Why you should visit Nouvelle-Aquitaine, tourist guide to Bordeaux, Biarritz and the Aquitaine coast

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Nouvelle-Aquitaine lends itself to relaxing holidays from the Basque Coast to the Périgord-Limousin Natural Regional Park – discover its beaches, cities steeped in history, many picturesque villages, medieval fortified towns and also its mountains, vineyards and the Landes forest.

Why you should visit Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Aquitaine is the ideal destination for a short break! With many flights from the UK, its main towns and its countryside have a lot to offer. Bordeaux, the region’s capital, is the place to be for its 18th-century heritage as well as for wine lovers of course!

Périgueux in the Dordogne area, is known for its refined gastronomy and its bustling outdoor markets. Pau, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, has kept alive a strong link with the British influence.

While, Bayonne home of chocolate makers, has preserved its traditions and heritage from the Basque country. You can throw in a pretty decent coastline, too, the Côte d’Argent, which is Europe’s longest, and attracts many surfers to Mimizan and Hossegor each year.

Tourism is an important sector in a region with significant assets, starting with a mild and sunny climate, famous vineyards (wine tourism) and many heritage sites, some of international renown.

Its wide ocean frontage, stormed by thousands of vacationers – and surfers – every summer is characterised by sandy beaches that often stretch to the horizon.

Nouvelle-Aquitaine is also a delight for the food-lover, with numerous Michelin starred restaurants.

In Landes and the Périgord, duck breasts, gizzards and foie gras are the specialities. The Basque country treats you to Bayonne ham, sheep’s cheeses and espelette chili. But the gastronomic trump card in Aquitaine is to be found in its vineyards.

From Unesco-listed Saint-Emilion to the House of the Wines of Jurançon, through Planète Bordeaux or the House of Wines in Bergerac, you can sample the finest vintages from the Aquitaine region.

What is Aquitaine like?

The countryside is especially notable for its wines and vineyards, perhaps more so than its scenery, although the hills around Entre-Deux-Mers and the lovely town of St Émilion are a delight to explore.

St Émilion

Of wider appeal is the huge pine-clad expanse os Les Landes, as well as the notable beaches along the Côte d’Argent, which stretches for over 200km from the Gironde estuary all the way to Biarritz.

Inland from these beaches lie high sand dunes, and Les Landes, the largest forest in western Europe.

What makes Aquitaine especially attractive, particularly for those who enjoy being by the sea is that the limited range of conventional tourist attractions means that for most of the year (July and August excepted) there are few visitors; at these times you can have long stretches of the beach to yourself.

Places to visit in Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Bordeaux

Bordeaux, the capital of Aquitaine, remains the finest example of 18th-century architecture in France (the façades of the quaysides, the Grand Théâtre, the Jardin Public, the Bordeaux Triangle etc.). This, among other things, is what earned the city inclusion on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

The riverside city of Bordeaux, capital of the Aquitaine region, was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, and a walk around the area will show much of what you need to know about the city. This was a major settlement long before the Romans, and was always a key trading station, and open to repeated attach by pirates.

Bordeaux is an amazing city not to be missed! Book a boat tour, take your family to the famous “water mirror” (le Miroir), relax in a park, climb the 229 steps of the Pey-Berland tower, and enjoy the unique atmosphere of the old town.

Explore the streets of Bordeaux

The city’s beautiful architecture is inseparable from the city’s identity. From charming public gardens to monuments full of history, the city definitely has something to say. Take time out to visit a permanent or temporary exhibition at one of the municipal museums, or browse at an art gallery.

This city has it all: ancient buildings, eccentric shops, wonderful cafés, stylish squares – perfect for the café lifestyle. And if you are searching for a souvenir, then rue Ste Catherine is the longest pedestrianised shopping street in Europe; that should help.

Of course, you probably came here for the wine, so why not pop into one of the wine bars for a glass or two of something comforting, or visit the tourist office to book a bus wine tasting tour – it beats driving, every time.

Every year is a vintage one for Bordeaux wines

Opened in June 2016 is the magnificent Cité du Vin, a spectacular new museum dedicated to wine.

Tram moving in front of Saint André Cathedral. The building is one of 69 monuments associated with the Way of St James recognised by UNESCO when adding the famous pilgrimage to the world heritage list.

Historical Bordeaux

In 1552, Eleanor of Aquitaine married the future King Henry II of England, and her dowry comprised almost the whole of south-western France. As a result, the city became part of the English kingdom, and remained as such for over 300 years.

In fact, it was the English demand for wine that began the city’s tradition of seafaring, and inspired the expansion of the vineyards. Not even the Hundred Years’ War could impede the flow of wine to England.

Today, following much restoration in the 18th century, the Old Town is well worth visiting, its restored buildings including those along the quayside, following a bend in the Gironde.

As in many of the important French cities, the Musée des Beaux-Arts is a splendid place to visit (Jardin de la Mairie, 20 cours d’Albret). But the name of the city is for many synonymous with wine.

Bordeaux is probably the most well-known wine-producing region in France, and counts for a third of the good quality French wine. The wines are so good there that a Bordeaux ranking is needed to classify the best of the best.

Some of them are universal: Margaux, Yquem, Pétrus, Cheval Blanc, Haut Brion and all the others. Remarkably, the area has about 7,000 chateaux and castles!

The Aquitaine coastline

250 kilometres of ocean coastline! Aquitaine has quite simply Europe’s biggest beach of fine sand.

The Pilat Dune

The highest dune in Europe, standing 104 meters above the Bay of Arcachon and offering a fantastic view of the ocean on one side and the Landes maritime pine’s forest on the other.

