The third largest region in France, Aquitaine lends itself to all your holiday desires : 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.
From Hendaye on the Basque Coast to Verdon-sur-Mer in Gironde, Aquitaine offers 250 kilometres of fine sandy beachs, sailing marinas and seaside resorts. The joys of surfing are yours for the taking in Biarritz or Biscarrosse, as are the benefits of thalasso therapy, the pleasures of lazing on the beach and swimming in the sea, or perhaps you would prefer to climb the famous Dune of Pyla in Arcachon? The most important spa region in France, Aquitaine boasts no less than 30 spa towns, including Dax, France’s top spa town.
Aquitaine has stories to tell which are over a thousand years old: visit the Lascaux caves listed by Unesco and the Pierrefitte Menhir which unveils fragments of prehistoric civilisations in the heart of the Dordogne one so called « Valley of Mankind ». The National Museum of the Château de Pau, the Château de Bonaguil, among others, bear witness to the rich history of the Aquitaine region. The Cathedral of Saint-Sacerdos in Sarlat-la-Canéda and the Cathedral of Saint-Front in Périgueux reveal the importance of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Aquitaine’s cities steeped in History : visit Bordeaux but also Biarritz, Bayonne, Pau, Périgueux…In 2007 Unesco listed almost half of Bordeaux (around the Port de la Lune and the Pont de Pierre) as an “exceptional urban and architectural ensemble”, built in the age of Enlightenment. Take a stroll around the area, admire the reflections in the Miroir d'eau or contemplate the collections at the CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art.
Aquitaine is also a delight for the food-lover, with around twenty Michelin starred restaurants. In the Landes and the Périgord, you will find 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.
The Aquitaine coastline
250 kilometers of ocean coastline! Aquitaine has quite simply Europe’s biggest beach of fine sand. Added to this are the 500 kilometers of shores alongside the lakes and estuaries.
This vast coastline is also home to a great many boating harbors and seaside resorts, from the beaches of the Médoc in the north to those of the Basque Coast on the Spanish border, via the shores of the Landes region.
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. This is the most visited “natural site” in Aquitaine.
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. From its summit you can also see the beautiful Landes forest. The Bay of Arcachon is also home to the eponymous town and its famous winter district. The site of the first-ever healthcare holidays, Arcachon later became – when it was officially founded on May 2, 1857 – a luxury resort where Spanish royalty, Russian dukes, and all sorts of artists came to stay…
“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. Habits have not changed. The imperial palace has been transformed into a luxury hotel (Hôtel du Palais) but the town also offers the whole spectrum of accommodations and, as well as boasting the beach and surfing, has become an art-lover’s paradise with its festivals (dance, music, cinema), and the major exhibitions that take place all year 'round.
The caves of the Vézère Valley (listed as World Heritage by UNESCO in 1979)
25 decorated caves including Lascaux (its discovery in 1940 was a key date in the history of prehistoric art), Font de Gaume, Les Combarelles… Exceptionally interesting in terms of aesthetics, anthropology and ethnology.
The Lower Lot Valley
It 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. Alongside the river there is a cycling track, on the river itself there are houseboats, and in the valley you will find orchards full of plum trees, famous for the delicious prunes they produce.
The Gironde Estuary
The biggest estuary in Europe, where the Dordogne and Garonne rivers meet before flowing out into the Atlantic. On the left bank (flat landscape) there is the Médoc wine area and on the right bank (hilly landscape) you will find the Blaye and Bourg wine regions. On the right bank there is also the Blaye Citadel. There are several islands in the middle of the estuary including one with a guest house (for an unusual holiday). Boat trips for the public on the estuary in a “gabarre” boat. It is possible to sail up the estuary on your own boat, but you need a sailing license because the tides are strong.
The Pyrenean mountain chain
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). Typical Basque and Béarn villages, rock climbing and whitewater sports are the main attractions.
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 (June 28, 2007).
Aquitaine and its vineyards
With 145,000 hectares of vines, 90% of which are Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (Designation of Origin) areas, Aquitaine is the biggest region of fine wines in the world! Present in all five départements of Aquitaine, vineyards are fascinating places of discovery. Gourmet discoveries via visits with tasting sessions, oenology lessons and recipes based on wine. Cultural discoveries, both in certain museums and in Châteaux that have art collections, often related to vines and wine. By following the Wine Routes or simply by following your nose, Aquitaine is a quite exceptional wine destination!
The Jurisdiction of Saint Emilion (listed as World Heritage by UNESCO in 1999)
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.
The jurisdiction includes the medieval town of Saint-Emilion and its emblematic monuments, the surrounding villages (Montagne, Puisseguin, etc.) and the entire wine area. It is an exceptional landscape, fully devoted to winegrowing since Gallo-Roman times.
Bonaguil is a fortified castle mainly built between the 13th and the 14th century. So impressive is its defense system that nobody ever dared lay siege to it. Listed as a historic monument since 1861, it is one of the “major sites” in Aquitaine. Remarkably well preserved with imposing proportions and traces of the entire history of military techniques, this castle is an essential visit in the region. Every summer, the castle hosts a music and theatre festival in August.
Every season, Aquitaine invites you to come and celebrate: from the Feria de Dax to the Fêtes de Bayonne, via the Grand Pruneau Show. Aquitaine also shares its passion for culture through various major event: Mimos, the International Mime Festival in Périgueux, the Jeu du theatre Festival in Sarlat, or Cadences, the Dance Festival in Arcachon.
Places such as Walibi Sud-Ouest or the Bordeaux-Pessac Zoo make Aquitaine an ideal destination for family holidays.
Sun, history, energy, intrigue - everything you need for a perfect vacation.