At 10 a.m., a first bus from Arcachon landed around fifty impatient vacationers. “We are happy because we did not think we could climb it. We saw on the news that it was reopening”, says Angélique Bugnazet, 32, who came from Saint-Etienne and is on vacation in Andernos-les-Bains.
Fifteen days after its closure due to the gigantic fire in the neighboring forest, the site of the highest dune in Europe – 106 m high, two million visitors a year – has reopened.
But it is only accessible by bus, via regular lines from Arcachon or special shuttles set up by the City.
“We had a lot of worries so we are happy to be able to open this site again. The dune is a symbol for the whole territory”, welcomes Nathalie Le Yondre, president of the mixed union which manages the Pilat dune, presents to welcome visitors and give some safety instructions.
Access to the forest, on the other side of the road, is strictly prohibited because work continues to cut down the pines, uprooted by the foresters to stop the progression of the fire.
Along the path leading to the stairs that lead to the summit, some trunks are charred and the ground is covered with ashes, traces of the fire that stopped nearby and devoured 7,000 hectares of forest. Some 200 firefighters are still mobilized even if the fire is now “fixed”.
– “Stopped at five meters” –
Once at the top, it’s a shock: “it’s really magnificent!”, exclaims Géraldine, a little out of breath from the ascent. She admires the “colors and contrasts” from the mouth of the basin to Cap Ferret. “But when you turn around, you remember that the fire went through there,” she sighs.
The slope of the dune which overlooks the forest is stained in places with traces of soot. The pines show their scorched tops and some smoke rises in places. “It’s impressive to see the forest continuing to burn,” breathes Mickael Bruger, who came from Switzerland with his family.
“It’s our last day of vacation so it’s really a chance to be able to come”, exclaims the father of the family, amazed, while surveying the dune sandals in hand.
Romain Verrier, from the Tekoa restaurant in La Teste-de-Buch, runs a temporary restaurant at the foot of the dune. “We were all shocked to see that the fire had stopped five meters away. But we have hope that summer will start again, that the course of things will resume”, he assures, serving croissants to the first visitors.
Like him, tourism stakeholders, traders, residents, hope to see the tourist season relaunched, affected by the “tragedy” of the fire, say local elected officials.
At the end of the afternoon, a large “maritime gathering” of pleasure boats, oyster farmers and fishermen was to be held, to say “that we love our basin”.