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Day’s Outing: Bicycle From Arcachon To Dune du Pilat

Arcachon Bay is an area filled with beaches, oysters, bike paths, and an enormous sand dune. A great day’s outing is to bicycle from Arcachon to Dune du Pilat—the tallest sand dune in Europe. 

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If you’re in southwest France and want an excursion from Bordeaux for the day or a few nights, you might want to consider basing yourself in Arcachon Bay. I stayed 2 nights in the area and in late June last year the temperature was perfect: 22 degrees Celsius (13 degrees cooler than where I was coming from, Beynac-et-Cazenac).

Arcachon Bay

Town of Arcachon, France (J. Chung)

Arcachon Bay is located 60 km west of Bordeaux. The town of Arcachon, where I stayed, is a seaside resort filled with shops and restaurants. Seafood is king and you certainly won’t go hungry here. The town reminds me of other popular seaside resorts like Cassis and Etretat. It has that beach resort, small-town feel but with more upscale retail stores—with plenty of clothing and home furnishing stores. 

Airbnb apartment in Arcachon
Airbnb apartment in Arcachon (J. Chung)

Like a lot of places in France, one walks everywhere and Arcachon is that kind of place. I parked my car and left it at the apartment I rented and didn’t need it for my entire stay. It was just a 15-minute walk into the main town. The Apartment in Arcachon was just perfect: it was a one-bedroom apartment with a balcony, modern furnishings and an elevator in the building. Parking was secured and included in the price. [Note: there is a new owner so I can’t vouch for how reliable he is but he is getting good reviews.]

Sunday Market In Arcachon 

Sunday market in Arcachon (J. Chung)
Sunday market in Arcachon (J. Chung)

I began my first full day, a Sunday, walking to Les Halles d’Arcachon in the centre of town, where there is the covered market as well as vendors outdoors. In addition to produce, pastries, and meats for sale, the market also has vendors selling jewelry, home decor, and nautical items. The market runs from 7:30-13:00.

This market was the perfect place to buy provisions for my picnic lunch—grilled sausages, a fresh baguette, and cherries. I immediately ate a Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese custard egg tart for 1 €) while walking around. 

Bike Ride From Arcachon To Dune du Pilat (12 km one way)

Bike route from Arcachon to Dune du Pilat (J. Chung)
Bike route from Arcachon to Dune du Pilat (J. Chung)

One thing I noticed repeatedly throughout my trip in France, and especially in the Dordogne region and in Arcachon Bay were the dedicated bike lanes. So many towns have been designed to accommodate bike riders and this has made the journey so much more enjoyable…and safe.

After visiting the market, I had my picnic lunch on the boardwalk. I rented a bike for a half-day (4 hours). All of the bikes I have rented in France have been Classic Hybrid bikes called VTC (Velo Tout Chemin). It’s a bike with a semi-upright riding position with gears and is a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike.

Advice On Renting A Bike In Arcachon

If you’re interested in this itinerary, the biggest piece of advice is: book your bicycle the day before. While I was able to find a place to rent a bike, the place I rented from was not my first choice and I was miffed that they would charge extra for a basket, which is usually included in the rental. Fortunately, the bike was fine and I didn’t have any problems with it.

Bike Route To Dune du Pilat

Bike path heading southward to Dune du Pilat (J. Chung)
Bike path heading southward to Dune du Pilat (J. Chung)

I took the flat bike path southward, along the coast (D650 and then D218) to Dune du Pilat. It’s just over 10 kilometres away and could take you less than an hour; however, you’ll enjoy stopping along the way.

On the south shore of Arcachon Bay, I stopped at the seaside town of Moulleau (commune of La Teste-de-Buch). It has bakeries and the lovely Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Passes. As you can see from the bike route, the ride back was slightly different, especially as I approached Arcachon. I took the D217 and D217e1 by mistake. It took me through the suburbs and I was on a bike path for most of the ride but in the end, it made the excursion longer.

Total return distance Arcachon-Dune du Pilat: 24 kilometres

Had I started the day before when I had more time, I would have done a full day’s rental but four hours was enough to bike to the Dune, look around, and then head back. 

Dune du Pilat

Climbing Dune du Pilat (J. Chung)
Climbing Dune du Pilat (J. Chung)
Stairway to the top of the dune (J. Chung)
Stairway to the top of the dune (J. Chung)

Dune du Pilat is in the municipality of La Teste-de-Buch and is part of the seaside resort of Pyla-sur-Mer, which runs along the Atlantic coast. 

Once you arrive at Dune du Pilat, you park your bike (lock is included) and make your way to the dune. There are a few souvenir shops and take out places for food and drink and there is parking at Dune du Pilat if you decide to forgo the biking. 

You have a choice on how to tackle the sand dune: walk up the stairs or climb up the dune. Trust me, it will literally take your breath away because it is very difficult. You know how your foot slips when you walk on sand? Imagine climbing up a hill made of sand. That’s Dune du Pilat and it’s big!

Top of Dune du Pilat (J. Chung)
Top of Dune du Pilat (J. Chung)

I am not the only one who had to keep stopping on the way up. Young or old, it didn’t matter. It’s tough getting to the top when you keep slipping down. But finally I made it and there were views of the rest of the dune, Arcachon Bay, the Bay of Biscay, and the Atlantic Ocean.

Oysters And Wine In Arcachon 

Oysters at La Saison 3 (J. Chung)
Oysters at La Saison 3 (J. Chung)

After dropping off my bike, I felt Arcachon was the place to have oysters and wine. I went to the highly rated, “La Saison 3” which is located right on the strip and had 12 oysters + glass of wine + Café Gourmand (espresso, meringue with whipped cream and fruit chocolate tart, coffee ice cream). 

Price: 26.5 €

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Day's outing: biking from Arcachon to Dune du Pilat (J. Chung)

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  1. Frances Folsom says:

    That Beach is gorgeous. I’ll bet the food at the marketplace was scrumptious.

    1. The food was gorgeous too!