels were opened in 1930:
Haïtza and La Corniche, both outside Arcachon, but not too far from the town. Between the two a residential district developed, fitting in perfectly with the landscape.

Long distinguished with a star in the Michelin guide, La Corniche is the principal meeting point
before hunting expeditions or an ascent of the dune behind it. Henry Troyat signed the guest
book, as did all the well-known figures of the period. One even writes: “Thank you to Gaume
for creating Paradise.” From generation to generation, this perfect balance between nature and culture has always been preserved by the Gaume family, which remains the guardian of this exemplary development. In 2010, it is joining forces with William Téchoueyres for him to give a new lease of life to La Corniche along with the dynamism required to keep the hotel’s soul alive.
the highe st dune in europe 105 metres high, 2700 metres long, 500 metres wide, 60 million cubic metres of sand – the statistics of the highest dune in Europe are staggering.

This spectacular dimension is particularly striking when you consider that the dune was
only 35 metres high in 1855. It has constantly grown since the arrival of tourism in the basin, due to a natural phenomenon now explained by specialists. It seems its rise results
from the destruction of an enormous sand bank which in the 18th century was located in front of the current coastline and the constant deposit of sand by the winds.

The landscape, combining several extraordinary phenomena, could not leave anyone unmoved.
It reveals the immense Atlantic and the entry to the Arcachon basin, closed in the distance by the point of Cap Ferret. “Like all places where there are major tide patterns, it is an extremely diverse landscape,” continues the designer, who is a regular visitor to the area and loves the ocean. “It provides incredible walks, even onto the seabed, and in the primal soup which reveals itself, you sense how and why life began.”

The hotel, its rooms, its restaurant and its terrace are the gatehouse of these marine depths, a
“natural theatre with gigantic dimensions, where the planet’s forces are in constant interaction.”
There we can admire the variable geometry of the Banc d’Arguin, an immense sandy spit which
emerges at certain times of the day and, reread in the language of reality the finest pages from
Victor Hugo’s “The Man Who Laughs”, whose evocations of the moon, attraction and dangerous
and beneficial currents inspired the design of the rugs which Philippe Starck designed for the hotel’s rooms.

This perpetual astonishment is continued in the hotel’s unique location “placed on a sort
of magic, a sort of miracle, an impossibility which is the largest dune in Europe”. A mass of Surrealist sand, a “grand site national” over which La Co(o)rniche has a unique vantage point.
Along with this evocation of the sea and the sand, we should add that of the ubiquitous pines. The Pilat-Plage district which borders La Co(o)rniche has developed in perfect harmony with them. The clairvoyance and perseverance of the Gaume family, which managed its development, ensured that the architecture blended in completely with nature. This is how only a few minutes
from Arcachon, La Co(o)rniche nestles into surroundings which are preserved and still vibrant with that atmosphere so sought-after by the elite of the last century.

At La Co(o)rniche, Philippe Starck does not simply celebrate the magic of a place, he also pays tribute to the people who live there. A native of Cap Ferret at heart, he praises the “pure French quality” of the area. “You have good seafood, very good pastries, a very good microclimate, you have the most beautiful oysters in the world! But above all great people, sparkling and full of humour.” People like William Téchoueyres appealed to him and won his heart. Philippe Starck describes him as a “block of life, an immense burst of laughter”. Even the elegance of a burst of laughter. He in himself expresses the essence of the basin and that particular French quality, that balance, that instinct, that finesse, that tenderness, that poetry and vision which make the air vibrate, as can a scent.” The refurbishment of La Co(o)rniche translates this particular affection and desire not to betray this precious soul. “It is an extremely important place for local people, a place of baptisms and weddings…there is an enormous enthusiasm and an enormous expectation from everyone. And everyone understood that we weren’t changing the place, that we were simply awaking the sleeping beauty.”

First a large traditional Neo-Basque house appears, characteristic of the regional style introduced by Louis Gaume and popular all around the basin. An old tamarix seems to be
the immemorial guardian. You get there via a flight of stone steps, leading up to a surprising
patio made up of mismatched cement tiles woven together like a fantastical Persian rug. To the right, vegetable beds with aromatic herbs marked with little labels lead towards the restaurant and of course these are used by its chefs. Opposite, doors open into the hotel’s reception area.

The hotel’s entrance leads into the lobby which has been preserved intact. Its dark wood, frescoes and period furniture tells us of the friendly ghosts of times past, gallants and gentlemen, the leading stars of cinema, painters, writers and a crowd of anonymous faces, all of whom shared the rare experience of time spent here.

In contrast to this preserved authenticity, “randomly placed” sculptures are dotted about,
sort of glass and steel display cases as if they contained little treasures. Philippe Starck calls
them “intelligent objects, for intelligent people, who come to this intelligent place”. Objects which give off an audible murmur, a tangible echo of the hotel’s dreams and imaginings, like relics of a demographic paradise.

