Guide to Dune du Pyla, France

  • It’s a wagga mecca and soaring central
  • Develop your ground-handling skills in the smooth sea breeze
  • Reliable from April to October
  • Camp in the forest and walk to the sandy take-off
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

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

WHERE IS IT?

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

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.

FLYING CONDITIONS
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.

WHEN TO GO
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.

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

HANG GLIDER ACCESS
Yes, no problem. Watch out for the jellyfish.

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

DANGERS AND ANNOYANCES
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.

ACCOMMODATION
Pyla Camping: www.pyla-camping.com
Camping Panorama: www.camping-panorama.com
Petit Nice Camping: www.petitnice.com
There are numerous hotels and guesthouses in nearby Arcachon.

GUIDES AND COURSES
Charlie Piccolo at Waggas School: www.waggaschool.com
Sand Fly: www.sand-fly.com
Freevol: www.freevolparapente.com

TAKE THE FAMILY
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 (www.h2okite.com). If there’s no wind, try surfing, cycling, wine tasting or just swing in your hammock in the trees.

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

HOW TO GET THERE
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.

USEFUL CONTACTS
Local club: www.parapyla.free.fr
Taxi: Jean Yves: +33 (0)6 78 57 17 09
Summer shuttle buses: www.baia-cobas.fr


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