Highest Sand Dune in Europe - Dune de Pyla!

April 29, 2010


Kids, camping, biking, hiking, sand and water are a perfect combination for family travel! Add in a novelty like the highest sand dune in Europe and we could not miss this stop as we left Spain's northern coast and headed into France. This French region along the Atlantic coast is called the "Landes" and is mostly very flat and covered with pines. It's a popular area for tourists from Bordeaux with lots of beaches. 



You won't see many American tourists, but we rarely do in our travels into off-the-beaten- track locations. One of the joys and advantages of having so much time to explore Europe has been how it has allowed us to experience so many hidden gems. By driving, biking, walking and using mass transit mostly, and having the luxury of time to slow travel, we get a real on-the-ground perspective of places that most will never see. I'll never be able to express my gratitude for this gift we have given ourselves and the more we do, the more I want to do it. Luckily we can share them with you too! So many stories yet to tell.



This spectacular place is called Dune du Pyla  or the great dune of Pilat and is on the coast just a kilometer away from the city of Arcachon, France. It is quite impressive at 3km long and over 100 meters high. One needs the ladder for the steep side, but the other side is more sloping and leads to a remote beach. There are lots of bike trails and one can take a ferry from Arcachon to Cap Ferret.



It is quite pretty in June with the unique combination of pines, wild flowers, large dune and sea views. I've heard that paragliding is very popular at Dune de Pyla and looks fun, but it must be seasonal as we saw none. The views from the top are spectacular, but hard to capture on film or video, partly because it's hard to show the scale,  but this gives a taste.



We stayed at a campsite called Camping La Foret because it had a ladder up the east side of the dune. It was not as big as the giant dunes in Merzouga in the Sahara that Mozart climbed, but  lots of fun, none the less. Can kids ever get enough of climbing or sand? I even enjoyed it, although could not make it up there with my mobility challenges ( bum knee). It looked tempting and I enjoyed watching ( and photographing) Mozart and Davinci way up on top.



Can you see those two teeny specs at the top of the dune from our camper? That is Mozart and DaVinci!

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Sandra Foyt

That looks like the kind of off the beaten path destination that my family would LOVE to explore!

Jen Laceda

Just lovely! How do you guys find these arcane places?!


Some years ago I had a funny experience there: Many people of a bus ran the dune down to the sea. When it was time to go back to the bus they realised it isn't that easy to run the dune upstairs. I never saw so many gasping people again since than :)

Heather on her travels

What a fab place for a camp site - I used to do a French exchange with a girl in Bordeaux and I remember Arcachon but Im not sure if we ever went to this dune. Great place to stay but I bet it's heaving in August

Happy Hotelier

Hope you was careful swimming in the sea...spent a holiday there eons ago and two (foreign tourists) drowned while we were there...

Nadine Touzet

Yes it's quite impressive... went there off season (had a meeting close by) and it was raining cats and dogs! never made it to the top, too windy and cold.

Nomadic Chick

Loved the video. What an amazing force of nature.


Sandra- Do put it on your list & quite convenient near Bordeaux & one of our fave spots

Jen- Thanks! I think I have a "nose" for such things..always looking for them. ;) The internet helps make it easier today & I'm a compulsive reader and always talking to other travelers in person & online.

Travelwriticus- That is funny! It is quite challenging to climb up it for sure!

Heather- I'm sure it is probably packed in August as most places are in Europe, although last year was so much better in August than in previous years due to the economy I suppose. I rather liked the decrease even in places like Cinque Terre. ;)

Happy Hotelier - Wow, sorry to hear that. It was too chilly to swim when we were you see Mozart kept her rain jacket on.

Nadine- Fun to see that so many of you traveling Europeans have also been here. I imagine it would be quite miserable in the winter & I wonder what it would be like on a very hot, clear day. Funny how that makes such a difference on when one sees a place.

Nomadic Chick - Thanks, nature sure is amazing sometimes! ;)

Philip Nurick

Great post ! We've found dunes are always enetertaining for our kids. Best I can remember would be 'Little sahara' on Kangaroo Island, South Australia. It's so out of context with the surrounding landscape, and a hard slog up, but worth it when boogieboarding down !


What a beautiful video! Thanks for putting it together and posting it. The dunes are on our list for our trip next year, Lordwilling.

Can I make a suggestion for a future post or your book? I'd love to see what to expect of a typical shopping experience going to the hypermarket and include a picture of your receipt so we get an idea of prices. I've read your posts on food and would probably cook similar to you, only much larger quantities since I've got teenaged boys. I'm trying to budget for food, but don't know what to expect in Europe.

Thanks for all the inspiration you've given us and many others. My family appreciates you so much!



Wow - this is simply amazing - I have to admit I had no idea this exists! Thank you for presenting it - and of course lovely photos!


Jo - I have written about shopping before, but will do it again soon.


Thanks Lori!


I have been there. Amazing and beautiful, with a fantastic view!

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