Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Photo © choochoobeans

Travel Guide Europe France Nouvelle-Aquitaine

edit

Introduction

Nouvelle-Aquitaine (Gascon: Nòva Aquitania, Basque: Akitania Berria, Poitevin-Saintongeais : Novéle-Aguiéne; all mean New Aquitaine in English) is the largest region of France. It stretches from the Spanish border and Pyrenees in the south, to the Loire Valley 500 kilometres to the north, and from the Atlantic coastal sands in the west to the Massif Central in the east. Though centred on the refined city of Bordeaux, the region is predominantly rural, with sweeping agricultural vistas lying comfortably between sleepy villages and market towns. It is hard to generalise what is a genuinely diverse landscape that contains both mountain and beach, city and country, but at its heart this is la douce France at its softest and sweetest. Lazy river valleys, sunflower fields, pine forests and vineyards share the stage with tumbling hill towns, rocky promontories and rustic farmhouses. Local life is shaped by strong traditions, fine wine and hearty cooking, and you won't lack opportunities for surfing or cycling either. If joie de vivre really exists, you'll find it here.

Top

edit

Geography

At 84,061 square kilometers, the region Nouvelle-Aquitaine is larger than French Guiana, which makes it the largest region in France (mainland and overseas-alike).
Nouvelle-Aquitaine is delimited by four other French regions (Pays de la Loire to the north-west, Centre-Val de Loire to the north, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes to the east, and Occitanie to the south-east), three autonomous communities in Spain to the south (from east to west, Aragon, Navarre, and Basque Country), and the North Atlantic Ocean (the north-eastern part of Bay of Biscay, Golfe de Gascogne in French) to the west.

The region covers a large part of the Aquitaine Basin and a small portion of the Paris Basin (the border between the two being located at the "Seuil du Poitou") and the Limousin plate (part of the Massif Central) and the western part of the Pyrenees. It is part of five watersheds facing the Atlantic Ocean: Loire, Charente, Garonne and Dordogne (and their extension, the Gironde estuary) and Adour, giving rivers bordering land dedicated mostly to viticulture and to agriculture.

Top

edit

Departments

Charente - Pastoral landscape of dairy farms and vineyards, and the home of cognac.
Charente-Maritime - Mild coastal department blessed with many Romanesque fishing ports and resorts.
Deux-Sèvres - Medieval and Romanesque architecture, country walks, traditional artisanry; a perfect place to relax.
Dordogne - Magical hill towns lining the eponymous river, with troglodyte dwellings and neolithic cave art to discover.
Gironde - Wine central, surrounding the Bordeaux metropolitan area and a fair section of the Landes coast.
Landes - Vast Atlantic pine forest fronting miles of sandy beach.
Limousin - Cattle country leading onto the slopes of the Massif Central.
Lot-et-Garonne - Fine medieval towns abound in this department of strong south-western character. Wikivoyage guide in French.
Pyrénées-Atlantiques - Where the Pyrenees meet the Atlantic Ocean, and France meets the Basque Country.
Vienne - The ancient city of Poitiers and the Futuroscope theme park.

Top

edit

Cities

  • Bordeaux - The capital of the region, known as la ville girondine. Easily one of France's most-visited cities, the hordes are drawn to its sophisticated atmosphere, World Heritage riverfront, aristocratic architecture and, above all, the famous red elixir - wine. Santé!
  • Angoulême - Often seen as the archetypal provincial city, Angoulême is France's capital of cartoons (bande dessinée). Admire its beauty from high on the ramparts, or else stroll along its winding, sloping streets to discover the painted walls.
  • Bayonne - A heady mix of Gascon and Basque, Bayonne comes alive in August for the annual fêtes. For the rest of the year, visitors can't help be drawn to the city's museums and galleries, and its gastronomic specialities.
  • Biarritz - Pricey Basque seaside resort, built for pleasure. Great for surfing the ocean wave by day and hitting the casinos and nightclubs after dark, Biarritz is also known for its luxury hotels and swanky restaurants.
  • La Rochelle - Nicknamed la ville blanche (the "white city") for the colour of its buildings, this is a harbour city known for its maritime defences, huge aquarium and bountiful seafood in its markets and restaurants.
  • Limoges - Cathedral city blessed with two botanical gardens, a pedestrianised Mediaeval old town and bridges spanning the sluggish river Vienne. Limoges' domed railway station is a sight to behold.
  • Poitiers - Quiet city with exceptional heritage close to the sites of two major battles of European history. Due to its position about halfway down France, it is a popular stopping point for travellers driving south. Just outside is futuristic theme park Futuroscope.
  • Périgueux - heart of the Périgord (otherwise known as the Dordogne) one of the most beloved areas in all France.
  • Royan - Nicknamed La perle de l'Atlantique, one of the French Atlantic coast's most popular seaside resorts, on the Gironde estuary. The city have a representative architectural heritage of the 1950s, five sandy beaches and many facilities. Travel just a short distance and you reach the wildness of the Côte Sauvage and its surf beaches.

