[PYLA-SUR-MER, FRANCE] — I didn’t even know this beast was here.

Never heard a squeak of this giant dune before. I actually came here in search of a beautiful hotel which mentioned its prime location next to the Dune du Pilat, about an hour south of Bordeaux. But when I pulled up, holy cow! My dumb fortunate luck led me to yet another amazing natural phenomenon — the largest sand dune in Europe.

Dune du Pilat

Setting The Stage — The Amazing Dune du Pilat

Almost 3km long and about 110m (300 ft) high, this giant Gibraltar of sand stands between the shimmering Atlantic and an inland pine forest. Fierce winds add to its height every year, shoving it inland, swallowing up houses and forests in its path. In the 1700s, maps show it was actually way off-shore, now it’s like a living, breathing Le Blob.

But I found my entertainment for the next several days, running up and down this big dune like a sandy Stairmaster. This thing is so huge that it swallows a up a million visitors a year and you’d hardly know it. People are hang-gliding, paragliding, hiking, taking selfies and rolling down the hill like kids. I felt like I was 9.

Dune du Pilat view

But the views way up here are something else. Facing straight west, with the sun shouting at you, the glimmering Atlantic has never looked better. Faint sandbars appear and disappear with the tides, which is why this and the neighboring Bassin d’Arcachon are know France-wide as having the best oysters and shellfish.

Check out how cool this dramatic view is:

When you first walk up to the dunes, you really can’t see how big it is. Surrounded by stubborn pines, you finally start to get a glimpse as you get closer to its base and then look UP. It takes a long time to walk its 3km, with the loose sand it feels more like 9km. But once you’re up here, the views can’t be beat. Wispy sandbars float on the blue sea. And come and go, depending on the tide. You really don’t realize how steep it is until someone goes over the edge and you can really tell that it’s a long way down.

People walking Dune du Pilat

So prepare to see a lot of pics of a big sand dune. And one very cool hotel.

Philippe Starck’s Stunning La Co(o)rniche Hotel

But this was the real reason why I came here. the stunning La Co(o)rniche boutique hotel.

That big dune was just something I stumbled upon, but this right here was why came to this steep hill overlooking the Atlantic, an hour south of Bordeaux. This exact scene.

La Coorniche pool view

It wasn’t easy, actually. Or planned. I was sitting in a rented farmhouse in the Luberon, way down in Provence, wondering where to go next and that’s when I saw it. This.

It was a picture in Maisons Côté Sud magazine, I believe, my compass to all cool things for my random two months in France. I saw this incredible pic of a hotel I’d never heard of….. it looked like a Homer painting. The pale colors of a pool with the pale colors of the beds and the pale colors of the uniform and the pale colors of the ocean islands off in the distance. So surreal.

I was looking to the south, actually. For something on The Med. “Wow, where is this?? I don’t remember Bordeaux looking like this.”

La Co(o)rniche dinner party
Yeah, that’s the table you want. Bring friends.

I can’t believe I’d never heard of La Co(o)rniche before, having memorized nearly every listing in Relais & Chateaux, Mr & Mrs Smith and TabletHotels… It was in none of them. Where did this come from?

Yup. I had to go there. And so I packed up my horse and headed way north, toward the blue coast.

And that’s how I ended up here…

Drinking sunset La Co(o)rniche

So here’s how it works at La Co(o)rniche. Every late afternoon, people start arriving at this cliffside heaven, taking their grandstand positions to watch the sun set. You can grab a table in the restaurant, along some bar tables and grab some snacks, or line up on these cozy beach beds where white-clad nice people fetch drinks for you so you don’t miss a glimmer. Everyone’s here for the same thing. A sunset and a smile. And the restaurant is here to make that happen. Especially the smile part.  If I had a dream on how I’d like the world to be, it would look like this.

La Coorniche entrance plaza

The hotel itself is like staying in a funky rich friend’s villa. An old hunting lodge, then converted into a swanky ’30s era hotel, then reinvented again in 2010 by Philippe Starck. Sturdy and rich on the outside, fun on the inside. Like a great big Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup you can sleep in.

Ocean view suite La Co(o)rniche
This view….. good god. This is from the Junior Suite
La Coorniche pool

So in summary, here’s why you should go here:

La Co(o)rniche, a small boutique hotel in Pyla-sur-Mer France with a big restaurant where beautiful (and nice) people come to be served by beautiful (and nice) people.

Pre-sunset is the gathering time, on a cliff overlooking a gorgeous bay and Europe’s tallest dune. People walk in, are greeted with smiles and white Adidas and warm sun and, to a person, everyone stops in their tracks, exclaims “holy shit” (or the French or Spanish equivalent) and instantly loses their cool with excitement. No matter how cool or worldly, they all get giddy with the view.

There is no pretense. There are no bouncers, no red ropes, no stupid bottle service. Just nice people, speedy service and impeccable seafood. Everyone gets a view.

And everyone oohs and awes as the colors change from yellow to orange to pink to blue to purple. And they sigh as the sun ducks down and hug their date. Enjoying oysters caught below the cliff, with wine from around the corner. And smoking like it’s no big deal. Just celebrating the sun, the sea and good food. This is the way life should be.

The Restaurant at La Co(o)rniche

La Co(o)rniche wine glasses
La Co(o)rniche restaurant in sand
La Co(o)rniche dining room interior

The inside of the restaurant is just as pretty as any restaurant can be. But everyone’s outside. Because, you know, the view and all… I bet this would be just dreamy on a rainy day. . .

La Coorniche restaurant kitchen
Zee inside eez very M. Starck.
La Co(o)rniche restaurant at dusk
La Co(o)rniche dusk loungers

The Rooms at La Co(o)rniche

La Coorniche suite king bed
White womb. Everything was white. The tables. Chairs. Television. Hair dryer. Coffee maker. Even the power chords. White.Like sleeping in a cloud.

— Last visited June 2015 — 

More Information on La Co(o)rniche

Here’s another cool seaside design hotel I love in Portugal. And another cliff-hanger of a hotel in the South of France. And a stunning cliffside hotel in Greece. And a cool harbor-side design hotel on the same Greek island. Or this cool cliffside hotel on the west coast of Tuscany. If you like sand and beaches, you should check my favorite beach town in the world. Or the design of this destination Aman in the middle of the Utah desert. And if you like really cool hotel design, I just love the design of this big estancia in eastern Portugal. Or the traditional design of this cool hotel in Lisbon or this look and feel of this cool apartment hotel in Lisbon. And this cool movie set town in Uruguay or this cool old school vineyard down the road.

Here’s an article in the Telegraph that calls La Coorniche one of the Top 10 beach hotels in France. In Conde Nast Traveler, which calls it one of the best secret beach hotels. In Trendland. And this is the article in Maisons Côté Sud that brought me here. And a great overview about the area in Travel & Leisure. And this is just a fantastic webpage with extremely helpful facts and information about the Dune du Pilat.

The Bassin d’Arcachon and Cap Ferret are right around the corner and the reason why this seafood hotel is here. NY Times says Cap Ferret is the Cape Cod of France. Here’s a great Cap Ferret guide from the UK’s Conde Nast Traveller. And a great article in Vogue… man, Vogue always seems to have already been to my hideaway places.  And Financial Times has a great article on La Coorniche and the laid back vibe of Cap Ferret. And an article in Forbes on why people are retiring here.


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