Dune du Pilat: The Largest Sand Dunes in Europe


Just 40 miles / 65 km south of the vineyards of Bordeaux lies the tallest sand dunes in Europe.

Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and an enormous pine forest in the Arcachon peninsula, this moving mountain stands between visitors and a lovely swim in the ocean.

I had never heard of these sand dunes before my most recent trip to Paris in June, 2017. Within two days in Paris and on the train to Bordeaux, three individuals mentioned the dunes and their surprising splendor to me.

It seemed to be a sign that I should go.

So one morning I took the train from Bordeaux to Archachon where I met a new French friend and we drove to the dunes.

We entered a parking lot to a camp site; beautiful forest surrounding us.

Ahead was a massive pile of sand, standing at 110 meters (360 feet) tall. That’s roughly a 33 story building!

To get up the sand dunes and cross to the other side you have two options; hike or take the stairs.

stairs of the dune du pilat, france

stairs of the dune du pilat, france

Can you spot the person on the stairs?

Yes, luckily there are stairs for those who don’t wish to hike up sand, which might be one of the most difficult activities! For every two steps you take, you slide back one. It can be infuriating!

On the other side of this massive sand dune, the beach is absolutely stunning and serene!


When I went in June is was almost empty, with another two dozen or so other patrons on the whole beach! Compare that with the beach in Archachon, which you can barely find space to set your things! I guess the 33 stories of sand helps weed out a lot of people.

TIP: You might also see or hear the name Dune du Pyla because of it’s proximity to the seaside town of Pyla-sur-Mer, but this name is not correct.

While you can hike up, walk around the top of the dune, and come back down in roughly 45 minutes, I recommend spending several hours here lounging on the pristine beach and swimming.

Dune du Pilat birds eye.JPG

For the young at heart, try running down the sand dunes! It’s incredible fun, and quick!

Make sure to bring lots of water and even a snack.

The restaurant at the camp site serves up delicious pizza, oysters and other food and would make a great late lunch or early dinner before heading back to Bordeaux.

Sapphire & Elm Travel is committed to providing our clients with the most unique, customized and rewarding experiences while they are abroad. We travel to learn the utmost possible about the city, region and country; which you often can’t do until you are there personally. Like what an amazing, easy day trip Dune to Pilat makes to break up all the wine tasting in Bordeaux with the beach and activity of climbing the dunes. We make mistakes and learn to save you time, energy and money while you’re in the country.

Ready to book a trip with Sapphire & Elm Travel? Contact us now to plan your trip to France.

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