Monday, March 26, 2012

It's beach time! - The Great Dune du Pyla

La Dune Du Pyla

This has is one of my favorite places!  I have visited it several times over the years and each time I go back, I still stand in awe and amazement of this natural wonder!!  This is the great Dune du Pyla - This is Europe's highest sand dune, measuring 107 meters in height.  It is also 2500 meters long.  It's located about 45 minutes West of Bordeaux on the Atlantic Ocean, sitting just South of the Arcachon Basin. For this post, I find it interesting to do a bit of comparison between my visit here last August and again last week.

Last summer, while we were visiting family in Southern France, we decided it was time to bring our older girls for a visit to the Dune du Pyla.  We figured they were old enough to do it and would probably find it interesting.  I still laugh at my oldest daughter's initial remark when I said we were going to visit a sand dune..."Mom, I want to go the beach and swim, not go play in a sand pile."  Little did she know, that THIS sand pile was a natural wonder!  The following photo is the bottom of the dune last August when we climbed up with our kids (and a lot of other tourists!)

We have learned over the years, that in the summer it's best to climb this dune close to dinnertime, as it's often very sunny and hot mid-day!  So up we went...holding cameras and shoes.  My husband, the traditional Frenchman, chose not to take the stairs, but to climb up along the far right side the "natural" way with no stairs...At the time, I told him that he was nuts...if stairs were provided, then why shouldn't I take them, let alone hiking straight upstairs was exhausting enough.  The kids had fun, initially tried racing up the stairs, but found they needed to slow down as it was taller and longer than they thought.  I remember just looking at my older 2 girls and my 16 year old niece as they stood with mouths open staring up this hill of sand.  As we all got to the top, it just stretched out in front of us - and gave me that feeling of awe and serenity that I often get when I visit this dune.
View from the top - August 2011
View of the back side of Dune - Aug. 2011

What's utterly amazing about this dune is that it's just sand, sand and more sand!  The sand is the finest, softest sand I've ever felt.  I just learned the other day, that this is the finest grain sand found in Europe!  Just take your shoes off and scrunch your toes and it feels so good!  Looking out at this whole dune is like looking at a desert.
Looking South along the dune
My girls, my niece & myself

So, having just been to the dune in August and remembering how impressive it always is...It was high on the list of places to visit with my mother.  Since, the weather is warming up now in later March, I thought it would be a great place to go....Pick a nice sunny day and go hike up the dune...She could do it...the stairs wouldn't be too bad.  Well to my surprise - March is not June - The following photos shows how the dune looks from the bottom now - March 2012
Standing at the bottom of the dune

Looking up to top of dune from the bottom

I learned the hard way...that they only install the stairs in the summer!  So there I stood at the bottom with my 74 year old mother - telling her that the view on the other side is stunning...but not quite sure if we were going to see it!  Her first reaction was "Wow, but I'm not climbing that!".  I agreed, but then just started walking little, by little..I said to her - "Let's just go part way - at least you will be able to look back toward the forest a bit".  She agreed and followed...we made it to the half way mark, where the ridge line went left and sloped more gently up the dune...Once I got there, it didn't look that hard - but I still needed to not only convince myself that I could do it...but also convince my mother.  As luck would have it, there were about 4 school groups of around 25 students each who were at the bottom and started up the dune with their guides...of course we let them pass us..watching them trudge up the mountain!  But then I noticed that they left nice solid footprints in the would probably be easier to step in their prints than to make our I walked a bit - following the newly made pathway.  It was definitely easier...My Mother decided to follow and after 20 minutes we were looking down from above!!  More than we bargained for a hike - but wonderful all the same.

Here's the view in March 2012

Looking into the Arcachon Basin

Looking at the Atlantic Ocean
Back side of the the dune

The Ocean and other smaller dunes with waves further out.
Looking South- March 2012
This is exactly why this is one of my favorite places near water here in France!  It's stunningly beautiful and truly very peaceful.  We were fortunate on that Tuesday, that there were not too many people climbing and walking around, so it was very special.  Coming back 7 months later also showed me how much this dune changes with the wind & general erosion.  I can understand why each year they need to take the stairs's a constantly changing landscape.

I'm very proud of my 74 year old mother who made the climb up - and was definitely a great sport about it. She also agreed that the view and the dune itself was certainly worth the climb!  I'm looking forward to taking our next visitors up here and also again seeing how much it changes.


  1. Discovered your blog while looking for info about Arcachon for somedoby. Great blog! hope you enjoy the Sud-Ouest!
    I was born and raised in Bordeaux and lived there until my 20s..then moved to the Dordogne area to work.
    Did you had a chance yet to visit some of the Bastides (medieval new towns) in the regions and castles like La Brede, Cadillac, etc.?

    All the best
    Red frog (now in Vancouver-Canada)


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