The region of Aquitaine comprises five departments and stretches from the Gironde Estuary to the Pyrenees and the Spanish border. The Gironde, besides its first class Bordelais vineyards, tourist attractions, the Entre-Deux-Mers and seaside resorts, is also blessed with the elegant city of Bordeaux with its excellent communications, historic architecture and sophisticated shops and restaurants, as well as the Theatre, Opera and international school. To the North and East, the Dordogne is popular with tourists for its many châteaux, prehistoric sites, charming bastide towns, vineyards and the varied terrain it offers with its many river valleys and four distinctive areas of the Périgord Vert, Blanc, Noir and Pourpre. Further south, the Lot et Garonne is a prosperous agricultural area, peppered with bastide towns and with good communications from Agen with its airport and TGV. The Landes is mainly known for its massive man-made forest of pines (over 1 million hectares) planted in the 19th Century in an attempt to stem the march of the dunes inland. Beyond the forest lie various spa towns, the vineyards and farmland leading to the foothills of the Pyrenees and all that they offer, from hiking and climbing to ski resorts and winter sports in general.
270 Kilometres of preserved coastline stretches from the tip of Grave to Bidassoa at the foot of the mountains. Only the Bassin of Arcachon interrupts this line which, between the mouth of the Gironde and that of the Adour, runs in virtually a straight line. The Pyrenees Atlantiques is indented with little ports and creeks, an added bonus being that the coastline has not been over developed. Biarritz, a fashionable resort in the early 19th Century, still retains an element of glamour and remains very popular, whilst St Jean de Luz and the surrounding countryside has gained favour with many escaping the over- populated Côte d’Azur. There are many family resorts, sandy beaches and wonderful conditions for surfing. The French Basque country and the Béarn are two areas rich in culture and custom but each retaining a very independent character of their own.
Gastronomic delights include Jambon de Bayonne (Bayonne is also known for its chocolates), many duck and goose products, the Pruneaux d’Agen and, paradoxically, the lowest incidence of heart disease in Europe despite the temptations that abound. Copyright Sarah Francis