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Old Aquitaine, from the Dordogne to the Basque country
capital city Bordeaux
was one of the great historic
This page covers the area that until 2016 was
the Aquitaine region of France, now merged into a larger
region known as
Old Aquitaine is one of the largest and most
varied regions of
France, stretching from the foothills of the Massif Central in the
north, to the Spanish border in the south, a distance of over 300 km.
In the Middle Ages, Aquitaine was allied with the Plantagenet kings of
England, and the region has many historic connections with the British
Isles, notably through the wine trade.
On account of its size, Aquitaine is a very varied
region; the northwest of the area, comprising the departments of the Dordogne
the Lot et Garonne
(47) is made up of gentle hill country, with large areas of vineyards
in the lower lying areas, and woodland and mixed farming in the hillier
north east. The Dordogne
(click for more details) is famous for its rurality, its gentle
valleys and villages, which seem to outsiders to be lost in time, and
have become very popular with second-home buyers from the UK and the
Netherlands human habitation in Europe, and many prehistoric
sites can be found round the area of Lascaux (remarkable caves, a
world heritage site) and Les Eyzies. Within France, the Dordogne
department is more famous for its gastronomic specialities, truffles,
foie-gras, walnuts and other mouth-watering delicacies, and is often
rerferred to as "le Périgord", the area around the
middle band of the region,
following the line of the Gironde estuary, is low-lying land, and one
of the most famous wine-producing areas in France. Bordeaux
capital and capital of the Gironde
(33) department, is amagnificent city lying at the lowest
bridging point on the Garonne river. it is one of France's great
seaports, and its historic wealth is reflected in the many fine
buildings of the old city, such as the unique eighteenth-century
theatre. North of Bordeaux, to the west of the Gironde estuary,
lies the area of Médoc, the most prestigious of the
areas; other famous vineyard areas can be found all round Bordeaux, and
notably along the valley of the Garonne and its tributaries.
dunes above the bay of Arcachon
around the small historic city of St.
is another famous vineyard area. Further inland, the area
Marmande and Agen supports a busy fruit and vegetable industry.
Old Aquitaine boasts over 200 km of sandy
known as the Côte d'Argent, or Silver coast. With major resorts few and
far between, except in at the southern end within fifty
kilometres of the Spanish border, this is a coastline with ample room
for everyone. The southern end of the coastline, south of
Hosségor and Capbreton, is more built up, with the resorts of
Biarritz, Bayonne and Saint Jean de Luz among others.
West of Bordeaux, the resort of Arcachon
is very popular, on account of its sheltered anchorage, favoured by
yachtsmen, and the proximity of the Dune du Pilat, the highest sand
dune in Europe.
part of Aquitaine is made up of two distinct areas, the departments of
les Landes (40) and the Pyrénées
Atlantiques (64). Les
the most heavily forested area of Europe; a low lying area with sandy
soil, almost the whole department is covered with pine forests
interspersed with small areas of heath and farmland. The forests are
popular with nature lovers, ramblers and hunters, and support a major
timber industry. Outside the few towns and seaside resorts, the
department of les Landes, which until the nineteenth century was
renowned as an inhospitable wasteland, is one of the least densely
populated areas of France. It is also a department where almost a
quarter of all dwellings are second homes. Les
Landes is part of the historic area of Gascony
department of Pyrénées
is essentially composed of the former province of Bearn and the Basque
country. It is a very attractive department, offering everything
from Atlantic surf on the beaches around St Jean de Luz
to good skiing on the slopes high up in the
. The foothills of
the Pyrenees are a delightful area, benefiting from a very mild
climate, and sufficient rainfall to remain green and luscious through
many months of the year. Pau
the departmental capital, is an elegant city that was very popular with
the British in the nineteenth century as a thermal resort, and even
boasted at one time an English hunt, complete with hounds and redcoats.
Aquitaine is a region that
is popular for cycle
two long distance cycle routes, the Atlantic cycleway and the
Atlantic-Mediterranean cycle route cross the region. In Aquitaine, both
are largely on dedicated surfaced cycle routes, and are flat, as they
largely follow the coast or rivers / canals.
tourist attractions in
- Garonne area:
- Bordeaux :
regional capital, a UNESCO world heritage site; remarkable 18th century
and earlier architecture, including the theatre, bridge over the
Garonne, and other buildings. Riverside, streets and markets. Bordeaux Art Gallery has
a large collection,
particularly rich in 17th-19th century French and European art,
including works by Chardin, Greuze, Claude Lorrain, Poussin, Delacroix,
Renoir, Frans Hals, Van Dyck, Rubens, Ruysdael, plus a lesser but
interesting collection of French 19th and 20th century art.
The "Grand Théâtre" is one of the finest
18th century theatres in Europe, and the only one in France to have
conserved its 18th century interior
Emilion: small wine-making city with narrow streets and
unique underground 'monolithic' church.
- The Aquitaine
chateaux of the Bordeaux, Médoc and St Emilion vineyards.
famous Bordeaux vineyards are situated northwest of Bordeaux, on the
south side of the Gironde estuary.
interesting art gallery housed in Renaissance buildings. A
collection of paintings including works by Goya, Tintoretto, Greuze,
Corot, Boudin, Sisley and others. The aqueduct carrying the Garonne
canal over the river, completed in 1843, is 550 metres long, and is the
second longest canal bridge in France
: fabulous medieval fortress chateau in the valley of the Lot, near
Fumel. One of the finest castles in France.
