Top tips,

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

Bordeaux J'Adore - - Contents - CLARE O’HA­GAN

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.

◆ Sar­lat

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.

◆ Biar­ritz

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.

◆ Fu­tur­o­scope

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.

◆ Cognac

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.

PHOTO JONATHAN BARBOT

Sar­lat.

PHOTO HERVÉ LE NAIN

Col­longes-la-rouge.

PHOTO D.R.

Fu­tur­o­scope in Poitiers.

PHOTO AN­TOINE JUSTES

Surf world cham­pi­onships in Biar­ritz.

PHOTO DANIEL VELEZ AFP

Fêtes de Bay­onne.

PHOTO XAVIER LEOTY

Marais Poitevin.

PHOTO D.R.

The Dune de Pyla.

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