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.
TO THE NORTH, CHARENTE AND POITOU
An hour and a half north of Bordeaux, the Charente reveals its famous houses in Cognac, and Saintes, a city founded by the Romans, who left some vestiges there. 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, LIMOUSIN, PÉRIGORD AND LOT-ET-GARONNE
Head to the east in Limoges, where the National Adrien Débouché Museum has been completely renovated and presents machines and tools related to the porcelain skills that have made the town famous. An hour and a half further to the east, Aubusson is home to The International Tapestry Museum. Further south, we dive into a land of delights, the Périgord: proud castles, gourmet markets of Sarlat and Périgueux, Bergerac wines and the Centre International de l’Art Pariétal which houses a full-scale replica of the original Lascaux caves. Heading south-east towards the department of the Lot-et-Garonne, the 13th century fortified royal town of Villeréal has been declared one of the most beautiful village in France. On the way, visit Agen, the departmental capital, and then Nérac with Henri IV’s beautiful château-museum. Returning to Bordeaux, pass through Marmande which attracts more than 160,000 people every June for its Garorock music festival.
TO THE SOUTH, THE LANDES AND BASQUE COUNTRY
To the south of Bordeaux, enter the Landes forest, the largest area of maritime pines in Europe. Bordered by 100 km of spectacular ocean beaches with excellent surfing, this is a region famed for its gastronomy and good-living, with férias in Dax, Mont-de-Marsan, and all the villages in the Chalosse. Don’t miss the Marquèzes Ecomuseum in Sabres for immersion in the Landes de Gascogne way of life in the 19th century! 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.