Dune du Pilat – Climbing Europe’s highest sand dune

Last Updated on 16/05/2020 by secretmoona

Lush green forest opposite pale sand dune

Dune du Pilat, the highest sand dune in Europe has a unique landscape couple with stunning views. I really wanted to see for a long and it did not disappoint. I decided to make a quick stop there following my long weekend in the beautiful city of Bordeaux

If you have never heard of it, hopefully, you’ll find this quick guide interesting and informative. 

Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through my link!

How was the Dune du Pilat formed?

Dune du Pilat (sometimes called Dune du Pyla) is the tallest sand dune in Europe. Located between the Arcachon  Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, it is France’s exotic little Sahara. At 107 metres tall, 500 metres wide and extending to more than 3 kilometres, it’s a spectacular natural phenomenon. 

The dune sits between land and sea. On one side you have a dense pine tree forest and on the other the ocean and peninsula! 

Dune du Pilat was formed following accumulations forms several generations of dunes. Large amounts of sand get carried from the Banc d’Arguin (sandbank) to the dune. This phenomenon is made possible thanks to the Bassin d’Arcachon and Gironde estuary. 

Visiting the Dune du Pilat

Climbing the Dune du Pilat 

Although not extremely high, the dune is quite steep so people with limited mobility will find climbing a little challenging. From April to November, the climb to the top is aided by wooden stairs. 

We visited in February, so there were no staircases which meant that climbing up was no easy job. Looking around, I could see kids and dogs going up and down like it was nothing. I wished I was as energetic! I have to say that it didn’t help that we visited just after a copious lunch. 

People climbing the steep Dune du Pilat
Line of people climbing the steep Dune du Pilat, dark clouds

Scenic view of the Atlantic coast

Once you climb to the top, you are rewarded with the most breathtaking view. The contrast between the ocean, peninsula and pine forest is just spectacular. The forest of the Landes, one of the biggest in France helps support the dunes, but it is being swallowed slowly by the dune. The other remarkable view is across the Atlantic Ocean, Cap Ferret and Arcachon Bay.

When to visit

The site is accessible all year round, 24/7 and free except for the charge for parking space (see below). So if you are an early riser, you can see the sun rising from the top or sunset. 

Couple enjoying walks on the Dune du Pilat

Summertime is for obvious reasons the best time to go as you can enjoy the site fully and have a dip in the sea. But summer (July/August) can be extremely busy. If you don’t like being surrounded by too many people then visit during the shoulder season. You can definitely visit the dune in winter but obviously you have to pay attention to the weather as the site can be very windy at times.

Things to do in and around Dune du Pilat

People enjoying Dune du Pilat

I assumed the place would be quiet since it was February. Plus, it rained the night before but that didn’t deter people. There were quite a big number of families, groups of friends and couples having a good time. Kids were playing with kites and other people were paragliding. With the wind, it’s a no brainer. 

Sand, sea and forest

Dune du Pilat offers something for everyone. Whether you like exploring, playing a game, sitting while admiring the view or enjoying the beach. Once you have admired the views, you can take a long walk along the ridge of the dune or go down to the beach. 

In summer, you can bring a picnic with you and make it a family day out. 

If you like cycling then, there are many great spots to ride along the Arcachon Bay. The bay has lots of things to do including a lighthouse that can be toured.

Things to do nearby

As well as exploring Arcachon and the Bassin’d’Arcachon, you can discover the surrounding areas like Saint-Emilion (where most of Bordeaux’ the red wine is made), Ile aux Oiseaux (a beautiful unspoiled island with bird species), Cap Ferret and its lighthouse or even Biarritz (a seaside town popular with surfers).

Getting there

With the excellent road and rail systems, accessing the Dune du Pilat is easy. Here are the ways you can get there.

Car: Driving is perhaps the most convenient way to get there if you have a car. It’s less than 45 minutes on a good day from Bordeaux. However, please note that traffic can be extremely slow with long traffic jams during the high season so bear that in mind. 

Train/Bus: travelling by train is easy. From Bordeaux-Saint-Jean, you can take the TER train to Arcachon. You can also travel from other nearby cities to Arcachon. From Arcachon station, take Baia 1 to the Dune du Pilat. It takes about 30 minutes to get there from the train station. The return fare is just €1. 

Bike: There are good coastal cycle paths along the dunes, the bay and towards Pyla-sur-Mer. Cycle paths near the Arcachon bay here:

Parking: There are several car parks available to visitors. Cost is 4 €  for 2 hours and 6 € for 4hours. It’s half price during the low season (mid-November to mid-February)

Where to stay near Dune du Pilat

Hotel La Co(o)rniche close to Dune du Pilat
Hotel La Co(o)rniche (credit Booking.com)

There are plenty of options in the area. The closest to the dune is La Co(o)rniche (designed by French designer Philippe Stark). If you are visiting during the high season, it is preferable to book in advance to avoid disappointment. You can find a good selection of hotels and Airbnbs in Arcachon or Bordeaux via Booking.com.  

You can also camp nearby. Camping information can be found here.If you like camping, note that there are several sites close by like Village du Lac.

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Hi there! I'm Mayi. Welcome to my blog SecretMoona! I hope to share with you the hidden secret of places I visit.

17 thoughts on “Dune du Pilat – Climbing Europe’s highest sand dune

  1. Wow, natural wonders like this always blow my mind! I recently learned about this place and after reading your post have got it on my bucket list. Those views from the top are spectacular!

    1. Dune du Pilat is for sure a spectacular place. The view is amazing,a anywhere you look. I really hope you can visit one day.

  2. I remember to be in Bordeaux and, with my girlfriend of the time, we went to visit this dune… it is truly impressive, massive, giant, but once we climb it we had such a magic view, totally worth it 🙂 your article was nice because reminded me of this day, thanks 🙂 stay safe and greetings from Portugal, PedroL

    1. Thanks a lot 🙂 I’m glad this reminded you of good memories. I would love to go back again so I can try paragliding. Stay safe too. I hope to visit your beautiful country soon.

      1. Hope you manage to come 🙂 if you need any tip let me know or check my blog where I share my trips in Portugal (and around the world eheh) and thanks for the feedback 🙂 PedroL

    1. Thanks. The dune is not well known outside of France but it’s a rather popular spot in the Bordeaux region.

  3. It looks so cool to climb it! I am French and I haven’t done it yet, but hopefully soon!

  4. These sand dunes look so cool to climb! I’ve never heard of them but they look wonderful to visit with those views of the ocean. I can that the steps would make the climb much easier to get up!

    1. Thanks. The steps are for sure a big help! But the little exercise is not bad either, especially after a big meal!

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