Le Surf C’est Arrive
When the surf goes flat at France’s renowned Silver Coast (Cote d’Argent), and there’s no snow in the French Alps, there is still a thrill ride that awaits diehard adrenaline junkies: sandboarding down the largest sand dune in Europe, the dune of Pyla. At 110m (360 ft.) high, there are few waves that can really compare to that height, and the fine-grained sand that makes up the dune acts like snow—sandboarders can reach dizzying speeds comparable to those attained by snowboarders. All it takes to conquer the dune is a boogie board or a snowboard, and a whole lot of joie de vivre.
Sometimes spelled as Pilat, the great dune is located about 64km (40 miles) from the beautiful old city of Bordeaux, capital of one of France’s great wine-producing regions. The 258km-long (160-mile) Silver Coast, which stretches from the Spanish border north to the English Channel, has become famous for its pristine beaches, surf culture, and reliable surfing waves that are surprisingly uncrowded.
The hike from the beach to the top of the dune takes a few minutes, so you might want to pack some water. And because you’ll be shredding sand and not water, some experienced boarders recommend bringing goggles or some other kind of eye protection. Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view of the ocean, Archachon Bay, and the dense forest of the Landes, planted in the 18th century by Napoleon to halt the progression of the sand dunes. Once you’re done drinking in the view, take the plunge over the forest side of the dune on your board, and enjoy the ride!
If all that sandboarding doesn’t leave you whipped, there are more thrills to be had in the area. Besides world-class surfing, the charming seaside resort of Arcachon enjoys the steady ocean breezes that make it a favorite windsurfing destination. And Arcachon Aqualand (www.aqualand.fr) is a local water park with waterslides, toboggans, and a wave pool. —ML
Dune of Pyla (www.dune-pyla.com/english).
When to Go: Year-round.
Bordeaux (64km/40 miles).
$ Tulip Inn Bordeaux Le Bayonne Etche-Ona, 15 cours de l’Intendance, Bordeaux ( 33/5-56-48-00-88; www.bordeaux-hotel.com). $$ Mercure Château Chartrons, 81 cours St-Louis, Bordeaux ( 33/5-56-43-15-00; www.mercure.com).