La Dune du Pilat: France's second most-visited-natural-monument-you-never-heard-of.
Am I on planet Mars? Imagine the large dunes of Africa and the hot sand of deserts of the World. Well, here you are: the giant dune of France, the largest one in Europe has been a strange phenomenon from day one. Nicknamed La Grande Dune of course, the moving desert is quite a sight to discover in such a tamed country as France.
Paradise of parasailers and gliders of every school, the monumental expanse of fine white grain is a wonder in itself. The attraction is clearly visible from the sky, but only discovered when you actually get there, just like the Grand Canyon - you don't see it coming like a mountain, it's just a hole (albeit a large one!) in the ground that you don't see from afar.
If you look at a map of France, first locate the city of Bordeaux or the one of Arcachon on the left bottom part, the dune is about one hour from Bordeaux by car. Over a million visitors come here each year, you won't be alone. Right by the entrance to the Arcachon Bay, near La Teste de Buch village, the Dune is 500 meter wide, three kilometers long and 107 meter high.
At dawn and dusk, the dune can appear of rosé or ochre color, with black shadows poking its face. In winter, it is possible to see the dune covered with snow. The slope on the east side (forest) is 19° to 29°, on the west side (ocean) it is ranging from 7° to 13°. Surrounded by water and forest, the 60,000,000 cubic meters of sand is constantly blowing in the wind, moving and inching inland, by a few meters each year.
The sand monster has been recorded to have doubled in size in the last hundred years alone, and is swallowing the surrounding pine trees, stilts houses and campgrounds sitting too close to its fierce force. From its summit, the spectacular view covers the Atlantic Ocean coast, the inlet of the Bay, the large pine forest at its back, as well as the Pyrénées Range of mountains between France and Spain to the south.
There are wooden steps to take you to the top if you're not into hiking much, and of course the best way to come down is to roll! An ideal place to watch sunsets and stars (no lights around), make sure to take a powerful torch to walk back down the dune in the darkness around. This video shows you how beautiful the trek is.
The dune is not a national park; there is no entrance, no entry fee and no hours or seasons. You can go anytime. There is a paying parking lot nearby -- but if you keep your car on the lot between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m., you will have to pay a 40 Euros camping fee! There is no driving on the sand. Dogs must be on leash. A few campsites are right by the dune.
More info here.