Was anyone aware that there is a giant sand dune on the coast of France just outside Bordeaux? Well, there is one, the Dune du Pilat, in La Teste-de-Buch, in the Arcachon Bay area. It’s the tallest sand due in all of Europe, and let me tell you, it is impressive. Those little black dots in the right side of the photo above are people, just to give you a sense of the scale.
I was visiting friends in Bordeaux recently and we chose a beautifully sunny, warm day to climb that enormous sand pile. It was in the 80s fahrenheit, or in the 30s celsius. Not a cloud in the sky. In the middle of a sand pit. Needless to say, it got hot…
We were undeterred, however, and set out to climb that mountain. There is a nice park area at the entrance to the dune where we fueled with baguette sandwiches, and were ready to go. Now, to give you a few details on dimensions, the dune is approximately 500 m (1640 ft) wide from east to west, and 2.7 km (1.67 miles) long from north to south. The height is currently 110 m (360 ft) above sea level. It’s big. There are steps for the initial ascent and they have blocked off certain areas for preservation, but the rest is pure walking with your toes in the sand.
We climbed those stairs, took a look out over the sweeping view, and began to walk the length of the dune. While it was a warm day, the heat didn’t affect us so much at the top of the hill. There was a very pleasant breeze, and it was that perfect temperature when you can be completely exposed in the sun without actually sweating. The sand, however, was a different story. It was much easier to walk with no shoes, but the sand had absorbed all that beautiful sunshine and was beginning to burn the bottoms of our feet. We needed to move quickly… if you’ve ever tried to run in deep sand, you know this is easier said than done.
The plan was to walk up the length of the dune, walk down to the water, and walk back up the beach. Then we would only have one last big push up the hill to get back to the starting point, and would be able to enjoy the cool water as well. We diligently put one foot in front of the other on the way up the hills, but the way down… let’s just say we let momentum carry us and the other people were probably shaking their heads at the shrieking banshees, running and laughing their way down. Wish I had been able to catch that on video!
Once we made it down to the beach side it became much easier to walk, and the sand no longer burned our feet. There were plenty of people down there as well, fishing, sunbathing, playing in the water. Some came on boats that were anchored slightly off shore, and some took a more direct path from the entrance straight up and over the dune whereas we walked the length. It was so refreshing to be able to dip my toes in the water, although it was far too cold for my Florida-based blood to be tempted to a swim. Others were in the water though – crazy people!
We lingered by the water’s edge for quite a while, in part because it was so pleasant, and in part because we were procrastinating on making it back up the other side of the dune… which for some reason looked quite a bit steeper than it did originally… I won’t lie, we ran down to the beach in probably under 5 minutes. It took us about 40 to get back to the top…
We took breaks, we walked slowly, we buried our feet in the sand to avoid the blistering top layer (wasn’t perfect, but did help… some). Of course every time we stopped to catch our breaths provided an opportunity to take a look around and absorb this amazing landscape. It was a perfect day for outdoor activities, and we considered ourselves lucky as the majority of the summer had been cold and rainy so far. The one minor detail we forgot was to bring water… which was a bad idea. Oh, and make sure to wear sunscreen. That was also a mistake… but that’s okay, we all tanned. Eventually.