Scaling Europe’s largest sand dune – in France

Dunes du Pyla, FranceLast summer on holiday in France’s Aquitaine region, I couldn’t miss the chance to visit the Dune du Pyla.

I’d long been curious to visit Europe’s highest sand dunes.

I’d seen their spectacular images in photos often enough, but on various trips to France I’d never been close enough to merit a stop-by.

This time it was impossible to pass up on the chance to see this for myself.

Dunes du Pyla, FranceThe trip from where I was staying in the Pays basque was a few hours by car (longer factoring in the heavy traffic one encounters in France over the summer holidays), but well worth the visit.

Located in the Gironde, and not far from Bordeaux, the Dune du Pyla is an impressive natural landmark.

As Europe’s largest sand dune, it is about 3 km long, 500 meters wide, and tops up at an impressive 105 meters (305 ft) tall.

Dune du Pyla, FranceI suffered a sprained ankle the month before my visit, and I can assure you climbing up its 105 meters of sand on a still-tender ankle felt to me a bit like scaling Everest.

My younger son, an avid sprinter, knocked himself out sprinting up and down its slopes, declaring it the toughest workout he’d ever had. I wonder if the French national team boasts many sprinters hailing from this region…

Dune du Pyla, FranceThe views from the top are spectacular. On the interior are the lush green trees of the Foret de la Test, while the other side boasts stunning views over the sparkling blue Atlantic.

After all that exhausting climbing, we descended to the Atlantic coastline for a refreshing swim, before mounting our Everest-like sand slope once again.

This spectacular creation illustrates the force of nature. Back in the 1850s, as the region began to develop as a winter resort for well-heeled patients suffereing various respiratory illnesses (the resin from the pine trees was said to have healing properties), this sand dune was only 35 meters (114 feet) high.

Dune du Pyla, FranceBut each year westerly winds blow sand from the banks and deposit that sand on this dune, which is said to grow by about 1-4 meters annually. Quite impressive…

The Dune du Pyla is a spectacular site to see, and the trek up to then top was well worth some temporary discomfort to my tender ankle. Next time I’ll come back with a clean bill of health, so I can sprint up with my son…

Don’t miss out on the stunning Dune du Pyla when you’re next in this region of France.

Dune du Pyla, France

Dune du Pyla, France


  1. evelyneholingue on May 1, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    I feel for you since walking in the sand is not an easy walk with a sprained ankle. Particularly the Pyla!!!!
    But I’m happy that you did it.
    I’m more familiar with the dunes in Vendée. Although less spectacular since smaller they were mountains to 8 years old me 🙂
    I love seeing your trips to France as they take me for the time of a blog post to many familiar sites of my life there.

    • kimberlysullivan on May 1, 2018 at 9:48 pm

      Yes, I definitely overestimated my abilities after that sprain, and learned that climbing sand dunes with an injury not fully healed is – well – pretty gosh darn stupid. : ) Still worth it, however. What can I say, Evelyne? You come from a pretty spectacular country. I feel about your country exactly as I feel about “my” Italy: I’ll never grow bored of exploring beautiful France…

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