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The Aquitaine region of South West France


Regional Departments
Dordogne, Lot-et-Garonne, Landes, Gironde, Pyrénées-Atlantiques.

Main Towns
Bordeaux, Libourne, Arcachon, Périgueux, Bergerac, Villeneuve-sur-Lot, Agen, Marmande, Mont-de-Marsan, Dax, Bayonne, Biarritz, St-Jean-de-Luz, Pau.

Aquitaine lies in the Southwest of France, from the Dordogne in the north of the region, to Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast and down to the Basque country in the Pyrénées and the Spanish border. A turbulent history has left the region scattered with bastides, fortified hilltop towns and villages, ancient strongholds of Charlemagne, Richard the Lionheart and the Black Prince.



This is the land of truffles and armagnac brandy, sunflowers and foie-gras, vast uncrowded beaches, skiing in the Pyrenees and tucked away villages, of warmhearted, generous people and, wine. Bordeaux, the regional capital, lies on the left bank of the River Garonne, near the Atlantic coast; a lively university town with handsome 18th century buildings, good shopping and the centre of the Bordeaux wine trade.

The vineyards that produce some of the world's greatest wines, begin close to the town and stretch for many miles from Blaye and Bourg and the Médoc, Libourne and the heart of the Pomerol vineyards, St Emilion and Entre-Deux-Mers, to Sauternes, Barsac and Graves.
Other vineyards elsewhere include Duras, Bergerac, Buzet, Péchament and Monbazillac in particular, and the Madrian wines near the Pyrenees. Visits to the cellars to taste can be arranged and are welcomed.

The lower reaches of the River Lot makes its way through the Lot-et-Garonne river valley and joins the Garonne at Aiguillon. It is now possible to bring a boat through the Canal du Midi from the Mediterranean or from the Atlantic through Bordeaux, as far as Villeneuve-sur-Lot.
Villeneuve is a large, pleasant market town, which lies beside the river, in the midst of a market garden and fruit growing area in the heart of the Lot-et-Garonne. The countryside beyond the valley is rich green farmland with gentle wooded hills, orchards of plum and apple, fields of sunflowers and strawberries and valleys dotted with cypress reminiscent of Tuscany.

The Landes is a flat, forested area stretching along the coast from below the Bordeaux vineyards to Bayonne with huge beaches backed by high dunes. Inland are lakes and small villages with clusters of half timbered houses. Dax is a popular spa town about 45 minutes from Biarritz that has centres for a range of treatments, a small casino and smart shops. Villeneuve-de-Marsan is one of the main centres for armagnac and has two excellent Michelin restaurants. Bayonne is a quiet cathedral city with medieval streets and riverside boulevards. It lies on the far south coast where Gascony and the Pays-Basque meet. Beyond are fashionable Biarritz, St-Jean-de-Luz and the Spanish border.

Lourdes is celebrated for the holy shrine of St. Bernadette and the grotto is visited by many thousands of people each year. The town is situated within sight of the Pyrénées and has many good cafes, restaurants and enticing food shops as well as endless souvenir shops selling religious mementoes.
Just south of the Lourdes is the Lavedan, a series of seven valleys that take you into the mountains through villages and hamlets, steep pastures, gorges and waterfalls, some outstanding scenery and in winter, excellent skiing.

Food

The full, rich flavours of goose and duck form the basis of most traditional dishes. Butter is considered a poor substitute for goose fat here and its use gives each dish a distinctive character. A simple fried egg or spicy sausages, a steak or a roast of beef, garbure, a hearty cabbage and bean soup or a duck stew, all begin with a generous knob of goose fat, followed by onions, tomatoes, brick red peppers and farm cured ham.
Every part of the duck or goose is used. Foie gras, duck liver made into a patè, preserved with black truffles, or eaten fresh, lightly fried with toast. Juicy slices of peppered duck breast in a creamy armagnac sauce, or honey glazed and smoked, eaten as a simple green salad with mustard dressing. Rillettes, potted pork, goose or rabbit meat with country bread, or a plate of paper thin Bayonne ham and sweet butter. You can still find these things at local country markets or directly from the farms which produce them.
Autumn is a good time for mushrooms of all kinds, cèpes in particular. Further south, the dishes of the Basque country have affinities with Spain and Provence. Ttoro, an oniony fish stew, seafood paella or ice cold oysters accompanied with little hot spicy sausages. Lot of good fish and shellfish along the coast and wonderful Pyrénéean mountain cheeses. Excellent pastries and fruit tarts. Bayonne chocolates.

Activities

Good sailing, swimming and surfing along the coast. Freshwater fishing in the lakes and rivers. Serious walkers can follow the old pilgrim route of Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle from Quercy to Santiago de Compostella, which takes you right through Aquitaine. Excellent cycling country. In the summer months the Atlantic coast is very popular and there are lifeguard supervised beaches. If you enjoy surfing then Hossegor is best the place in France. International championships are regularly held in Hossegor, Biarritz and Lacanau, usually in August. Arcachon is where weekenders from Bordeaux go to sail, spend the day on the beach or play golf.

Inland the region's numerous rivers, canals and lakes offer ample opportunities to enjoy canoeing, kayaking and rafting as well as swimming and other water sports including fishing. Trekking, hiking, climbing and cycling through the Pyrénées in the summer. Skiing in the winter at a number of ski centres.

Many good country golf courses throughout the Southwest, which are easily accessible and inexpensive. Numerous markets in towns and villages on different days of the week and small country bric-a-brac and antiques fairs. Serious antiques fairs several times a year in Bordeaux and Agen. Jazz and classical music concerts, dance and theatre throughout the region.

Climate

A cross between Maritime and Mediterranean. Early springs, long hot summers and mild winters. Short sharp thunderstorms in the summer, usually conveniently at night, which keeps everything cool and fresh. Good snow cover in the Pyrénées for skiing in winter.

Travel

By Air
There are daily connecting flights from Paris to the regional capital Bordeaux, direct regular flights from London and other European countries and from a number of international destinations. Several low cost airlines fly direct to regional airports such as Bergerac, Agen, Biarritz and Pau.

By Road
Aquitaine is easily reached by main motorways or national routes. The journey from Calais to Bordeaux is about 975 km and should take around 8 hours. Paris is about 6 hours.

By Train
Eurostar runs via the Channel Tunnel between London (Waterloo) and Paris (Gare du Nord) or Lille in 2 hours 30 minutes and Brussels/Lille in 1 hour. Paris and Lille are linked to the high speed rail network (TGV) with destinations to all areas of France. Departures from Paris for Aquitaine are from the Gare Montparnasse station.


 
 
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