Europe, July/August, March/April, May/June, September/October, Travel Guide

Guide to Dune du Pyla, France

Tuesday 4 February, 2014
Having fun on the beach at the Dune du Pyla. Photo: Tristan Shu

Having fun on the beach at the Dune du Pyla. Photo: Tristan Shu

A week on the dune will work wonders for your glider control. Soar for hours, perfect your moves and slide barefoot along the sand.



The summer sun warms the French countryside and draws cool sea air towards it. A smooth breeze starts to blow up the golden sands of a 110m high dune on the Atlantic coast, and slowly draws pilots from their sheltered campsites towards it. This is the cycle of almost every summer’s day on the playground that is the highest sand dune in Europe: the Dune de Pyla.

The Dune is 2,500m long and about 500m wide. It sits smack in the middle of France’s west coast, 10km from the surfer town of Arcachon and 70km from Bordeaux. It’s the ultimate site on which to develop essential ground handling techniques – pilots say one week at the dune can improve a pilot’s glider control as much as two years in the mountains.

You can camp here in the shade of the forest behind the dune and walk the few minutes to take-off when the breeze picks up. It’s not unusual to find pilots flying at dawn, or even by moonlight; whenever the wind blows, there will be a glider in the air.

Several schools operate all season long, and it’s the perfect place for beginners. Experienced pilots will soon find themselves stretching their skills and flying barefoot close to the soft sand wearing only a pair of shorts, a T-shirt and a grin.

The Dune is divided into three sections: “the large dune”, “the centre of the dune” and “the south of the dune”. Other than fellow pilots, there are no obstacles anywhere on the large dune, so it’s ideal for soaring close to the sand and mixing flight with play in silky smooth dynamic lift.

The centre of the dune caters to soarers who are content with the conga for hours on end. The south of the dune has a series of bowls with lots of obstacles to play with – from concrete bunkers to dead trees, it’s a skate park of the sky.

When you’re all done, just hop back between the lift bands and top land in front of your campsite.

The sea breeze blows from April to October; at other times of the year it’s random. It gets busy in June, July and August – fly the large dune for more space.

The dune stretches from sea level to 110m high. Take off and land anywhere in between.

Yes, no problem. Watch out for the jellyfish.

Fly the Dune at dawn, at sunset and at all times in between. Fly it barefoot.

Never leave equipment or other personal belongings in your car. Observe this day and night, whether parked on the roadside or free parking. It gets busy, so keep an eye out. Give way to the flying schools and be aware that other people, non-flyers, also use the dune. Watch for protected areas of grass, and be aware this is a fragile environment.

Pyla Camping:
Camping Panorama:
Petit Nice Camping:
There are numerous hotels and guesthouses in nearby Arcachon.

Charlie Piccolo at Waggas School:
Sand Fly:

The dune is family friendly. When it’s too windy, pilots can join their families and go sailing, kite surfing, or windsurfing with the Kite School H2O on Biscarrosse Lake ( If there’s no wind, try surfing, cycling, wine tasting or just swing in your hammock in the trees.

Watch for convergence between east-north-easterly and west-north-westerly winds, as turbulence and dust devils can result. Check for weather.

The nearest airport is at Bordeaux. The Dune is 15km from Arcachon, where there’s a railway station. From there, shuttle buses run along the road to the Dune in July and August, or jump in a taxi to your campsite. Once on a campsite, there’s no need for a car to get to the flying.

Local club:
Taxi: Jean Yves: +33 (0)6 78 57 17 09
Summer shuttle buses:

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