- The Canal
- or at least the part known as the Canal latéral de la
Europe's oldest canal system, linking Atlantic and Mediterranean. Of
particular note is the 539 metre-long canal bridge at Agen, the second
longest canal aqueduct in France, carrying the canal over the river
- The Bastide towns
small medieval planned towns, dating from the time of the hundred
year's war between France and England. Three of the finest examples in
Aquitaine are Eymet in the Dordogne, Montpazier (built by the English),
and the hilltop bastide of Montflanquin.
east of the Garonne:
river valley , small villages and towns, prehistoric sites.
- Noteworthy sites: Château de Beynac, on a
clifftop overlooking the Dordogne valley. A remarkable castle in a
remarkable site. Also nearby the castle of Castelnaud and the riverside
village of La Roque Gageac
UNESCO world heritage site : Remarkable
prehistoric caves with paintings. Reconstruction. The original cave is
closed to visitors, for conservation reasons. See Prehistoric France
near Lascaux, in the Vézère
museum of Prehistory, plus
historic sites and troglodyte houses built into the cliff faces. It was
in the Cro Magnon shelter at Les Eyzies that the earliest remains of
homo spaiens were discovered in 1868. The Font de Gaume cave
site with prehistoric cave paintings.
: famous château and vineyard, near Bergerac.
capital of gastronomy; old streets and buildings, including
St Front Cathedral, originally dating from the 12th century. While the
Byzantine-style tower is medieval, most of the actual cathedral is a
19th century rebuilding and embellishment of the original edifice.
one of the most attractive small towns in France. A fine small French
town that has preserved much of its historic centre, with houses dating
from medieval times and the renaissance. Market on Saturday morning.
Nearby the Maison Forte
is a fascinating 16th century troglodytic house built into a cliff; it
is remarkably well conserved, and furnished in period style. It is the
last surviving example of a substantial cliff dwelling in France.
► More on the Dordogne
west of the Garonne:
popular Atlantic coast resort, with marina and beaches.
coast: many long sandy beaches, stretching over 200 km
from Bayonne to the Gironde. This coast, flanking the Bay of Biscay, is
known as the Silver Coast, or "Côte d'Argent", and is popular
- Basque country:
where the Pyrenees meet the Ocean - bracken covered hills, and villages
in the distinct Basque style.
musée Bonnat-Helleu. Impressive
European painting, with - among others - works by Goya, El Greco,
Ingres, David, Géricault, Ghirlandaio, Botticelli, Tiepolo,
Rubens, and even Constable and Turner .
Medieval cathedral and cloisters, boat
trips on the river Adour, Basque museum, beaches.
area in the foothills of the Pyrenees around Pau & Orthez
Saint Jean de Luz : popular seaside resorts near the
du Pilat, highest sand dune in Europe, near Arcachon.
in the Pyrenees
south of Pau. Le Petit
Ten kilometer very scenic narrow gauge railway, running at an altitude
of between 1920 metres and 1940 metres (over 6300 ft) above
level. Access by cablecar from Artouste-Fabrèges.
Landes: largest forested area in Europe, pine forests and
heath. Hiking, natural environment, and a good network of cycle tracks.
elegant city near the Pyrenees. Impressive medieval castle, birthplace
of King Henri IV. The Musée des Beaux Arts is the second best
art gallery in Aquitaine, after Bordeaux, and has a substantial
collection including works by El Greco, Zurbaran, Rubens, Degas, Corot,
Marquet and many more.
du Midi d'Ossau, 2884m, highest point in western Pyrenees. Skiing, hiking.
high mountains on the Spanish border, hiking, climbing, winter sports,
scenery - including the western half of the Pyrenees National Park.
- St Jean de Luz
: small fishing and pleasure port close to the Spanish border. The 17th
century St.John the Baptist church has a very fine ornate gilded
altarpiece in the Spanish style. In this church, King Louis XIV was
married to the Infanta of Spain in 1660
Vineyard at St. Emilion - photo J Menichini
Stay on a
Bordeaux wine estate
a select choice of some active wine estates in Aquitaine offering
cellar visits, wine tasting and hotel or b&b accommodation.
Estèphe, Medoc,: Classic
Médoc château on a large estate. Ten
bedrooms, fine dining,
de Bourg vineyard. Château
winery with 3 ensuite b&b rooms and pool. Wine
tasting and vineyard tours
Bordeaux, beside the Dordogne: Small
Bordeaux estate offering bed and breakfast. 3 rooms.
estate chateau amidst the vineyards: four en-suite
Emilion : Winery
with restaurant and four guest rooms in a prestigious Saint
This area produces some of the world's finest wines
The Château at Beynac in the Dordogne
Hillside village of Belvès, in the Dordogne
Aquitaine is well equipped in dedicated cycleways, notably on the flat
land near the coast.
The Basque coast, near Saint Jean de Luz
the southwestern corner of France, Old Aquitaine, the former region of
Aquitaine, is an area famed for
its wine, its beaches and its countryside.
and the Gironde, the area is mostly low lying. In the
northeast, which includes the Dordogne, the land is hillier country,
its gourmet cuisine,its picturesque villages, and its historic sites.
- one of Aquitaine's many famous wine estate chateaux
Old Sarlat, in the Dordogne
plenty of attractive seaside cafés
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of sandy beaches
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