Pilat Dune in France: the Highest in Europe

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It is difficult to describe well the Pilat Dune, or rather the Pilat Dunes.

When nature engages and leaves you speechless, any description, photograph, or video, fails to convey the feeling you get when you stand before one of her masterpieces.

Such is the case with the Pilat Dunes, the highest dunes in Europe. No picture that you will find in this article can ever make you truly understand what it is like to climb a sand dune of those proportions, with a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean.

The only images that will give you an overview of the Pilat dunes are those taken by drone, through which you can see the very long tongue of sand that, little by little, year by year, “erases” part of the forest behind it. It advances undaunted at a speed of between 1 and 5 meters per year.

Just by climbing the Pilat Dunes from the visitor center, you will notice how the plants closest to the dune are half covered by sand.

panorama dall'alto della duna di pilat
The view from the top of the Pilat Dunes

What are the Pilat Dunes?

According to experts, the Pilat Dunes are an immense expanse/agglomerate of 60 million cubic meters of sand (pilàt actually means “pile”) and were formed as a result of the “breakup” of a huge sandbar located a short distance from the coast.

Over time, wind and tides helped to transport the sand to the shore, creating the current huge dunes. Suffice it to say that in 1885 the size of the Pilat Dunes was 35 meters.

Quite different is the situation today. Now the highest dune in Europe measures just under 3 km, with a width of around 500 meters and a maximum height that varies between 100 and 120 meters depending on the wind.

sulla duna di pilat
On the Pilat dune

Where are the Pilat dunes located?

The dunes are located at the entrance to the great Arcachon basin and are theperfect excursion from Bordeaux.

You might be interested in this article of mine -> Things to do in Bordeaux

I drove there and this is the solution I recommend because this area of Aquitaine is also famous for the territories around Bordeaux. If your goal is to do a few days in this beautiful part of France, I can only recommend that you rent a car and discover the area.

You might be interested -> How to rent a car

I have read that there is also a shuttle service from Arcachon station to the Dunes of Pilat, definitely a good option, but using a car also allows you to be untethered from the schedule. When you are faced with views like this, it is always difficult to “have” to leave. Perhaps, if you go in the spring/summer, you will want to enjoy a beautiful sunset from the dune…being autonomous is always the best option.

The Pilat Dunes are about 65 km from Bordeaux, or a 50-minute drive. There is paid parking near the dunes.

How to visit and what to do on the Dune du Pilat?

The simple result of natural beauty is to leave people speechless. The dunes serve this very purpose. You arrive just below the ascent leading to the summit and wonder how such a place could exist.

On the way up you become less and less able to. You stand on top of meters and meters of sand that have entirely encompassed a piece of forest. You turn to your left and right and see the steep sand almost sheer from the plants, as well as dozens of other people who, along with you, are climbing the sand dune with the goal of reaching the top and getting lost in the ocean horizon.

Scorci verso l'Oceano dalla duna di pilat
Glimpses to the Ocean

Climbing the Pilat dunes is not super easy, so a 160-step ladder has been set up in aid of those people who prefer support. The ladder is installed for the period between April and November.

salita alla duna di pilat in francia
The ascent to the dune

Once you get to the top of the Pilat dunes, you will have no alternative but to enjoy the view or lie in the sun waiting for the sunset. The area is also renowned for being a great spot for paragliding. If you are a fan of the sport inquire because I think it is really worth it.

Information for visiting the Pilat dunes

For all information about parking, how to get there by public transportation, services in the area, etc., I recommend visit the official website which is full of valuable advice.

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