Arcachon Dune du Pilat: A View to Forever
by Marla Norman, Publisher
How to describe the Arcachon Dune du Pilat – a place so astoundingly beautiful it defies hyperbole. The tallest sand dune in Europe sits 110 meters (360 feet) above Arcachon Bay, with endless views of the Atlantic – so seamlessly attached to blue sky you feel as if you’re diving into eternity.
I’m traveling to the Dune with Hélène Garcin and her husband Patrice Lévêque, winemakers from Saint-Émilion. The couple own five properties in Bordeaux: Châteaux Branon, Barde-Haut, Haut-Bergey, Clos L’Eglise and Poesia. Patrice, whose family maintains a home in Arcachon, spent his childhood summers in the area and knows all the best routes. So, we’re driving on backroads through dense pine-covered forests. The fresh scent of spice and resin fills the car.
We pass the city of Bordeaux and a quick hour later, we’re at the base of Dune du Pilat – a blindingly white stretch of sand, towering over us. I see people parasailing on top. “How do you get up there?” I ask Hélène.
“We climb,” she answers with a shrug. “But first we have lunch.”
A doorman welcomes us to La Co(o)rniche – originally a hunting lodge, built in the 1930’s – the property is now a chicly restored restaurant/hotel. And as I look around at the oversized light fixtures, breezy drapery and appealing but slightly-quirky decor, I’m instantly reminded of the Delano in Miami, Paramount in New York, Clift in San Francisco, SLS in Beverly Hills…has to be Philippe Starck.
Hélène confirms that is the case. “Yes. Starck is a friend of the owner, William Téchoueyres.” We walk outside to the terrace, which is designed to take full advantage of the jaw-dropping scenery. Bistro tables are positioned next to an infinity pool overlooking the ocean that absolutely seems to run on forever. Blue on blue above blue…. so mesmerizingly lovely I can’t pull away.
But, platters of oysters, lobsters, langoustines and assorted shellfish ultimately distract me from the view. “All caught here in the bay,” Patrice comments, as he bites into one of the giant prawns. Later, we sample foie gras, fresh vegetables and local beef accompanied by liberal doses of wine from the Garcin-Lévêque estates. I think I’m in heaven until Hélène pats my arms and says: “Ok! Let’s hike the Dune.”
We start up the mountain of sand, digging our toes into the loose grains, gingerly leaning forward to keep from toppling down. It’s a strenuous 25 minute hike, but we stop frequently and enjoy the spellbinding, ever-expanding vistas.
Patrice provides a geological prospective, explaining that in 1855 the Dune du Pilat was only 35 meters high (114 feet). Now this enormous mountain of sand – 60 million cubic meters (2 billion cubic feet) – continues to move inland, anywhere from 1 to 10 meters annually, burying forests and farm houses in its slow, sandy wake.
At the summit, we stroll along, in between picnicking sunbathers, kids throwing frisbees and walking their dogs. The Dune is almost like any other beach, except it’s so close to heaven.