When you think Bordeaux, you probably think wine. And you’d be right to do so, of course, but the coastal French area is more than just a delicious face. It’s also home to the Great Dune of Pyla, the tallest sand dune in Europe (yes, that’s a thing). It’s technically located about 40 miles from Bordeaux, near the Arcachon Bay, but still pulls about one million tourists from the wine region a year. The dune, also known as the Great Dune of Pilat, is 550 yards wide, almost two miles long and rises to around 350 feet above sea level. This hasn’t always been the case, however; the dune is in a constant state of flux, slowing moving itself further inland. In fact, the dune has swallowed up over 20 houses, buried roads and portions of the Atlantic Wall. For example, in 1928, a wealthy Bordeaux family built a villa near the southeast part of the dune. Less than 10 years later, the house was completely buried by the encroaching sand. The dune is also slowly encroaching on the neighboring Les Landes pine forest, which was planted in the 18th and 19th centuries to prevent erosion (oops). Its movement can’t be predicted. Sometimes, it will move as fast as 32 feet in a single year and other times less than four feet. Regardless, over the course of the past 57 years, the dune has moved a total of almost 1,000 feet (yikes!). The reason for the quickly shifting sands is the westerly maritime winds that come in off the ocean.
Scientists believe it has doubled in size in the last 100 years. They also believe that its a cyclical process that dates back for centuries due to a coal-like substance found on the shore which hints to the remains of a forest floor. If you’re visiting and feeling particularly spry, you can climb the dune itself, though it requires a heady mix of stamina and ability to ignore sand in your shoes. For the less adventurous souls, there’s a steep staircase that climbs to the top of the dune. Additionally, it’s a popular place for kite flying, paragliders and other adventurers looking to have some fun in the sand. And once you arrive to the top – no matter which way you get there – the stunning views are more than enough of a reward. From there, you can see the Les Landes pine forest, the Pyrenees mountain range and the ocean coast. [sources: Amusing Planet, Daily Mail, Atlas Obscura]