Aquitaine Region on the French Atlantic Coast

  • 01 of 05

    Aquitaine on the French Atlantic Coast

    © The Wayfarers

     Why visit Aquitaine

    Aquitaine in the south west of the country is one of the larger regions of France. It’s a glorious area, taking in the grand beaches of the Atlantic coast to the west and inland covering the departments of the Dordogne, Lot-et-Garonne, Landes, Gironde and the Atlantic Pyrenees which borders Spain.

    Aquitaine has everything that epitomises the good life in France. The countryside is varied, from the gorgeous river valleys of the Dordogne to the sweep of the Garonne river; from major cities such as Bordeaux (voted European Best Destination in 2015), Poitiers, and the very English city of Pau, to villages like Collonges-les-Rouges, the red stone gem that launched the Plus Beaux Villages de France.

    It's also one of the great walking areas, part of the pilgrimage route to St James of Compostella in Spain.

    The region has market towns like Sarlat-la-Caneda where the weekly market takes over the streets and squares; castles to defend the countryside, and superb accommodation. It has great food, particularly in the Périgord which is famous for its truffles and saffron (if you're in the Lot Valley in June, check out the Cajarc Saffron Festival). The area around Bordeaux produces some of the finest wines in the world.

    And for those who like to bare all, it has wonderful naturist resorts built among the sand dunes and pine forests of the coast. No wonder its increasing popularity with both French and foreign visitors is challenging the predominance of the Mediterranean as France’s top vacation choice.

    • Guide to the Atlantic Coast of France

    ​Page 2: The history of Aquitaine

    Page 3: Getting to Aquitaine by air, rail and car

    Page 4: Major cities and charming towns in Aquitaine

    Page 5: The food and wine of Aquitaine

    Continue to 2 of 5 below.
  • 02 of 05

    The History of Aquitaine

    Lysiane Gauthier - Mairie de Bordeaux

    Aquitaine has always held a particular place in English hearts; it did, after all, belong to England at one time. From the 10th to the 12th century, it was under the rule of the counts of Poitiers. Then in 1137, the Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry Plantagenet who became King of England in 1154 (he was already Count of Anjou, Count of Maine and ruled Touraine as well). His marriage brought yet more land and power to form what became the Angevin Empire. For 300 years, the English ruled Aquitaine, benefitting hugely from the revenue of French wine imported into England. It remained under English rule until the end of the Hundred Years War in July 1453 when France took back great swathes of their country from their English enemies.

    ​Page 1: Why visit Aquitaine

    Page 3: Getting to Aquitaine by air, rail and car

    Page 4: Major cities and charming towns in Aquitaine

    Page 5: The food and wine of Aquitaine

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  • 03 of 05

    Getting to Aquitaine

    Rail Europe

    By Air

    The major airport of the region is Bordeaux which serves the whole of the Gironde and the Landes departments.

    A smaller airport at Pau serves the eastern part of the Atlantic Pyrenees.

    A smaller airport in Biarritz which serves the western part of the Atlantic Pyrenees.

    There are airports at Périgueux which serves the north of the Dordogne and at Bergerac which serves the south of the Dordogne

    By Train

    There are TGV stations in Bordeaux and outside Bordeaux to the East. There’s also a TGV station at Biarritz and at Pau. The TGV station at Agen serves the Lot-et-Garonne.

    By car

    The distance from Paris to Bordeaux is around 569 km (354 miles) and the journey takes around five and a half hours depending on your speed.

    More about Travel to Aquitaine by air, train and car

    More about Train Travel in France

    ​Page 1: Why visit Aquitaine

    ​Page 2: The history of Aquitaine

    Page 4: Major cities and charming towns in Aquitaine

    Page 5: The food and wine of Aquitaine

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  • 04 of 05

    Major Cities in Aquitaine on the French Atlantic Coast

    Thomas Sanson

    The most important city in this part of France is Bordeaux (241,287 inhabitants) in the Gironde. On the west bank of the River Garonne, it’s been a vital port since the Romans began trading here. Just 3 hours and 3 minutes from Paris by TGV, Bordeaux makes a good short city break.

    Pau in Atlantic Pyrenees (78,506 inhabitants)
    Pau has a distinguished history, becoming a center of the arts in the 16th century. Its main claim to fame, particularly for the Brits, is its Englishness. In the 19th century, the (mistaken) belief that this was the place to cure just about everything brought the English flocking to the south western city. They stamped their mark on Pau, founding clubs for polo, croquet and golf (they built the first 18-hole golf course in Europe in 1860), hunting foxes and arranging tea parties.

