A passion for rugby, surfing, cycling, golf, and hiking? World-class wine and food? Sue Gough Henly suggests Southwest France
Nouvelle-Aquitaine, in the southwest of France, is the country’s biggest and most diverse region. At its heart is the city of Bordeaux, the world’s largest urban UNESCO World Heritage site, surrounded by the world’s finest wine region of the same name.
Along its coastline are 750 kilometres of sandy beaches, stretching from La Rochelle in the north to Biarritz and the Pays Basque in the south. In the hinterland there are medieval castles, ancient river valleys and prehistoric cave paintings in the Dordogne, the porcelain centre of Limoges and the wine region of Cognac, not to mention the high peaks of the Pyrenees that form the border with Spain.
A passion for rugby
You’d be hard-pressed to find a region more passionate about the game of rugby than Nouvelle-Aquitaine, home to more than 400 clubs and 100-plus players from around the world, including 17 from Australia.
Bordeaux will host five games in the 2023 Rugby World Cup, including the running champion South Africa, Samoa and Fiji.
During the last Rugby World Cup in Japan at least 10 players in the French XV had roots and connections with Nouvelle Aquitaine.Five clubs are competing in the TOP14 (French Rugby Union First Division) and 3 clubs in PRO D2 (Second Division)… Amongst them: Union Bordeaux Bègles, Stade Rochelais on the Atlantic Coast with Will Skelton (18 caps with the Wallabies), Biarritz Olympique and Aviron Bayonnais in the French Basque Country, Section Paloise in the Pyrenees, CA Brive in the Dordogne Valley, Stade Montois (Mont-deMarsan) in Landes-Armagnac and SU Agen in Lot-et-Garonne.
In Bayonne in the Pays Basque, rugby fans will find a new rugby museum, while the Notre Dame du Rugby chapel in Larrivière-Saint-Savin in Les Landes, south of Bordeaux, is a sanctuary to the realm of the oval ball.
From field to fashion
Rugby lovers who want to wear their passion can shop for local brands at boutiques created by Nouvelle-Aquitaine rugby stars including Le Quinze by former President of the French National Rugby League Serge Blanco, Company 64 by Denis Wargnier and Oliver Mauroux, Eden Park (named after Eden Park Stadium in Auckland where founder Franck Mesnel played during the first Rugby World Cup) and Rugby Store by Vincent Roussel.
An active destination without peer
Nouvelle-Aquitaine also offers a host of other active adventures: from surfing, cycling and hiking to golf and skiing.The Pyrenees are home to some of the most challenging mountain stages of the Tour de France. They are popular among amateur cyclists, too. For recreational cycling, the Velodyssee route along the Atlantic Coast, trails beside the Canal de Garonne, and the Roger Lapébie rail trail through Bordeaux’s Entre-Deux-Mers region are just some of the two-wheeled pleasures on Nouvelle-Aquitaine’s 4,200 km of bike paths.
Surfeur Charly MARTIN Oscar ©Federation Francaise de Surf
The waves around Biarritz draw surfers from around the world while the Lacanau Pro (in the Medoc) and the Quiksilver Pro (in Hossegor in Les Landes) are popular events on the pro surfing circuit.
Meanwhile, Europe’s highest sand dune, Pilat, guards the entrance to the Arcachon Bay, which itself offers terrific sailing, paragliding, kayaking and fishing.Hikers are spoiled for choice with six different routes of Way of Saint James traversing the region. Each passes through preserved landscapes dotted with historic monuments, many UNESCO World Heritage listed. The Grande Randonnée 10 follows the length of the Pyrenees and hundreds of shorter trails criss-cross its picturesque peaks and valleys. In winter, skiers flock to the Pyrenees’ popular ski resorts. Nouvelle-Aquitaine is also home to arguably some of the country’s best golfing destinations.
There’s the Pau Golf Club, mainland Europe’s oldest club, the Biarritz Le Phare Golf Course with stunning Atlantic views, Bordeaux’s Golf du Médoc Resort and Grand Saint-Émilionnais Golf Club.
New, classic and not to be missed
The city of Bordeaux is moving from strength to strength and since 2015 has become the favourite European destination, blending its neo-classical architecture with an eco-friendly perspective. Today, it’s just two-hours from Paris by high-speed TGV train. Once here, you’ll enjoy discovering the cafés and wine bars of the pedestrian-only Old Quarter as well as promenading along four kilometres of riverside parkland.
On Bordeaux’s Right Bank, visit the Darwin Project, an inspiring alternative ecosystem that combines green economy entrepreneurs and an urban farm with skateboarding and street art.Whatever you do, make time to explore Bordeaux’s superb wine chateaux. There are six major wine routes leading you from the UNESCO World Heritage-listed hilltop village of Saint-Émilion and fortress-town of Blaye, through Pomerol and Pessac-Leognan to the Médoc and Sauternes.
©Villas Foch 2021.04
The Villas Foch Hotel is Bordeaux’s new boutique five-star hotel set in a 19th century stone building with a swimming pool and sauna in an arched cellar, while the Hotel Zoologie has been created from a 120 year-old glass, metal,brick and stone building, formerly Bordeaux’s Institute of Zoology, with two new wings framing an interior garden.
Two new hotels, the Marriott Renaissance (four-star) and Moxy (three-star), have also opened in Bordeaux while the new Meininger Hotel welcomes cyclists with excellent bikestorage facilities and the Whoo Hostel offers the latest budget lodgings.
Old world, new foodie
The Old-World wine city of Bordeaux has become a new foodie destination and Bordeaux now has more than 1000 restaurants catering to diverse tastes and budgets. Exciting new restaurants in the city include: La Gigi, Chamade, Gaùta, and Gina while the 2021 Michelin Guide has awarded two Nouvelle Aquitaine restaurants their first Michelin stars: l’Observatoire du Gabriel in Bordeaux’s exquisite 18th century Place de la Bourse and ONA, a trailblazing vegan restaurant in Arès, on Arcachon Bay. There are now four two-star restaurants and 16 one-star restaurants in and around Bordeaux.
Rugby players make their mark in hospitality
Several former rugby players have also made their mark in the hospitality sector. Beside the Bordeaux Opera House, Philippe Etchebest owns Le Quatrieme Mur bistro and the basement Table d’Hotes, which has one Michelin star.
Dimitri Yachvili owns Biarritz Camping, Imanol Harinordoquy owns the restaurant Les Contrebandiers in Biarritz and Pascal Ondarts owns Hotel Loreak in Bayonne. Christian Duplaissy has the Ostalamer restaurant in Saint-Jean-de-Luz and the Ostalapia Farm in Ahetze while former French national player and coach Marc Lievremont owns the Bar de la Côte in Biar.
www.nouvelle-aquitaine-tourisme.com (External link)