Top

edit

Sights and Activities

  • Historic towns, many with castles, are the main thing to see in the region. Moving from place to place, you can check out ancient churches, wander delightful streets, mooch around various markets, and of course stay for lunch! You won't be 'doing' much per se, but you will discover the essence of Nouvelle-Aquitaine in a very relaxed and satisfying way.
  • Prehistoric cave art — mainly centred on the Dordogne, and including the stunning Grotte de Lascaux, there are dozens of caves in the region where you can see paintings left by our ancestors more than 10,000 years ago.
  • There are hundreds of kilometres of beaches to explore, and away from the main resorts (Arcachon, Biarritz and Royan), far from being crowded. There are also quite a few nudist beaches along this stretch of coast, though all are clearly marked as such.
  • Futuroscope - this futuristic multimedia theme park is advertised everywhere in the region, though is located just north of Poitiers. Most attractions are based around 3D / 4D cinema and light shows.
  • Boating - there are many navigable waterways in the region, notably the Gironde estuary, the rivers Charente, Dordogne, Garonne and Vézère, and the canal de Garonne. All are gentle and highly accessible: craft, including barges, rowing boats, canoes and kayaks are available to hire along these, and you can generally get away with having no licence or experience. A wonderful way to spot aquatic wildlife such as coypu, kingfisher and heron.
  • Cycling - the region's country lanes and cycle tracks make this a perfect way to get around. You can mountain bike in the Pyrenees and Massif Central, while the extensive forest trails of the Landes are suited for families.
  • Surfing - pretty much anywhere from La Rochelle down to Spain is viable, though the most commercialised surfing beaches are near Biarritz. The long stretch of beach in the Landes, the islands of Ré and Oléron and the Côte Sauvage near Royan are another great place to try.
  • Tour the vineyards around Bordeaux and the Gironde.

Top

edit

Events and Festivals

  • Fête Nationale (14 Juillet) is celebrated on 14 July to commemorate the storming of the Bastille prison, during the French Revolution, with festivities on the Champs-Élysées attended by the President of France and other dignitaries. There are fireworks displays in many cities, with the largest display in Paris against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower. This holiday is informally known as Bastille Day.

Top

edit

Weather

The region Nouvelle-Aquitaine essentially has a more or less altered oceanic climate. We distinguish the Aquitaine oceanic climate, which concerns most of the territory (Charentes to Landes), the Paris oceanic climate (Poitou), Limousin oceanic climate, tinged with semi-continental influences (Limousin) and basque microclimate, wetter (western half of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques and southern Landes). The Pyrenean has a specific climate that varies with altitude: the Pyrenean climate, which is a variation of mountain climate.

In the north of the region, the Paris oceanic climate is marked by moderate rainfall, warm summers and cool winters, but without excess. The Seuil du Poitou acts as a relative climatic barrier and regions further south belong to the oceanic climate area Aquitaine. Coastal areas are wetter overall, with moderate rainfall spread throughout the year, except for the summer months, where droughts are not uncommon. Summer, relatively warm, are tempered by sea breezes, and winters are warm. Frosts are rare and snow exceptional. Sunshine is important around 2,000 to 2,200 hours per year, which is comparable to some Mediterranean regions (Perpignan). Summer precipitation often take the form of thunderstorms, possibly violent, while winter is sometimes marked by storms.

The climate in Angoumois and Limousin, wetter and cooler, remains temperate with warm spring and relatively warm summers, with variations due to altitude. The annual sunshine averaged 1850 hours. The climate of the Basque country and southern Landes is distinguished by its warm summers, mild winters but especially by its high rainfall, the Atlantic depressions abutting the Pyrenean foothills. Microclimate This explains the presence of lush vegetation and the green aspect of the region, which is different from the Spanish side. Fogs are not rare, but usually dissipate very quickly.

