Bordeaux is perfectly positioned to explore France’s beautiful South West. Hop on a train at the Gare St. Jean, or hit the autoroute to discover the Basque Corniche, Limousin and the Charentes
Unmissable Nouvelle-aquitaine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
◆ La Rochelle’s Old Port
An important harbour from the 12th Century onwards, the Old Port is exquisitely preserved. Climb up the leaning tower of St. Nicholas for breath-taking views, and put yourself in the shoes of competitors in the World Cliff Diving Championships, often held here. Once you’ve taken in the sweep of La Rochelle’s maritime history, enjoy a seafood lunch on a restaurant terrace, then head over to the new town’s Les Minimes, the largest pleasure boat marina in Europe.
This market town, just north of the Dordogne River is a gem of French medieval and renaissance architecture. Sarlat boasts the highest density of historic and classified monuments in France. A political and judicial centre in the 15th and 16th centuries, Sarlat’s influence and trade decreased sharply in the 19th Century, isolating it from industrialisation, the reason so many of its sandstone buildings are so well-preserved. Sample the Perigord Noir’s famous walnuts, foie gras and truffles, at the Marché aux Truffes every Saturday morning.
◆ Collonges-la-rouge, Corrèze
Is this the most beautiful village in France? Many would say so. Built entirely out of red sand-stone, and surrounded by fortified walls which encircle the hamlet of stunning turreted houses, it attracts 700,000 visitors a year. Collongesla-rouge dates from the 8th Century, and originally grew wealthy thanks to a priory founded by local monks which attracted peasants, craftsmen and tradesmen. It profited by sheltering pilgrims bound for Compostella.
This city’s rugged natural beauty has always charmed, but it began to enjoy cult status as a playground of the rich and famous in 1854 when the Empress Eugénie built her Belle Epoque beach palace, the Hotel du Palais. By the 1930s European royalty and the Hollywood elite were flocking to Biarritz for nights in its glamorous casinos and days on its breath-taking beaches. The first place in Europe where surfing caught on, Biarritz now hosts an annual surf festival in July. This May, the World Surfing Games will be held here.
A family theme park 10km north of Poitiers, Futuroscope is one of a kind. It uses multi-media, 3D and 4D cinema, audio-visual techniques and interactive rides to send the visitor on journeys into the future, then back into pre-history. There’s low-tech fun to be had too involving water games, boats and cannons for younger children.
◆ Marais Poitevin
Dubbed The Green Venice, the wet zone of the marsh of is a network of tiny islands criss-crossed by natural water channels and man-made canals covered in bright green duckweed. Just perfect for a spot of boating! Let time stand still as you idle down-stream in a traditional barque, a type of punt, for hire at the piers. These wetlands are a bird lover’s paradise, it’s hard to miss herons and king-fishers hunting for lunch.
Home to the world’s best-loved brandy, Cognac is a picturesque medieval town straddling the banks of the River Charente. The old town’s architectural heritage is well worth exploring, particularly the Château des Valois, parts of which date back to the 10th Century. Create your own blend of Cognac, do some tasting, and witness the traditional art of the double distilling process on a tour of globally-renowned ‘maisons de Cognac’ right on the river front, including Hennessy, Martell and Remy Martin.
◆ Fêtes de Bayonne
France’s largest festival takes place at the end of July or early August and attracts more than a million red and white-clad revellers who converge on the city’s streets for 5 days and nights of music, performance art, traditional dance, fireworks and of course, drinking. Modelled on the Fiesta of Pamplona in Spain, the controversial ‘running of the bulls’ is one of the festival’s big draws. In Bayonne, young cows are used in place of the traditional bulls, but don’t be fooled, their horns are pretty sharp!
◆ The Dune de Pyla
The biggest sand dune in Europe is just 60km from Bordeaux. This epic mound of sand has to be seen to be believed. As a courtesy to the 1 million visitors who come each year, steps have been built into the dune to enable even the very young and the very old reach the summit. The views are well-worth the climb, only from the top can the dune’s great length of 2.7km be appreciated.
Futuroscope in Poitiers.
Surf world championships in Biarritz.
Fêtes de Bayonne.
The Dune de Pyla.