La Grande Dune du Pyla, or the Great Dune of Pyla or Pilat, in the southwest of France on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean emerges suddenly from the forest around it. At 107 meters (351 feet) above sea level, it is the highest sand dune in Europe and is estimated to contain 60 million cubic meters of sand.
Each year, the dune adds more and more of the surrounding forest to its mass. The pine trees, planted to prevent erosion in the 18th and 19th century, can be seen disappearing on the edges of the dune. Other sand dunes are in the southwest of the Gironde department, but none so big as the Dune of Pyla, which grew on top of a smaller dune known as la Dune de la Grave. In a short geological time, the Great Dune of Pyla consumed much of plants, roads, and even buildings around it.
The sand made fine by the ocean wind makes it difficult to climb to the top of the dune, but the reward are clear views of the Bassin d’Arcachon, the bay below the dune; the Landes pine forest; and, on a clear day, even the Pyrenees mountains on the border between France and Spain. Numerous paragliders use the wind and height of the dune to launch in the air and other visitors sprawl in the sands.
Know Before You Go
La Grande Dune of Pyla can be reached by renting a bike the nearby town Arcachon and traveling the ocean side trail while following the signs for the dune. There are two parking lots from which a pedestrian path and stairs lead down to the dune. Trains leave from Bordeaux to the Arcachon station daily, where there are also buses.