Nouvelle-Aquitaine, The time of my life

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BordeauxBiarritz-Basque CountryFood and WineCultural HeritageCitiesCouples

Hotel du Palais (photo © Hotel du Palais - CRTNA).
© Hotel du Palais - CRTNA - Hotel du Palais (photo © Hotel du Palais - CRTNA).

Reading time: 0 minPublished on 3 May 2023, updated on 16 April 2024

Susan Gough henly explores Nouvelle-Aquitaine’s superb food and wine, vibrant cities, characterful villages, world-class surfing and its passion for rugby.

Bordering the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the Spanish border in the south, Nouvelle-Aquitaine is not only the largest, most diverse region in France but also the land of rugby par excellence. Come for the rugby next year, where Bordeaux will host five games, but extend your stay to explore exquisite wine appellations from the Medoc, Saint-Émilion, Pomerol, and Sauternes to Cognac, Bergerac and Monbazillac. Savour local specialities such as tuna from St Jean de Luz, Bayonne ham and chocolate, oysters from the Bassin d’Arcachon, and duck confit, foie gras and truffles from the Dordogne, either direct from producers in lively markets, or at chef-owned bistros and Michelin-starred restaurants. Go surfing on its 750km of ocean beaches, play golf on the oldest course in mainland Europe, cycle the Pyrenees, visit castles and beautiful villages, and discover remarkable prehistoric cave art.

An enticing gateway

Two hours from Paris by train, it’s hard to imagine a more enticing gateway than the beautiful, neo-classical city of Bordeaux. It’s both the world’s largest urban UNESCO World Heritage site and the European capital of smart (sustainable) tourism.! From its medieval Porte Cailhau and Grosse Cloche gates to the world’s largest water mirror fountains reflecting the exquisite semicircle of Place de La Bourse, Bordeaux honours the old while embracing the new. Two must-do activities include visiting the vibrantTwo must-do activities include visiting the vibrant Cite du Vin, an interactive cultural centre exploring international wine culture, complete with tastings on its rooftop belvedere, and the Les Bassins des Lumieres, the world’s largest digital art centre, once a World War II German submarine base. Meander around the car-free Old Quarter alive with wine bars and alfresco cafes, browse the boutiques of the Golden Triangle, antique shops in the Chartrons Wine Merchants Quarter and immerse yourself in the edgy Darwin Ecosystem (urban farm, skatepark, street art gallery) and France’s largest organic restaurant. Discover new neighbourhoods via electric tram, or bike more than 200km of cycle paths and walk 160km of signposted trails within the city limits. New accommodation offerings include the elegant five-star Villas Foch, the atmospheric four-star Hotel La Zoologie in the former University of Bordeaux Institute of Zoology, and two Marriott properties, the three-star Moxy and four-star Renaissance hotel in the edgy maritime district. New boutique properties include the Maison Pavlov and two delightful upscale guesthouses, La Course and la Maison Fernand.

Bordeaux Place de la Bourse (photo © Alexander Demyanenko - stockadobe.com) Bordeaux Place de la Bourse (photo © Alexander Demyanenko - stockadobe.com)

A diverse drop

Make time to visit some of the 10,000-plus wine-producing chateaux that surround Bordeaux including Château Guiraud in Sauternes, winner of the international best of wine tourism award 2022 as well as Australian-owned Château Picoron in Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux. And don’t forget to explore the gorgeous hilltop wine village of Saint-Émilion. Head north to historic Cognac to enjoy tours and tastings at famed Cognac houses: Hennessy, Martell, Meukow as well as 300-year-old Remy Martin complete with chocolate and cognac workshops. In the Dordogne, wine-focused experiences include the four new worlds of wine interactive tour at the Château de Monbazillac in the world’s largest sweet wine region near the ‘art and history’ town of Bergerac. Also in Bergerac, the Quai Cyrano incorporates a 17th century cloister with a wine and food bar on a panoramic terrace overlooking the Dordogne.

Rémy Martin Cognac (photo © Rémy Martin) Rémy Martin Cognac (photo © Rémy Martin)

Hinterland highlights

The Dordogne has much to offer including walled towns, gorgeous river valleys, medieval churches and hilltop castles, not to mention beautiful villages like La Roque-Gageac, Brantôme and Domme. Explore its prehistoric UNESCO World Heritage sites in the ‘Valley of Man’ especially the International Centre for Cave Art, or Lascaux 4, which offers an unparalleled interpretation of the original Lascaux cave, known as the ‘Sistine Chapel of prehistory’. Visit American-born French performer Josephine Baker’s Château des Milandes, where she lived with her ‘rainbow tribe’ of children after her career as a singer and dancer at the Folies Bergère. Last year, Baker became the sixth woman and the first black woman to be inducted into the French Pantheon to honour her contribution to the French Resistance during World War II. An Australian connection in the Dordogne is Australian perfumer creator, Prudence Kilgour. She’s been creating perfumes with the aid of a chemist in Grasse which she sells at her Beaumontois-en-Périgord boutique.

New accommodation in the region includes the five-star Domaine de Rochebois in an elegant 19th century residence within a private park complete with golf course outside Sarlat, l’Atelier l’Épicerie with pool and spa also near Sarlat, the reborn upmarket Hotel des Augustins in Saint Cyprian luxury lodges at La Marterie golf course, and the Apartments du Chalet in Bergerac, decorated with photography and old cameras.

Town of La Roque Gageac, Dordogne (photo © Dan Courtice).Town of La Roque Gageac, Dordogne (photo © Dan Courtice).

The French Basque country

In the south, discover the distinctive culture and architecture of the French Basque Country which straddles the rolling green hills of the Pyrenees and spectacular coastline. Bayonne is a proud rugby town with an impressive rugby museum, bullfighting arena, Basque pelota courts and an atmospheric old quarter full of narrow timber-framed houses while red-shuttered St-Jean-de-Luz is a picturesque fishing port with a half-moon bay beach. Biarritz, now a surfing mecca, retains its glamour from the time it was a fashionable seaside resort for European nobility. Visit the Cité de l’Océan and Art Deco aquarium, swim at La Grande Plage, cross the Eiffel Bridge to the Rocher de la Vierge and hit the hip bars and restaurants around the market hall. Behind La Grande Plage in Biarritz is the splendid Hôtel du Palais, which Napoleon built as a summer palace for Princess Eugenie, freshly renovated. The four-star Hôtel Littéraire Jules Verne is dedicated to the world of the French writer Jules Verne, while Le Garage is a trendy retro designed hotel with beautiful terraces overlooking the ocean, fashioned from a former garage that housed the most beautiful cars of the Belle Eugénie. In the heart of Bayonne the new Hotel Villa Koegui blends contemporary spirit with Basque culture.

 Biarritz Old Port beach (photo © Emmy Martens) Biarritz Old Port beach (photo © Emmy Martens)

Bayonne old quarters (photo © MonNuage/CRTNA) Bayonne old quarters (photo © MonNuage/CRTNA)

Further Information Nouvelle-Aquitaine Regional Tourism Board www.nouvelle-aquitaine-tourisme.com/en

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