Dune de Pyla, Gironde visitors guide
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The Dune de Pyla - often referred to as the Dune de Pilat outside France - is a natural sand dune, several kilometres long and approximately 100 metres high on the Atlantic Coast a few kilometres south of Arcachon.
The dune is one of the most unusual and impressive natural sites in France, and officially listed as one of just 30 'Grand Sites of France'. Apparently the Dune de Pyla receives 1 000 000 visitors each year!
Visiting the Dune de Pyla
There is no charge to visit the dune itself, although parking costs around 4 euros per car if you stay more than 30 minutes. It would be possible to get here, go up the sand dune and admire the views and return to your car in less than 30 minutes but most visitors will spend at least a couple of hours here.
From the car park a short stroll passed several cafes and gift shops takes you to the base of the dune. If you are energetic you can just walk straight up the the dune, otherwise you can use a series of steps that make the climb slightly easier.
Although the dune is only 100 metres high it is quite steep and those with limited mobility are likely to find it challenging. Wheelchair access is not possible.
As well as the remarkable sight of the dune itself, the views from the top are quite remarkable. To the east you are looking out across the enormous forest of the Landes, one of the largest forests in Europe. Each year the dune moves a little further inland and as you will see the forest is literally being crushed by the dune.
The view to the west extends far out across the Atlantic Ocean, including the Banc d'Arguin and the southern part of Cap Ferret.
How was the Dune de Pyla formed?
Remarkable as it my seem, the sand bank called the Banc d'Arguin is actually the source of the Dune de Pyla. Due to the nature of the currents around the Gironde estuary and along this part of the Atlantic coast, and the tidal nature of the Bassin d'Arcachon, large amounts of sand get deposited here, just off the coast.
The wind from the Atlantic then carries the sand onto the dune, and also ensures the dune recedes a few centimetres each year.
After admiring the views, it is possible to walk several kilometres along the ridge of the dune, or to descend to the sea front and beach, or both! Walking along sand is quite hard work, and it can be quite hot on the dune in summer, so be sure to bring some water or a picnic if this is your plan.
The Dune de Pyla is also extremely popular with children who love running down and clambering back up the sides of the dune. Personally I am of an age where running down comes a lot easier than climbing back up!
On the northern edge of the dune is our favourite hotel/bar/restaurant called La Co(o)rniche. We don't usually recommend hotels and restaurants but its outside bar area is a magical place that we visit often. This is a Philippe Starck designed hotel and restaurant and is simply stunning with a simple and natural elegance and a very natural feel.
We have sat on the terrace many times to enjoy a glass of wine overlooking the dune, the ocean and the Banc d'Arguin and it is magical. An anniversary dinner one summer we sat outside overlooking the superb view and we look forward to repeating the experience one day. We have not stayed in the hotel but it looks fabulous.
As well as the popular resort of Arcachon just a few kilometres to the north you can also explore the other local resorts on the Atlantic Coast such as Le Moulleau and Biscarrosse, best known for their exceptional beaches. See Bassin d'Arcachon for other highlights.
Map of Dune de Pyla and places nearby
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Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby
- Dune du Pilat: grand site of france
- Bassin d'Arcachon: site of natural beauty (10 km)
- Île aux Oiseaux (Gironde): site of natural beauty (11 km)
- Etang de Cazaux et Sanguinet: site of natural beauty (14 km)
- Domaine de Certes: site of natural beauty (18 km)
- Biscarrosse: ville fleurie 4* (24 km)
- Etang de Biscarrosse et Parentis: site of natural beauty (29 km)
- Mimizan clocher-porche (monuments on French pilgrim routes): heritage site (45 km)
- Mimizan: ville fleurie 4* (45 km)
- Parc zoologique de Bordeaux Pessac: zoo or wildlife park (47 km)
- Landes de Gascogne: regional natural parc (50 km)
- Bordeaux basilique Saint-Seurin (monuments on French pilgrim routes): heritage site (56 km)
The French version of this page is at Dune de Pyla (Francais)