Dune du Pilat & Atlantic Coast beaches

In 2012 we had clambered up the enormous and other-worldly Dune du Pilat to gaze in wonder at the lunar landscape bathed in a surreal light.

It was surprisingly hard-going trekking up the mountainous sides of sand but the experience of other-worldliness at its crest was worth it.

The mighty Dune du Pilat high above the forest

Created by wind, waves and the land itself, the dune is still constantly changing.

Its colossal height at 114 metres makes it the tallest sand dune in Europe and it is nearly 3km long and 500 metres wide.

On top of the dune

The awful weather put pay to any thoughts of a return so instead we pitched up further south at Capbreton, another endless stretch of wide sandy beach bounded simply by the horizon at both ends.

In a blessedly quiet afternoon of welcome sunshine and light wind we walked for hours on the flat sands whilst frothy, cold and turquoise blue waves washed over our feet.

Mesmerising waves

It was a place to lose your worries as the sea rhythmically hissed and pulled along the shoreline and apart from the voices of other walkers carrying on the breeze, there was no evident sound of human life.

There was however much physical evidence. Shining mosaic-like patterns of tiny bright colours streamed across the flat sand in a bright but depressing display of plastic, broken and washed up by the waves. It was a shock to see, and it visibly increased in volume the closer we got to the beach resort at the northernmost point of our walk.

Plastic ocean

Also littering the shore, monstrously, were the gigantic remains of three of Hitler’s coastal bunkers, conceived as watch towers for the threatened Allied invasion and of course on the wrong coast.

The sea had broken up the concrete pillars and boxes which now formed an interesting art installation, decorated in bright (and very cheeky!) graffiti. Sadly, in the waters flowing around the bunkers we spotted dead fish and seabirds, most likely casualties of the violent wind and hurling waves that had been battering the coast, and which were set to continue for days.

Hitler’s bunker

We recovered our spirits and enjoyed sun on our faces amongst the late-lunchers at a coastal bar, then walked across the dunes above the seashore back to Bertha.

Behind the dunes stretched lines of empty holiday homes where local council workers were in action sweeping streets, planting flower beds and putting up new signs. It had a bustling air of being made ready for the new season.

Along the Atlantic coast

Further south the swish resort towns of Biarritz and St Jean de Luz were filling up with Easter holiday-makers. We’d visited before and knew that the beach at Biarritz would be glamorously hosting surfers and socialites, whilst the pretty Moorish town of St Jean de Luz would be welcoming art and architecture-lovers into its seaside carnival atmosphere.

We wished both towns well in the rains, and kept to the road, making the slow climb and long descent to cross the border into Spain and the instantly rugged and green hillsides of the Basque country.