A Guide to Aquitaine

The Aquitaine region in the South West corner of France is made up of five Departments comprising the Dordogne (24), Gironde (33), Landes (40), Lot et Garonne (47), and the Pyrénées Atlantique (64). The major towns and cities in this region include Archachon, Bayonne, Bergerac, Biarritz, Bordeaux, Dax, Mont de Marsan, Pau and Périgueux.

The region covers a surface area of 41,308 km² which is 7.6 per cent of France's total area. The 270 km coastline wiggles down the Atlantic Ocean stretching from the Estuary of the Gironde down through the Landes and the Pyrenees Atlantiques and finally to the border of Spain.

The Department of the Gironde around Bordeaux has long been famous for its famous vineyards and fine wines which rank as the greatest in the world. The British historically have always been very much in evidence in this wine producing area and are still involved in the production and the export today.

Bordeaux, which is the capital of Aquitaine, is an impressive and very elegant city with enormous historic, architectural and cultural interest. Sophisticated restaurants go hand in hand with the famous Bordelais vineyards. If you are into shopping it has all the fashionable boutiques one would expect from an elegant city.

For those interested in architecture and archeology the Department of the Dordogne is very rich and varied with lovely stone, an abundance of Châteaux, prehistoric sites, roman ruins and remains. The landscape is quite dramatic which rivers cutting through deep valleys and impressive hilltop villages. The Dordogne or Périgord as it is otherwise known has long been popular with the British. The most known towns in this department are Périgueux, famous for its black truffles, Brantome, Sarlat, Bergerac.

The Department of the Lot and Garonne offers beautiful bastide villages and towns, beautiful stone architecture and an abundance of charm. There are low cost flights coming into Agen which is a thriving town. A large fruit producing area it is famous for its Pruneaux d'Agen and melons to name but a few.

The Department of the Landes is planted with hectares and hectares of pine forests. These forests were planted in the 19th century in an attempt to prevent the drifting sands of the dunes claiming valuable land. These man made forests are constantly being reassessed and replanted. It is largely a touristic and agricultural area. The sandy bleached Landaise beaches have long been holiday and weekend destinations for French families over the generations from Bordeaux and other inland towns. Recently this area has gained favour with the French from the Mediterranean coast as an alternative to the over populated beaches and resorts of the Cote d’Azur on the Mediterranean coast. An added bonus is the fact that the coastline is protected and has not been and cannot be spoilt by over development. Prices on the Landaise coast are still reasonable although moving up. Having said that the prices in Biarritz have achieved huge growth and are now on a par with Parisian prices per m².

The crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean make it a mecca for surfers from all over the world. Several of the world surfing championships are held on this coast each year in Hossegor in the Landes and Biarritz and Anglet in the Pyrenees Atlantic.

The Department of the Pyrenees Atlantic - this is the most southern Department in Aquitaine reaching the Spanish borders. Pau, the capital of the Pyrenees Atlantic" is 1h inland from the coast and is a vibrant university town with a large English heritage (evident from much of the architecture. Bayonne is famous for its chocolate and Jambon de Bayonne as well the Fete de Bayonne in summer. It also boasts an excellent Modern Art Gallery. Biarritz is probably the best known town of the Basque coast made famous by Napolean III's wife Eugenie de Montijo boasting fashionably smart hotels and sophisticated shopping. Then there is St Jean de Luz just a few kilometres south of Biarritz, a pretty little fishing village with cobbled walkways and a maze of restaurants and the beach. A few kilometres further south is Hendaye with its large expanse of beach and easy access to Spain by means of a little ferry across the bay.

Heading south from Bayonne and Biarritz to the Spanish coast the terrain and coastline change dramatically. The large expanses of endless landaise beaches are replaced with a more irregular dramatic indented coastline offering little fishing ports and creeks. As you get to the most southern area of the Pyrenees Atlantique where the beautiful Basque country and the Basque coast meet the borders of Spain and the Atlantic ocean. The mountains of the Pyrenees form a dramatic background to the jagged coastline. Just inland the foothills of the Pyrenees in this area are quite spectacular with green lush rolling countryside dotted with ancient farmhouses of Basque architecture. With a reasonably high rainfall this area is always green.

From a lot of these country properties one can enjoy views of the both the sea and the mountains. Rich in the Basque culture the Basque region has retained many of the basque traditions and the origins here are strong. The village names are all in Basque as well as French and the language is still spoken amongst the locals. Every village has its pelote basque court and young children can be seen playing with their bare hands on open courts. Here one can also enjoy varying activities including sailing, surfing; swimming, hiking, climbing and skiing. This is probably also one of the few places you can see the sea whilst skiing and reach out and almost touch the mountains whilst sailing.

The abundance and quality of the golf courses in Aquitaine has made it one of France's leading regions for golfers.

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