Insider's Guide: Aquitaine
Sunday 16 October 2011
Daniel Johnson, public relations manager at Siblu Villages (siblu.com), which owns 14 family holiday parks in France, offers his tips on how to make the most of the south-west region of Aquitaine.
1 The smartest way to travel in Bordeaux is by tram – the lines run past most of the major monuments, including Bordeaux Cathedral, the Grand Theatre, the Bourse and the Miroir d'Eau, the city's water feature. Alternatively, hire a bike from the VCUB terminals. Pay €5 (£4.30) for a seven-day access code, and if you keep each rental under 30 minutes you'll pay nothing more.
2 Try the traditional food of south-west France at Restaurant La Tupina (latupina.com) in Bordeaux, with dishes on the menu such as roasted goose, scallops with black pig bacon and lamprey cooked in wine.
3 La Winery (winery.fr) at Arsac-en-Médoc offers an impressive introduction to Bordeaux as a wine region. Take the Land Rover safari through the vineyards of the 12th-century Chateau d'Arsac, join a wine-tasting session and leave with a personalised wine guide. Plus, there are more than 1,000 wines to buy in the cellar.
4 Saint-Emilion is a beautifully preserved Romanesque town perched on a hilltop. Ask for the keys to the bell tower at the tourist information office – you'll need to pay a small deposit of €1.75 – and climb the spiral stairway for the most amazing views of the Dordogne valley. Then, head to Les Cordeliers (lescordeliers.com), a historic monument featuring 14th-century cloisters.
5 The Dune du Pyla, in the south of the Arcachon Bay, is Europe's largest sand dune and the views from the top are worth the climb. You can park in the official car park or there are plenty of access points through the pines. Head to the south end to watch paragliders float above the dune.
6 The caves at Lascaux (lascaux.culture.fr) in the Dordogne, near Sarlat, are known as the Sistine Chapel of Prehistory for their paintings, which date back 17,000 years. There are more than 1,000 images, which include an auroch – an early relative of the ox – and a bison hunt. To protect the drawings, the caves are closed to visitors, but a replica of the main caves has been created for tourists to view.
7 The pretty 13th-century town of Sainte-Foy-la-Grande is in the Gironde but its proximity to the border with the Dordogne means it gets left out of many of that region's guide books. Visit on Saturday to catch the terrific Gironde market here.
8 The lake of Carcans-Hourtin-Maubuisson, in northern Gironde, is the biggest freshwater lake in France. There are sailing schools open here until the end of November (medococean.co.uk).
9 Bayonne in the Basque country is not as popular a tourist destination as its glitzy seaside neighbour Biarritz, yet there is plenty to see amid its quaint narrow streets. This is the chocolate capital of France, so head to the Chocolate Workshop (atelier duchocolat.fr) for a tasting. And visit the Bonnat Museum (musee- bonnat.com), which displays art by Rubens, Van Dyck and Goya.
10 The Pyrenees, which mark the very south of this region, offer exciting activities including hiking, climbing and white-water rafting. Base yourself in the scenic town of Pau and walk along the Boulevard de Pyrenees for spectacular views of the peaks.
To find out more about holidays in Aquitaine and across France, visit the website of Abtof, the Association of British Tour Operators in France (franceyesyoucan.com).
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