“It’s a little bit chilly”, as Elton John didn’t write – minus 12 with a “real feel” of minus 20. Not the morning to have a chimney fire in the bedroom yurt and have to shut the fire off at six (or so I thought at 05:59).

But this is not a post about that – it’s a post about Pilat. The name given (on our English road map) to the tallest sand dune in Europe.

For various reasons we went in mid-May last year. The roads were pretty clear, getting narrower and narrower the closer we got to the coast, going from a three-lane autoroute to a two-way road near Arcachon – a design that guarantees nightmarish traffic jams in the heat of high summer.

After lunch in Arcachon, which was an unexpectedly beautiful town, we headed for the Dune de Pilat.

We drove through the Malibu-like suburb of Pyla, following the coast road, passing several signs for the Dune de Pyla. We thought we must be close. Pilat must be just next to it – Pyla wasn’t even on the map. Then suddenly we found ourselves on an empty road heading south, a mountainous dune visible through the trees on our right. After a few confused kilometres we turned round and headed back, flustered as much by lost time as absent signposts. Why would there not be ANY signs to Pilat – the tallest sand dune in Europe? It made no sense.

At a roundabout, we decided to head for the well-signposted Dune de Pyla and start from there. The following roundabout said Dune de Pilat, the one after Pyla, then Pilat again. It was the same dune! (I’ve just saved you half an hour in a car. You can thank me later.)

We parked up and climbed the stairs to the top (except the Daughter, who arrived a few minutes later, exhausted). This is no dune – this A DUNE. The mother, father and extended family of all dunes. Look:


This is a dune where you don’t have to squeeze together unless you want to feel like you’re on the Victoria line in rush hour:


You can pose slightly camply overlooking the ocean:


Run gaily down to the beach 107 vertical metres below:


Make sandcastles and play frisbee or just hang out:


Before facing the long climb back:


If you have a boy like ours, he’ll fake a foot injury and have to be carried up only to make a miraculous recovery at the top. It’s a good scam.

The moment we got home I looked up the Dune de Pilat on Wiki. I give you the following quote from that page that explains the signposts (and lack of) from earlier in the day:

“Pilat is sometimes spelled Pyla, hence the alternative name “dune of Pyla”. More accurately, Pyla is the name of the closest town, Pyla-sur-Mer… The correct and original name of the dune is the Dune of Pilat, but because of the confusion that occurred, both are now considered correct.”

I’ll just write that for you again: Because of the confusion… both are considered correct. This is an almost perfect explanation of why French people shrug.

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen a lot of posters advertising the Tree Fair in Le Bugue. Being photocopies, these posters all said the same promising things about trees, an exhibition of antique tractors and duck fishing.

With a hedge and orchard to plant in the next two months, and a tractor to find, this was clearly the Fair we’d been waiting for.

Yesterday was the Big Day. We went out to Le Bugue. Drove past the big sign that said Tree Fair (in French). Through town. Over the bridge. And stopped at the mini roundabout in the centre. With no further signs for the fair (incomplete signage no longer comes as a surprise to us), we turned right. Drove past the aquarium, past a yurt that, for some reason, forms part of a prehistoric exhibition. And past the back of another big sign for the Tree Fair.

We turned round. Went back into town. And drawing on tactics developed while playing 1990s video games, turned right again. Drove out of town. Came back in. Past the tiny Flower Fair (complete with full-colour signs) and parked.

After a short stroll around the Flower Fair, I asked an exhibitor where the tree fair was. “This is it,” he said. “So, where’s the tractor exhibition?” I asked. “It should be over there,” he said, pointing behind a small copse of fairground attractions. “But it’s cold,” he added, with a shrug.

The kids had a short-but-expensive go on the strange Disney inspired merry-go-round thing (next to the duck fishing stall). And, following a lunch in Les Eyzies where (in need of a coincidence) we sat next to our architect, we went here instead:

Which we’ve wanted to do for ages – even longer than the tree fair. If you’re interested in French website design, you can find out more about it, here.