Arcachon Bay

The Bay of Arcachon is first of all a geomorphologic curiosity: a bay of 1500 hectares fed both by the ocean and a large number of waterways, producing an inland sea with the colors of a lagoon, bordered on one side by the Dune du Pilat, a blond crown of fine sand culminating at 104 meters.

Biarritz

“The King of Beaches and the Beach of Kings,” launched by Empress Eugenie who brought the whole of the European aristocracy to this little fishing village in the 19th century.

Biarritz is a prime destination for tourists and with its splendid beaches of fine sand, 6km (2½ miles) of them, high quality facilities, golf courses and luxury accommodation; this is undoubtedly one of France’s most welcoming towns.

So long a playground; a ‘promised land’ for golfers, surfers, Basque Pelota and rugby players, and other devotees of sea water spa therapy, health, fitness and relaxation.

The mild climate and the beauty of the coastline, its curved inlets, punctuated by rocky outcrops, and the great events that it hosts, make Biarritz a destination of enchantment at any time of year.

Open and cosmopolitan, this is the pearl of the Basque coast. Music, dance, cinema and the arts have a privileged place in local life.

Biarritz in all its glory

From the International Festival of Audiovisual Programmes (FIPA) in January to the Biarritz Festival of Latin American Cultures and Cinemas, which highlights the long-standing links between the Basque Country and Latin America, Biarritz pays attention to images of the world.

Dance has long been at the forefront here with the creation of Ballet Biarritz, a national choreographic centre directed by Thierry Malandain.

There is also the annual ‘Le Temps d’Aimer’ dance event that, by combining classic and contemporary with innovation and tradition, provides an opening to large international companies and young training programmes.

A century ago, this little whaling town became a fashionable summer resort that, across the years, has stayed open to the outside world without ever losing its identity.

Fame came with the visit of Napoleon and the Empress Eugénie; Queen Victoria visited in 1889, and the town later became a favoured resort of Edward VII.

Today, Biarritz remains ever-popular, and is arguably the only town where you can see neoprene-clad surfers with surfboards under their arms crossing paths with business men in suits and ties.

The caves of the Vézère Valley

25 decorated caves including Lascaux (its discovery in 1940 was a key date in the history of prehistoric art), Font de Gaume, Les Combarelles.

Lower Lot valley

The Lot valley starts at the heights of the medieval fortress of Bonaguil. The valley then widens, and the Lot River flows generously. Standing high up are villages such as Pujols and Penne d’Agenais.

Futuroscope

Futuroscope in Poitiers is one of France’s most beloved theme parks? In 2017, the park will be celebrating its 30th anniversary.

Gironde estuary

The biggest estuary in Europe, where the Dordogne and Garonne rivers meet before flowing out into the Atlantic.

The Pyrenees

The Pyrenees in Aquitaine stretch over more than 110 kilometers. These mountains start gently from the Atlantic Ocean in the Basque Country with the Rhune (900 meters) then rise sharply to the Pic du Midi d’Ossau (2884 meters).

The Jurisdiction of Saint Emilion

Built on the edge of its famous wine-growing plateau, Saint Emilion offers all the beauty of a medieval village with ancient paved streets, ramparts surrounded by vines, religious edifice, and rows of houses that slope down the plains below.

What is Nouvelle-Aquitaine?

Nouvelle-Aquitaine is the largest administrative region in France, located in the south-west of the country. The region was created by the territorial reform of French Regions in 2014 through the merger of three regions: Aquitaine, Limousin and Poitou-Charentes.

The new region covers 84,061 km2 (32,456 sq mi) – or ​1⁄8 of the country – and has approximately 5,800,000 inhabitants. The new region was established on 1 January 2016.

After Île-de-France, Nouvelle-Aquitaine is the premier French region in research and innovation, with five universities (Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Limoges, Poitiers and Pau).

The first agricultural region of Europe in terms of turnover, it is the first French region in terms of tourism jobs, as it has three of the four historic resorts on the French Atlantic coast (Arcachon, Biarritz and Royan), as well as several ski resorts, and is the fifth French region in terms of business creation.

The region embraces 12 departments in total: Charente, Charente-Maritime, Corrèze, Creuse, Dordogne, Gironde, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Deux-Sèvres, Vienne and Haute-Vienne.

The Dordogne river

Its largest city and only metropolis is Bordeaux, in the heart of an urban agglomeration of nearly one million inhabitants.

Its economy is based on agriculture and viticulture (vineyards of Bordeaux and Cognac), tourism, a powerful aerospace industry, digital economy and design, para chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

Its financial sector (Niort is the fourth-largest financial centre in the nation, specialising in mutual insurance companies), and industrial ceramics (Limoges).

In terms of French culture, the new region includes major parts of Southern France (“Midi de la France”), marked by Basque, Occitan and Oïl (Poitevin and Saintongeais) cultures.

Historically, it is the “indirect successor” to medieval Aquitaine and extends over a large part of the former Duchy of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Historical Aquitaine

The region has a complex and chequered history: it passed to France in 1137 when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Louis VII of France, but their marriage was annulled in 1152.

When Eleanor’s new husband became Henry II of England in 1154, the area became an English possession, the cornerstone of the Angevin Empire.

Aquitaine remained English until the end of the Hundred Years’ War in 1453, when it was annexed by France.

During those 300 years, the region was ruled by the Kings of England strengthening links with England, with large quantities of wine produced in south-western France being exported to England, where it was known as claret.

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