BREAKS AROUND BORDEAUX
Only a short drive away, the Gironde estuary is a world of its own, with secret Islands, the Vauban fortifications, and eccentric looking fishermen’s cabins perched on stilts along the banks - a fascinating region that can be explored by car, or for a really authentic experience, take a cruise from Bordeaux.
Arcachon is barely an hour away: the seaside town still has a Belle Epoque style (some of the old villas are listed buildings); nearby is the famous Pyla sand dune, a string of little oyster ports and Cap-Ferret on the other side of the bay. If you want crashing waves, open spaces, endless beaches and fragrant pine trees, head for the Médoc Atlantic coast and the lakes and ocean beaches at Lacanau, Soulac, and Montalivet, and the Landes forest, the largest tree-covered area in Europe, a paradise of walks and bike paths.
TO THE NORTH, CHARENTE AND POITOU
An hour and a half north of Bordeaux, the Charente is famous for its cognac. On the other side of the Gironde estuary lies Royan, a city of art and history, with a mixture of modern Bauhaus architecture and 1920s style villas. Out to sea, the Cordouan lighthouse can be visited depending on the tide.
Two hours away is the old port of La Rochelle, with its three monumental towers and arcades in the historic centre. The city’s aquarium is one of the largest in Europe. Between land and sea, explore the wonders of the islands with a trip to Ile de Ré, Madame, or Oléron.
Two and a half hours away, towards Poitiers, the Vallée des Singes is home to more than 450 monkeys who live in complete freedom. A few more kilometres and you reach Futuroscope which inaugurates a new immersive 5D attraction in 2018, featuring World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb’s car.
Mid-way between Poitiers and Bordeaux stands Angoulême, France’s “capital of comic books”, as illustrated by its numerous façades painted in the comic-book style.
TO THE EAST, PERIGORD AND LIMOUSIN
To the east lies a land of plenty: Périgord, with its proud châteaux, gourmet markets in Sarlat and Périgueux, the wines of Bergerac, and since December 2016, the Centre International de l’Art Pariétal. The Centre contains a full-scale replica of one of the original Lascaux caves, known as the «Sistine Chapel of Prehistory». In Limoges, the National Adrien Débouché Museum has been completely renovated and presents machines and tools related to the porcelain industry for which the town is famous. An hour and a half further to the east, The International Tapestry Museum opened in Aubusson in the summer of 2016.
TO THE SOUTH, BASQUE COUNTRY
There is a dramatic change in the landscape as you enter the Basque country, with its vibrant villages, Biarritz and its surfing beaches, and Saint-Jean-de-Luz and its port. In the commune of Sare, 10km from Saint-Jean-de-Luz, the “Petit train de la Rhune”, an authentic vintage rack railway takes visitors to the summit of the Rhune, at an altitude of 905 metres, for an exceptional panoramic view of the entire Atlantic coast and the Pyrenees. More inland, in the neighbouring region of Béarn, the birthplace of Henri IV, lies Pau, with its British charm, offering unspoilt valleys, hiking trails and ski resorts.