As for the Pyrenean climate, suboceanic trend Béarn, it is subject to frequent "cap effect" when the north-west of disturbances abut against the Pyrenean mountains. Valley bottoms, true "funnels clouds" are particularly watered. The winter snow is important above 1200 meters. Pau valley has a microclimate, however, marked by strong sunlight (about 1900 hours a year) but high rainfall (1,100 mm per year) and a near absence of frost in winter. Rainfall is usually brief there, but regular, and spread throughout the year.

Top

edit

Getting There

By Plane

Bordeaux Mérignac is the main international airport in the region, with three terminals. It offers connections all over Europe and the Maghreb, and receives a seasonal transatlantic service from Montreal Trudeau. It is also a hub of domestic services from all parts of France, including Paris Charles de Gaulle, where the vast majority of long-haul flights to the country land. The airport is situated next to the Bordeaux ring road (rocade), offering easy access to the region's road network. A shuttle bus transports passengers to Bordeaux Saint Jean railway station in the city centre.

By Train

TGV services run high speed from Paris (Gare Montparnasse) via Tours (Saint-Pierre-des-Corps), before entering Nouvelle-Aquitaine itself, serving Poitiers (1hr 18 min from Paris), Angoulême (1hr 59 min) and Bordeaux (Saint-Jean) (2hr 4 min). TGVs utilise slower lines for part of their journey to access La Rochelle (2hr 49 min), Bayonne (4hr) and Biarritz (4hr 12 min). The Basque line terminates at Irún, Spain, which receives trains from all over Iberia.

To get to Limoges and the eastern part of the region by train from Paris, Intercités trains depart from Gare d'Austerlitz. Fastest journey times Paris Austerlitz to Limoges Benedicti are 3hr 14 min. Intercités also connects several Nouvelle-Aquitaine cities with the rest of southern France, namely Clermont-Ferrand, Lyon, Toulouse and Marseille.

Journey times from northern Europe are now more competitive with air travel; you can get to Bordeaux from Lille or Brussels in 4h 45 min, from London in 5h 30 min, and from Amsterdam in 6h 41 min. All of these journey calculations incorporate a change of trains in Paris: take the Metro Line 4 from Gare du Nord to Montparnasse-Bienvenüe, a connection which takes roughly 30 mins.

By Car

From Paris, northern France and the Channel ports (count on a 6-8 hour drive from Caen to Bordeaux), the A10 is the main road access to the region. Traffic enters from Spain on the A63, continuing directly from the Spanish AP-8. The A83 brings traffic from Brittany to the A10 at Niort. From eastern France, the A89 is your friend, and offers an interesting drive through the Massif Central. Finally, anyone coming from parts Mediterranean will need to pass via Toulouse, and join either the A62 (Bordeaux, Limousin) or A64 (Pyrenees, Basque Country).

All long-distance motorways are tolled, and the vast majority are operated by a company called Vinci Autoroutes.

Top

edit

Getting Around

By Plane

There is only one air route operated within the region: HOP! (Air France) La Rochelle to Poitiers.

By Train

Rail is an excellent way of travelling between towns and cities. While some longer distance routes within the region are covered by TGV and Intercités trains, the vast majority of rail services are provided by Trains Express Régionaux (TER Nouvelle-Aquitaine). All journeys can be planned using Voyages SNCF, and each of the TER websites has a network map.

By Car

Driving your own vehicle still offers the most flexible way of getting around Nouvelle-Aquitaine, especially when penetrating more rural spots. As noted before, the region is large and its road network is extensive.

Top

edit

Eat

The Southwest of France has a distinctive rustic cuisine, with many delicacies that are well-known all over the world. As a general rule, in Nouvelle-Aquitaine the cuisine becomes more "south-western" in character the further south you go. Poultry-based, and with many stews, roasts and pâtés, this is certainly a meat-lover's paradise. Who can forget their first confit de canard, fried fatty duck breast / legs, the true treasure of Gascon cooking? The leaner magret de canard is also delicious, and often served on the rare side. Cassoulet, a sausage, beans and sometimes duck casserole, may not strictly be from this region (purists should head to Occitanie), but you can expect to find it on many a good menu. For all its controversy, if you're ever going to try foie gras - duck or goose liver pâté, made by force-feeding the bird - it should be here. The cruelty inherent to its production cannot be denied, but nor can its flavour.