    Today, Pau is a peaceful, gentle city with streets to wander down and views of the high peaks of the Pyrenees to savour.

    Bayonne in Atlantic Pyrenees (45,855 inhabitants)

    Bayonne is set back just 5 kms (3.1 miles) back from the Atlantic sea. Where the Ardour and the Nive rivers meet, it’s a city with a delightful old quarter protected by the fortifications of Vauban, Louis XIV's fortress builder and military engineer. Sit on a pavement café at the waterside and look over to the 17th-century houses built on stilts on the banks of the Nive river.

    Agen in Lot-et-Garonne (33,730 inhabitants)
    The small city of Agen is best known for its famous prunes, but it’s got a lot more going for it than its fruit. There’s a good covered market, and, not surprisingly, a museum nearby devoted to prunes. And don’t forget the famous prune fair in August.

    Agen is also one end of the canal barge trip I went on down the Garonne river and canal, which connects Bordeaux to Toulouse.

    Mont-de-Marsan in Landes (31,018 inhabitants)
    Mont-de-Marsan is a good jumping off point for exploring Les Landes, the largest pine forest in western Europe. Each July, Les Fêtes Madeleine brings people from the surrounding countryside for a week of sports, street parades, flamenco and bullfighting, a festival more akin to the Basque country than France.

    Périgueux in the Dordogne (29,906 inhabitants)
    The capital of the Dordogne department, the delightful market town of Périgueux has a pretty medieval and Renaissance old section full of former rich merchants’ houses. The Roman history of the area is shown in two museums: the Musée d’Art et d’Archéologie du Périgord which has stunning Gallo-Roman mosaics, and the Musée Gallo-Romain Vesunna, where the foundations of a well-preserved Roman villa form the basis of the museum.

    Biarritz in Gironde (25,330 inhabitants)
    Biarritz has had a resurgence in popularity in the last 20 years, part of the renewed love affair of the French with the Atlantic coast. Today, as in the past, the Grand Casino Municipal is the focus of the city, rivalling Monte Carlo’s casino with its restored 1930s glitz and glamour. There are good museums, including a fabulous Aquarium covering the seas of the world.

    Bergerac in the Dordogne (27,972 inhabitants)

    Bergerac is the main city of Périgord Pourpre, or the Purple Périgordthe area known for its wine-production. It’s the center of an agricultural region of maize, tobacco and vines. There’s a pretty old town with medieval houses and a central gracious square. Visit the Musée du Tabac in the 17th-century Maison Peyrarède on rue de l'Ancienne-Pont for the story of the famous weed, and the Maison des Vins for tastings and information about the local wines. 

    ​Page 1: Why visit Aquitaine

    ​Page 2: The history of Aquitaine

    Page 3: Getting to Aquitaine by air, rail and car

    Page 5: The food and wine of Aquitaine

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  • 05 of 05

    Food and Wine of Aquitaine

    Atout France/Jean Malburet

     You'll Eat Well in Aquitaine
    The region is famous for its ewe cheese from the Pyrenees, foie gras from Les Landes, Bayonne ham (and chocolates), and oysters from the Bay of Arcachon. 

    Périgueux fills up on Wednesday and Saturday mornings from mid-November to mid-March with its famous market of ducks, foie gras and truffles.

    Wine of Aquitaine

    When it comes to wine, you’re spoilt for choice in this part of France particularly around Bordeaux which boasts what many French believe to be the greatest names in the world. St Emilion, Medoc and Bergerac as well as sweet wines like Sauternes and Montbazillac are all produced in the region.

    Armagnac is another specialty of Aquitaine. This is France’s oldest eau-de-vie, produced in a relatively small area. Check out the story of the famous spirit at Chateau Garreau which produces top Armagnacs and also has a small ecomuseum. Each fall, the Place Royale (which inspired the design of the well known Place des Vosges in Paris) in Labastide d’Armagnac fills up with Armagnac markets selling the product. Many of the smaller producers use the traveling distillery which you might see making its way around the region. The end of the harvest is marked by the Escoubade, or traditional meal.

    ​Page 1: Why visit Aquitaine

    ​Page 2: The history of Aquitaine

    Page 3: Getting to Aquitaine by air, rail and car

    Page 4: Major cities and charming towns in Aquitaine