We’re back from an energetic visit to the Dune du Pilat (otherwise known as the Dune du Pyla), the largest sand dune in Europe. I told Caits next time we’ll go to the smallest sand dune in Europe because climbing back over this one after three hours of walking along the beach, plus some impromptu swimming from Caits, nearly finished us both off! Walking in soft sand is a killer at the best of times, and when you’re ascending over 100 metres at the same time, take it from me, it’s very good exercise. Don’t tell anyone, but we’ve both just had a nap to recover!

You could easily imagine you were in the desert (Caiti's photo)

We left Caiti’s flat about 8.30am, briefly braved the mercifully quiet rocade (ring road) before driving out towards Arcachon on very flat motorway. I haven’t been on a coastal plain for a long time and had forgotten how very flat it can be near the sea. Dead flat. But not boring, there were plenty of new sights to see, including a 5 hectare field of flowers that the enterprising owner of the Pot au Pin farm is growing for the sake of the bees. Near the coast we began to drive through a huge area of pine forest. This was also a parc ornithologique. There was a sign with cranes on so perhaps this is on the cranes’ migration path too. Maybe the ones that fly over our house heading south each autumn will fly over Caiti too.

We were in tourist land when we got to the Dune. There was a huge car park, already starting to fill up, and a whole line of souvenir and snack shops along the path leading to the coast.  A couple were opening up. We walked through pine trees until suddenly we were met with a wall of sand. I’d expected the Dune du Pilat to be big, but hadn’t thought it was this big!

We went up the stairs and hurried over the ridge so that at long last we could see the sea again. And hurray, there it was, all blue and wet like I remembered it.

Only posher. This is a classy bit of beach. Across the water is Cap Ferret and anything with Cap in its name attracts the rich and famous. The bay was dotted generously with a sprinkling of yachts but a whole armada of motor launchers and small cruisers. There were jetskis roaring around too, and overhead ULMs and light aircraft buzzed past at intervals. There were a few parapentes on higher ground too. I’d never seen so much stuff out at sea. Up to now all the coasts I’d been to regularly had oil tankers or ferries on the skyline and maybe one little fishing boat, and that was it. I never knew the seaside could be so noisy!

A lone, non-engine-powered ocean goer

We splashed along the beach for an hour and a half, aiming to get up to where we could see big breakers off what looked like a headland, but we never got there. It was a lot further than we thought. So we had a snack and paddled back. The sea was definitely a lot warmer than our pool.

Caiti went out deeper and deeper and finally shed her outer layer of clothes and swam for at least a kilometre along the shoreline while I walked alongside through the shallows. That’s Caiti’s first ever proper swim in the sea. The Atlantic off the south coast of Ireland was always too cold to stay in for long. She enjoyed herself thoroughly but did complain about how salty the water was. No answer to that, really!

There were lots of these little birds

We treated ourselves to lunch at a snack bar. We chose the busiest one since we reckoned that meant it was the best and/or cheapest, both of which were recommendations! Caiti is partial to a kebab so she had one with chips and I needed a sandwich and caffeine. It felt like a proper holiday, sitting in the snack bar, watching the world go by. The food was good and we felt restored for the journey home, where, as I’ve already mentioned, the dose of unaccustomed sea air soon had us both snoozing again! As soon as Caiti wakes up we’ll head off to the park or for another walk. Sleeping is for sissies who aren’t on holiday!

There’s a fantastically informative site about the Dune here. It dates back 3,500 years but its quickest growth has occurred since the 19th century. And it’s still growing! It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re ever in Aquitaine although I’d advise avoiding the high season. It was crazily busy and this was a Sunday morning in mid-September.