Image – The vineyards contiguous with Chateau de Monbadon, Copyright Atout France/Olivier Roux
The Gironde is home to the city of Bordeaux with its Opera, Theatre, International Airport, International School and TGV. A very attractive city with some superb classical architecture, it is surounded by the famous vineyards of the Médoc, Entre deux Mers and St Emilion to name but a few. The majority of the houses are built of sandstone or ‘pierre de taille’. Well placed for the Atlantic beaches and the resorts of Arcachon and Cap Ferret the land is relatively flat, the ideal landscape for the vineyards, and the climate temperate.
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With its 22 ports, over 100 kilometres of coast, the longest estuary in Europe and finally, at Hourtin-Carcans, the biggest lake in France, the area is a favourite with those who appreciate the ocean and water sports in general. For the bon viveurs, there are a wealth of wines, the local aperitif of Lillet and the oyster beds of the Gironde. The majestic Dordogne river flows for almost 100 kms through the Gironde, flanked by towns and villages, churches dating from Roman times and the ancient 13th century port of Libourne, where river traders met those from as far inland as Limousin and Perigord.
Entre Deux Mers
Between the Garonne and the Dordogne, the Entre Deux Mers has many walled towns dating from the 12th Century, including Blasimon, Cadillac, Créon and Sauveterre de Guyenne. The Medieval hilltop town of Saint-Emilion, in the Grand Libournais, has many historic buildings including cloisters and a monolithic church. Central to the wine making district which extends beneath it, it has superb restaurants and is much frequented by tourists. Here are many vestiges of the pilgrims’ route to Saint-Jacques de Compostella in the Benedictine Abbeys at Blasimon, Sainte Ferme, La Réole and La Sauve Majeure as well as fortified windmills and castles in commanding positions.
The names of the Medoc peninsular conjure up dreams of memorable wines, including Margaux, Listrac. Paullic and Saint-Estèphe. At the tip of Grave, is the Cordouan lighthouse, built by Henry IV and classed as an historic monument. Beyond this are the villas of Soulac and Lacanau, perfect for surfers and with many kilometres of cycling tracks. The Arcachon basin and Cap Ferret, popular with many of the crowned heads of Europe, have a temperate climate. The dune of Pyla at 117 metres is the highest in Europe and a bird reserve at the L’ile aux Oiseaux can be visited as well as the Banc d’Arguin – home to a colony of tern. South East of Bordeaux is the land of Graves and Sauternes, the famous sweet white wines dating from Roman times whose vineyards extend over almost 5000 hectares of land. Bazas is the main town of the area, with its 13th Century Cathedral, its ramparts and half-timbered houses and which, every February, hosts a famous cattle race.