France bids to buy Europe’s biggest dune

The spectacular dune of Pyla on the coast of south western France has attracted millions of tourists over the years but the problem for the French state is that it doesn't own it outright. That should soon change.

France bids to buy Europe's biggest dune
Europe's biggest sand dune the Dune at Pyla attracts nearly two million visitors and thrill seekers a year. Photo: Pierre Rennes/Flickr

The dune of Pyla or Pilat as it also known is the biggest sand dune in Europe and stands at around 107 metres high and is visited by around two million tourists and thrill-seekers each year.

It’s one of France’s most famous natural attractions because it gives stunning views over the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of Arcachon.

The problem for the French state is that they don’t own it or at least they don't own it outright.

According to Sud-Ouest newspaper 65 percent of the most visited sight in the Aquitaine region of France is privately owned.

But the state appears to be fed up with having to deal with the numerous private owners thought to number at least 250.

In a bid to improve the welcome for visitors and management of the site, authorities, via the organisation Conservatoire du Littoral, which is tasked with protecting France’s coastline, are launching a process to buy out the other parties.

A spokeswoman from the conservation group told The Local that everything from the organisation of the parking to the installation of the stairway to the top of the dune has become complicated with so many owners.

For them, the only way the two million visitors can be handled properly as well as those who use the site for activities like sandboarding, is if the state is the sole owner the sand monument.

The private owners would be bought out through a system of compulsory purchase orders for which the Conservatoire du Littoral has set aside €5.5 million.

However the process to snap up each grain of sand is estimated to last at least three years.


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Tourism minister: Book your French ski holiday now

France’s ski resorts will be open for business this winter, tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne has promised - but no decision has yet been taken on whether a health pass will be required to use ski lifts.

Skiers at a French Alpine resort
Photo: Philippe Desmazes / AFP

“This winter, it’s open, the resorts are open,” Lemoyne told France 2’s 4 Vérités programme.

“Compared to last year, we have the vaccine,” he said, adding that he would “invite those who have not yet done so to [book], because … there will soon be no more room.”

And he promised an answer ‘in the next few days’ to the question of whether health passes would be required for winter holidaymakers to use ski lifts. “Discussions are underway with the professionals,” he said.

The stakes are high: the closure of ski lifts last winter cost manufacturers and ski shops nearly a billion euros. 

This year ski lifts will remain open, but a health pass may be necessary to access them. The health pass is already compulsory for après ski activities such as visits to bars, cafés and restaurants.

COMPARE The Covid rules in place at ski resorts around Europe

Many town halls and communities which depend on winter sports have found it difficult or impossible to make ends meet.

“It’s time for the French mountains to revive,” Lemoyne said, pointing to the fact that the government has provided “more than €6 billion” in aid to the sector.

Winter tourism professionals, however, have said that they are struggling to recruit for the winter season.

“Restaurant and bars are very affected,” by the recruitment crisis, one expert told Franceinfo, blaming a lack of urgency from authorities towards the winter holiday industry.

“We are all asking ourselves what we should do tomorrow to find full employment in the resort,” the expert added.

Post-Brexit visa and work permit rules mean that ski businesses have found it difficult to recruit Brits for short-term, seasonal positions.