If you love nature and original experiences, Dune du Pilat is a must visit place. The tallest sand dune in Europe is a very easy day trip from Bordeaux, so don’t miss the chance to discover it.
The Dune du Pilat feels more like you’re in the desert of Sahara rather than in France. 100 meters high, the dune runs almost 3 km from north to south. It has been built for thousands of years since Atlantic winds blow the sand upward. It is still moving eastward at a rate of a few meters per year, covering up the pine forest inland.
Once at the top, you can enjoy a spectacular view on Arcachon Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. At the foot of the Dune you can see the sandbank of “Banc D’Arguin” constantly moving and changing shape with the wind and ocean currents, and which is also a protected natural reserve, being a stopover site for certain species of migratory birds. On your right side, you can see the Cap Ferret Peninsula.
First of all, you need to take a train to Arcachon, from Gare Saint Jean in Bordeaux: it takes around 50 minutes and there are trains every hour (around 8€). Once you reach Arcachon, there are many options to go to Dune du Pilat. Some will bring you to the forest side of the dune, some to the ocean side. The most common ones is taking a bus. Bus 1 leave from the Arcachon train station (Gare d’Arcachon) regularly and takes roughly 30 minutes (Bus Baia Line 1 in the direction of Plage de la Salie, get off at the Dune du Pilat stop, 1€).
Then you will have to climb the dune. The top of the dune isn’t too hard to access if you are in good shape. You can either choose to climb the staircase or just to go through the sand, which is a bit more difficult.
If you want to arrive to the dune by the ocean side, you can walk along the beach from Arcachon. The whole walk is about 10 kilometers, which takes about 2 hours: it’s a good way to explore the seaside villages and enjoy the nice view on the Bay. You will arrive at the bottom of the Dune, on the Ocean side. If you are motivated you can also rent bicycle in Arcachon and ride to the Dune from the forest Side.
Another option is boat: there are boats from Cap Ferret to Dune du Pilat 3 times a day. Crossing the Bassin d’Arcachon is an amazing experience and with this option, you will have the perfect view of the Dune du Pilat from the sea.
You can of course manage to see the dune in 1 or 2 hours, that’s what most of the tourists do: climbing the dune, taking some photos, and getting back to the bus. However, such an amazing place really deserves more time, so if you can, try to plan it as a perfect day trip, combined with other places in Bassin d’Arcachon for example.
There are many options, but here is one of them: once you arrive in Arcachon, you can take a boat to Cap Ferret (every hour, 7€) which take around 25 minutes. Explore a bit the fishing villages and then take the 11:15 shuttle boat to Dune du Pilat (13€) and enjoy the beautiful view during the boat ride. Once you arrive at the bottom of the Dune, you can swin in the crystal-clear water, and enjoy a picnic.
If you haven’t brought along any food, there is also a fancy restaurant called la Coorniche, not far from the dune, with a stunning view on the sea and a delicious fish and sea food cuisine. After a quick nap on the beach, it’s time for you to Climb the Dune! From the ocean side, the climbing is longer and tougher than from the forest side (as there are no stairs). But the reward makes the effort worthwhile: one of the greatest experience during your French trip, and some of your best Instagram photos!
For the way back, you can just take the bus departing from the forest side. If you have time left before your train to Bordeaux, you can spend some time in Arcachon old town and enjoy its XIXth century villas.
The best time period to visit The Dune is between May and October. The weather is nice, and there are more public transportations to get there (especially during July and August). If you are afraid of hot weather, it is better to visit during spring or autumn.
Don’t expect any shop at the top of the Dune! so prepare in advance a lot of water and some snacks to eat (if you haven’t buy before you can get some at the bottom of the dune after the bus stop). Same for toilet: Use the facilities located at the entrance before you climb the dune… The place is very sunny so wear a hat and sun glasses.
Climbing with Flip-flops or barefoot can be a good option on a normal day to avoid your shoes being full of sand when you return. But during sunny days, between 12 to 3 pm, the sand can become very hot, and even burn your feet if you walk without shoes, so check the temperature and weather first.
Sunsets are always magical at Bassin d'Arcachon. If you can stay overnight, find a nice spot near the sea and enjoy a very inspirational sunset.
Author and Photographs - Vincent Sacau