Golden, powdery sand as far as the eye can see.
In front of me, behind, above, and below. There’s good reason why Dune du Pilat is officially Europe’s tallest sand dune. In fact, I’m going to let the dune show off a little:
Dune du Pilat isn’t stationary. It’s actually moving slowly inwards, eating up the surrounding forest. Measurements have shown that the dune moves at average of 3 metres per year, mainly thanks to intense winds blowing in from the Atlantic which push the sand inland. As there’s barely any vegetation on the dune itself, there’s nothing to trap the sand and hold it back. More sand continues to be deposited by waves and currents at the dune’s base, maintaining its stability so far.
The sand at the top of the dune is so finely weathered that sinking my feet into it feels like a spa treatment. And the rest of my body soon succumbs – the dune may be France’s best mattress. This is what the sand grains look like; almost uniformly spherical to the naked eye, with not a jagged edge in sight:
It’s a great place to laze about, listening to the distant waves below and watching everyone’s inner child jump out. Some dig each other into the sand, others run down the hills with visible glee, yet more go cartwheeling by, others roll. There’s no distinguishing line between adult and kid behaviour here.
But in the case of Dune du Pilat, the old adage holds true: nothing good comes easily. The trek up can be quite a slog, but a fun one! There are wooden stairs to help those who may be less fit or have mobility issues, but I couldn’t resist tackling this slope barefoot. At times, I sank in up to my knees!
I trekked up and down both sides of the dune, and rewarded myself with some white wine in between, at a James Bondesque hotel by the dune’s base. The only thing that managed to pull me away from Pilat was the fact that I was staying at a rather lovely vineyard myself, in St. Emilion. (And on this location more to come….)
Top tips for visiting Dune du Pilat:
- This is a great spot for all ages. I visited during school holidays, so I saw toddlers to grandparents, all looking like they were in seventh heaven. The dune is easy to reach when driving, and I’ve pinned its main parking site below, together with the walk that needs to be taken to access the dune, visit the Bond restaurant I mentioned above, and circle back. (However, once you’ve accessed the top of the dune. most of it can be walked on.)
- If visiting, take water and food. The trek up the dune is steep, and can quickly be dehydrating on a sunny day. Food isn’t a necessity, but the dune is a lovely place for a picnic and you may find yourself drooling at others’ if you don’t bring provisions. Though the Bond hotel mentioned also offers some lovely food, and cheaper options are available at the start of the dune trek.
- Plan at least half a day here to be able to make the most of the dune. Paragliding is also possible in late spring through summer.
- I visited Dune du Pilat from the lovely St. Emilion, which is a great base for the area. The dune was only about an hour drive away.
- For more on my travels around France, click here or follow me on social media (@sciencewanders)