On the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, just south of the Bassin d'Arcachon, in the Gironde region, lies one of the most visited tourist attractions of southwest France: Dune de Pyla, also called Dune du Pilat or Dune de Pila. Every year, more than 2 million people visit here. In 1978, the dune was designated by the government as a major sight-seeing spot.
Unique to France and Europe
Dune de Pyla is enormous: from west to east, this huge sand dune is more than 600 meters wide. The length from north to south is almost 3 km. Its height is about 110 meters, making it the highest dune in Europe. Of course, the height varies at different spots and changes after every sandstorm. All in all, it is estimated at about 55 million cubic meters of sand.
Dune de Pyla was formed in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Atlantic Ocean current created a sandbar called Arguin, which was often left dry at low tide. The sand was then blown to the coast by the wind. Over the course of a century, the existing sand dune grew by tens of meters. It is also said that sand from the Sahara has caused the dune to grow further!
This dune, which (again) is the largest dune in Europe, moves eastward 4.5 meters every year. Trees, an intersection, and even a hotel have been buried under the sand!
To the highest dune in Europe
You can see Dune de Pyla from the D218, the coastal road which leads from Arcachon to Biscarosse. It can be busy at the paid parking lot, unless you go at the beginning or end of the day. Near the end, you can walk past restaurants, cafes, hotels, souvenir shops, and other tourist services. Access to the dune is free. A long flight of stairs must be climbed, but you will forget about it once you reach the top!
View over part of the Aquitaine
From the top you have a beautiful view. To the east you look out over the pine forests. In clear weather, the peaks of the Pyrenees are visible in the south. The Atlantic Ocean is on the law side. The sandbanks at the mouth of the Bassin d’Arcachon are clearly visible. Also the Banc d’Arguin and Cap Ferret bird sanctuary.
From the top of the dune, you have a beautiful view! To the east, you will look out over the pine forests. In clear weather, the peaks of the Pyrenees are even visible in the south. On the right side is the Atlantic Ocean. The sandbanks at the mouth of the Bassin d'Arcachon (Arcachon Bay) are clearly visible. You can also see a bird sanctuary, Banc d'Arguin Nature Reserve, and Cap Ferret Point.
Enjoy many activities at Dune de Pyla
Most tourists climb the dune to enjoy the beautiful views. Others want to sunbathe at high altitudes. You can also go swimming!
A completely different group comes to this enormous sand dune for sporting reasons. Paragliding, or parapenten as the French call it, is very popular. Float down to the ground from huge heights. During good weather, many colorful paragliding wings can be seen in the sky. Certified instructors, affiliated with “Pyla Parapente,” are ready to teach you.
Others come to "sandboard," which is similar to snowboarding (but on sand).
If you are going to the coast for a day, be sure to visit Dune de Pyla. You will have an unforgettable experience!