Home » world » Europe’s largest shifting dune: The Dune du Pilat in France

Europe’s largest shifting dune: The Dune du Pilat in France

DThe contrast couldn’t be greater: Anyone who struggled over the terrible motorway slip road in the direction of Arcachon, then was on the way to Pilat in heavy traffic, in order to turn into a gigantic parking lot in the middle of the forest, where the signposts pave the way for you, past maneuvering ones Motorhomes and school buses sliding in the sand, if you have finally parked yourself under a tree that provides shade, you finally have to squeeze past endless souvenir shops, postcard stands and chip stalls on a walk of around 700 meters.

But then there is that moment when the maritime pines light up and reveal the view: of the monument made of sand, which is the highest shifting dune in Europe. I still remember how I stood there when I first saw it so many years ago, my mouth slightly open as I paused, the sight was so startling and overwhelming, the dimensions so unexpected, which even here only hinted at.

The Pilat Dune, 107 meters high, 616 meters wide and 2.9 kilometers long, stretches through the southern Gironde. On one side the endless green forest, on the other side the ocean.

It should be 550 million cubic meters of sand that rise up into the sky with an incline of 30 to 40 degrees and which attract up to two million visitors every year. This makes the dune the second most visited natural monument in France after the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel on the border between Normandy and Brittany, this impressive monastery mountain in the sea.

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If you want to avoid the stream of visitors, take the road in the direction of Biscarrosse three kilometers further south and only climb behind you “Pyla Camping” out of the car to then climb the dune. On the other hand, the wonderful Plage Robinson also offers the opportunity for a cooling dip in the sea. The “Le Panorama” next door is an excellent location for a campsite restaurant.

The arduous hike on the dune is worth it

On the first visit, however, the main entrance is certainly more exciting: to see how young and old struggle on the 160 steep steps of the seasonally constructed plastic staircase (from April to November) – every year there are reports about seniors who, once they get to the top, first get medical help Needing care – is only strange until you try it yourself and work up a sweat after the first half. Because the ascent is so steep, and the sand blowing in your face from all directions replaces the cosmetic peeling in the holiday hotel.

The Dune du Pyla near Arcachon (Gironde / France)

More exhausting than it looks: Visitors struggle up the 160 steep steps of the seasonally constructed staircase

Quelle: picture alliance / Daniel Karmann

But when you reach the top of the dune, you catch your breath a second time when you look ahead and the horizon is suddenly so close. On the right the Bassin d’Arcachon, the view across to Cap Ferret with its lighthouse, right in front of you is the bird protection sandbank Banc d’Arguin, on which oyster farmers are also active, further back the open sea, small boats in the backlight. And on the left the dune, endless, a wave, up and down, every year the height fluctuates depending on the wind and weather, it never resembles a previous visit.

If you want, you should start hiking now, take the first flanks. At the beginning the dune is full of people, tourists, photographers, but then, after a hundred meters, there are fewer.

The Pilat dune in France

Hiking through the sand takes some effort, but is worth it

Quelle: Getty Images/Max shen

And if you make it through the deep sand, which makes even slow hiking difficult, a few hundred meters further, then you are pretty much alone, hearing your own breathing, the crunch of the sand under your hopefully bare feet, further down the approaching waves that land on the sandbar, combined with the cheering of the children who treat themselves to a short bath on the lower beach.

Have fun descending from the Dune du Pilat

This sight is breathtaking, and if you have seen enough, the next highlight is waiting for you: the descent. If possible, this should not be done via the stairs, but – with plenty of run-up and in large jumps – down the dune on the right flank.

View of the Atlantic from the Dune of Pilat, Pyla-sur-Mer, Arcachon, southern France

From the dune you can see Cap Ferret and the sand bank Banc d’Arguin

What: pA / imageBROKER

The repulsion in the sand, the force of gravity, the flying and soft landing, all of this is so fun that young and old have a big smile on their faces when they reach the bottom – the children want to go back up immediately.

Of course, rolling is also possible, but if possible all trouser pockets should be emptied beforehand and the jacket pockets should be tightly closed, a car key search on the Dune du Pilat is, from my own experience, a very time-consuming thing that only succeeds in extraordinary luck.

Magnificent view of the sea from the hotel

It rarely snows in Aquitaine in winter. In 2017 it was that time again, and something very special happened: On this occasion, wonderful photos and videos of gliding skiers and tobogganers who approached the ocean through snow and sand were made – I was very sad not to have been among them , but it is firmly made for the next snow in Pilat.

Banc d'Arguin (France): Numerous birds nest in the nature reserve and find their winter quarters

Banc d’Arguin: Numerous birds nest in the nature reserve and find their winter quarters

Source: Getty Images / 500px Plus

After visiting the dunes, we recommend a short detour to Pyla-sur-Mer, a glamorous seaside resort with magnificent villas in the French bathing style, brightly painted and interspersed with wooden beams. There are many good restaurants here.

Probably the most up-and-coming of them is “Le Skiff Club”, not far from the dune and a bunker on the beach. The restaurant belongs to a hotel designed by Philippe Starck and offers regional cuisine that is modernly interpreted and served at the highest level.

The neighboring luxury hotels are also popular and genuine institutions “La Co (o) rniche” and “If (a) ïtza”. Ordinary citizens only treat themselves to an overnight stay here, if at all, only for their honeymoon, but both hotels have really great bars with a magnificent view of the sea.

Finally, it is time to swim at the Plage des Arbousiers in Le Moulleau with a wonderful view of the Arcachon basin and its oyster huts. Swimming here is much safer, especially for children, than in the open sea.

The text is a chapter from the recently published instructions for use for Bordeaux and the Atlantic coast by Alexander Oetker, Piper Verlag, 221 pages, 15 euros.

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Source: WELT / Ann-Kathrin Löhnwitz

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