Apart from duck and goose, the love of sausages (saucisses) and black pudding (boudin) is ubiquitous. The Gironde is the place to try lamb (agneau), roasted of course in the red wine-based sauce bordelaise. The same sauce is also used to cook fresh fish, oysters (huitres) and mussels (moules). The seafood along the coast is invariably excellent, if pricey. If you have lots of time - and money - consider pigging out on a sharing platter of fruits de mer - prawns, oysters, mussels, langoustine, lobster, crab, clams, cockles, winkles, you name it - served with plenty of bread and green salad.

Away from the core south-western fare, the Basque Country also offers plenty of seafood, often cooked in the Iberian way - lots of tomatoes, beans and peppers. Anyone who's a sucker for prosciutto, serrano and the like, will want to taste jambon de Bayonne, which is cured for seven to ten months before sale. The north of the region, between the Charente and Limousin, is well-known for its cattle farming, and the beef and dairy produced here is considered some of the best in France. For all the finery of French gastronomy, and all the weird and wonderful things they can do with beef, nothing beats a good steak frites - steak and chips to die for!

You will find an extraordinary variety of cheese, which can be based on cows' (vache), goats' (chèvre) or ewe's (brebis) milk. Well-known marks include bleu d'Auvergne and cantal, but most are little-known appellations with small-scale production.

You've probably guessed by now, and there's no getting around it - this region, especially in the countryside, is not vegetarian or vegan-friendly. In some really rural areas, the concept of vegetarianism is practically unheard of, with travellers being offered chicken, as "that doesn't really count as meat, does it?" You will find a few vegetarian restaurants in Bordeaux, and some 'foreign cuisine' restaurants are better geared up for catering to non meat-eaters: try Italian, Lebanese or, if you can find any, Indian. Pescatarians have a much easier time - even inland, there are river fish dishes to try. Still, aside from animal products, the region is strong in potatoes, nuts, beans, mushrooms and truffles. In restaurants at least, green vegetables are somewhat lacking, however.

Top

edit

Drink

Nouvelle-Aquitaine is home to many great wine regions, and the drink is one of the major draws to travellers. First and foremost is of course Bordeaux, and the city and its surrounding Gironde area are often called the home of wine. The Bordeaux region actually covers eight separate Appellations d'origine contrôlée (AOC), the vast majority reds, but there are also rosés made too. Travellers can visit individual vineyards and participate in tasting sessions, and there is also a wine museum in Bordeaux city centre. Wine also plays a huge part of the local gastronomy, both as an accompaniment to dishes and as a primary ingredient. To the east of the main Bordeaux region is the appellation Entre-Deux-Mers, which produces white wine.

Inland, there is a larger region known simply as Sud-Ouest (South West), which has various sub-regions sometimes known as "wine islands" in a wider sea of other agriculture: Dordogne/Bergerac, Gascony and Béarn/Pays Basque. Meanwhile, up north, the Haut-Poitou AOC (Vienne and Deux-Sèvres) is just about on the southern edge of the Loire Valley wine region.

There are also two areas where wine is distilled into the two most famous varieties of brandy. The Charente, in the north of the region, is known for producing cognac, while further south in Landes and Lot-et-Garonne, armagnac is distilled. Despite its common usage in English, the French language doesn't have a word for brandy; cognac and armagnac are described as eaux de vie.

Top

edit

Sleep

The southwest of France is very well geared-up to host large numbers of visitors, and the accommodation base is extensive and varied. While the grandest hotels are probably found in Biarritz and Bordeaux, most of the bigger towns and cities will also have decent hotels of some description. Poitiers particularly has a lot of budget rooms, due to its location next to the main road south and its position about halfway between Paris and Spain. In the countryside, practically every village has at least one bed and breakfast or self-catering gîte. Camping is perennially popular in France, and while most sites will be located along the coast or in the mountains, there are good numbers of campgrounds all around. The region's diversity and size certainly lend themselves to touring in a caravan or campervan, and most towns and villages have sites where you can park the night and hook up your power lead.

Top

Nouvelle-Aquitaine Travel Helpers

We don't currently have any Travel Helpers for Nouvelle-Aquitaine

This is version 10. Last edited at 15:07 on Mar 5, 19 by Utrecht. 5 articles link to this page.

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, content of this article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License