The whole refurbishment is based around poetic ruggedness. The typical lift shaft reveals
additional wonder under the light of a large Murano glass chandelier by French artist Aristide
Najean. Collages, seemingly left by people who have passed through, stand out from the yellow
ochre and black walls. Fragments of photos, postcards and drawings reminiscent of the
collages of Max Ernst or Jacques Prévert. Small lessons in things with poetic accents snatched from a collective travel journal.

La Co(o)rniche’s 11 bedrooms and suite each open onto the postcard panorama which inspired
its name. On the ground floor, Le Moulleau looks onto the pines and the sea, towards Arcachon. On the first floor they all open onto a terrace or a balcony, some facing Cap Ferret, others overlooking the Banc d’Arguin, others the dune or the coast road. In each of them that familiar feeling prevails which people like about holiday homes, along with the hotel’s feeling of “exoticism”. The beds are often placed in the middle of the room, backing onto the desk. An armchair in the corner is an invitation to read if not being used as a clothes rack. On the floor a rug repeats a few lines of “The Man Who Laughs”. Without ostentation, the interior design evokes life’s charm and pleasure.

This simple design creates a great freshness, which extends to the large shelves. Shelves set off with “mental games” dreamt up by Philippe Starck. Solid aluminium sculptures, cast and polished, bear, as if in an allusion to Surrealism, the name of the object they represent. Five “totem” objects which all symbolize the Arcachon basin. The
oyster, of course, and the “bac” (a flat-bottomed boat used by oyster fishermen), the fishing boat (whose shape is inspired by the gondolas brought back from Venice), the balloon glass integral to the aperitif ritual and finally the dune, the natural feature which guards the entry to the basin. Around them, sweets, three apples and a series of plates which breaks up the panorama offered from La Co(o)rniche, fans, coasters with drawings, old photos, recent works, and a lot of books; all clues placed there, like a testament to life and desires, the results of a fruitful outpouring directed towards the ocean.The pale grey ceiling, the linen sheets, the crystal
lamps, the boards on the walls, painted alternately white and pale lemon yellow or very soft pink
depending on the rooms, capture or disperse the natural daylight. It enshrouds an entirely
glazed bathroom. The metal angles of the oyster sheds accentuate these glass surroundings, translucent when the curtains close on the intimacy of the body.

Towards the land and the pines, the hotel affirms its Basque nature, towards the ocean,
the restaurant shows its maritime side, in the form of a large oyster hangar. Interspersed with
narrow windows, covered in white pine planks, it is a dual where the serenity of the landscape
and kitchen life compete. Here, the kitchen is a scene of stainless steel where
the team work heroically to the backdrop of the rotisserie. This fragrant machine which, between
simplicity and invention, enhances the truth of the fine produce and the privilege of a generous “terroir” straddling land and sea.

This place, which resembles a large hut, actually does contain several. “This defines various ways of being there,” emphasizes Philippe Starck, whether you come on your own, with friends or for the intimacy of a romantic dinner. The favourite is perhaps the “captain’s room”,
in the heart of the kitchen. A large and splendid white marble table sits there beneath crystal
chandeliers. It is the centre of wedding breakfasts and celebrations. Elsewhere are deep sofas which nest into one another. In summer they are covered in white or pale coloured slipcovers and in winter, they are dressed in leather, which will take on a patina with time, and cashmere plaid, for particularly cosy dinners. People also come here to lose themselves in a book or the depth of an horizon. There is also a sort of small brasserie, a little more formal, and also large tables with benches as in a country inn. Finally there is a very large bar which continues towards the outside and creates the fun atmosphere of somewhere that combines friendliness and the desire for privacy, in summer as in winter. In winter the four fireplaces give off an enveloping heat and transform the atmosphere into a snug cocoon.

The terrace – a full 360° of pleasure with a 180° field of vision – frames the landscape. Its grey
pool, combining a swimming lane and a aquatic living area, draws the gaze down to the sea, which it blends into. And, straight down from the dune, a beach meanwhile seems to be sliding across the sand below.

There, there are deckchairs, tables and the pines. The restaurant menu is available as well as, from noon to 6pm, a swimming pool menu built around the simple pleasure of a plate of pasta,
a hamburger, some oysters or a plate of sushi. And, in the background, towards the dune,
another oyster shed, dotted with alternate red and white panes of cathedral glass, houses a bar of casual luxury, an elegant space with crystal chandeliers and sofas in a small lounge.


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    La Corniche is a hotel in an extraordinary location. The key landmark in the Pilat-Plage district, the vantage point over the Arcachon basin, backing onto the highest dune in Europe, it is suspended between sea and sky, nestling between sand and pines. It is a mythical place which evokes the golden age and invention of the Côte d’Argent. A former 1930s hunting lodge in the heart of a preserved site, where aristocracy and the upper middle classes,...

    Project details
    • Year 2010
    • Work finished in 2010
    • Status Completed works
    • Type Hotel/Resorts / Restaurants / Interior Design
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