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Best Things to Do in Nouvelle-Aquitaine

08/05/2020

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Nouvelle-Aquitaine is a region in the southwest of France, the largest French region by surface area resulting from the merger of the former regions of Aquitaine, Limousin, and Poitou-Charentes.

The capital of Nouvelle-Aquitaine region is Bordeaux and it is divided into 12 departments: Charente, Charente-Maritime, Corrèze, Creuse, Dordogne, Gironde, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne, Pyrénées-Atlantiques,  Deux-Sèvres, Vienne, and Haute-Vienne.

Region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine - France

The region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine benefits from nearly 720 kilometers of shoreline, from the Charente archipelago in the north (Ré, d’Oléron, Aix et Madame islands) to the Basque coastline in the south.

If you prefer the mountains, Nouvelle-Aquitaine won’t disappoint. There are the Pyrénées, from the green Basque mountains to the peaks of Béarn, great for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter time.  

Nouvelle-Aquitaine region is where the vines meet the ocean. If you are a wine lover, be sure to visit La Cité du Vin, and do a wine-tasting detour into the vineyards surrounding Bordeaux and Cognac. 

With 250 kilometers of beaches, historic towns, châteaux, and vineyards, Nouvelle-Aquitaine has something for everyone, we recommend it!

Haven’t you visited this region yet? Let us tell you the best things to do in Nouvelle-Aquitaine.

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Visit La Cité du Vin in Bordeaux

La Cité du Vin - Bordeaux

Bordeaux is one of the most beautiful cities in France, famous for the wine regions surrounding it. Bordeaux’s historic center is a UNESCO world heritage site for its beautiful 18th-century private mansions. These buildings reflect the wealth of the city when it was the busiest port in France trading in goods from all over the world in addition to wine. 

When you visit Bordeaux you really need to take a wine tour and sample some of the best French wines in the region. A good starting point to learn about the Bordeaux wines and wine in general is La Cité du Vin a fascinating museum set in a futuristic building which is full of interactive and fun exhibits.

The museum’s permanent exhibition invites you on a journey through time and space to discover wine in its universal, heritage, civilizational, and cultural dimensions. The final phase of the visit will take you up to the Belvedere where you can take in a 360° view of the city, with the vineyards in the background, and taste some international wines. More info: https://www.laciteduvin.com/en

>>Book La Cité du Vin skip-the-line tickets with wine tasting

Explore the Basque Country on a Road Trip

Saint Jean de Luz - French Basque Country

The (French) Basque Country, with its strong character and rich culture, is the perfect playground for those who love the ocean, mountain, history, small towns, local specialties, and good wine. Nothing is ordinary in the Basque Country: neither the language, nor the traditions, nor the food but you are going to love it!

The best way to explore the French Basque Country is by car. This French Basque Country road trip takes 5 days and it starts and ends in Biarritz. Covering the coast, small villages, and natural sights, this is one of the best road trips in France!

Bike around Ile-de-Ré

Ars-en-Ré - Ile-de-Ré

Ile-de-Ré, lying off the coast of La Rochelle, is an attractive and popular summer destination amongst the French, with a lively atmosphere, especially around the port.

On Île de Ré, everyone seems to travel on a bicycle! And it’s definitely the best way to explore this tiny and flat island, with more than 100 kilometers of excellent cycling paths to enjoy.

Rent a bike (or bring yours) and explore the towns’ narrow, cobbled streets on two wheels. Reach the white sand dunes and beaches, or discover the vineyards, pine forests, and famous saltmarshes. If you can, avoid traveling to Ile-de-Ré in July or August: a victim of its success, the island’s population increases tenfold during the summer!

>> Click here to book your accommodation in Ile-de-Ré

Be Amazed by the Stone Age Cave Paintings of Lascaux

Lascaux Paintings - France

Located in the region of Dordogne, Lascaux’s cave paintings are probably the world’s most famous and recognizable examples of pre-historic art.

It is not clear the exact age of the paintings but the current consensus places them at about 17,000 years old. The area has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.

There’s a fascinating mixture of art here, including human figures, geometric designs, and depictions of different animals. The original cave, which was discovered in 1940, had to be closed to the public to preserve the paintings which are highly sensitive. However, there’s a series of fantastic replica caves located just near the original caves, where you can explore the artwork in your own time, and without fear of damaging the precious originals.

The caves are very easy to visit from Sarlat, in Dordogne. To visit the caves it’s a half-hour drive north of Sarlat or you can take a tour from Sarlat to the cave and other prehistoric sites in the region.

Wine Tasting in Saint-Emilion

Saint Emilion - France

TIP: check out the best wine packaging for travel

Saint-Émilion is a pretty medieval village listed UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. It is also a great place to explore wine tourism in the Bordeaux region by joining a wine tour or wine tasting in one of its many wine states.

Other fabulous things to do in Saint-Emilion include dining outside in one of the town squares, shopping for cheese and wine in the town shops, or simply exploring the village and its architectural heritage on foot. Saint-Emilion proposes a free walking tour to learn about the town’s amazing history and what makes this World Heritage Site so special.

>> This Saint Emilion Guided Winery Tour & Wine Tasting always has excellent reviews!

Explore Dune du Pilat, Europe’s Largest Dune!

Dune du Pilat - France

Dune du Pilat is Europe’s largest sand dune, and it can be found hugging the Atlantic coast in Western France.

It’s an impressive sight, spanning around 3 km in length, 600 m in width, and a lofty 100 or so meters high.

Climb Europe’s highest sand dune to appreciate the nature on offer in the Arcachon Basin, with panoramic views of Landes Forest and more

Adventure seekers may want to book in for a paraglide over the dune to see it from above, while families can take advantage of the campsites on-site to extend their stay…

Dune du Pilat is usually proposed on the Arcachon Bay day trips from Bordeaux. If you want to visit the dune on your own, try to arrive early to avoid the crowds.

>> Visit Dune du Pilat with this Arcachon morning tour from Bordeaux

Visit one of the Cognac Houses (with Tastings)

Cognac

Nouvelle-Aquitaine is also the land of other famous French drinks like cognac or armagnac.

Cognac (AOC) is a variety of brandy named after the commune of Cognac in southwest France. It is produced in the surrounding wine-growing region, more specifically in the French departments of Charente-Maritime and Charente.

The major cognac producers of France all have their houses in the commune of Cognac.  Houses like Rémy Martin, Camus, and Hennessy can be found here and they all offer basic tours with Cognac tastings. 

Cognac is also a beautiful village to visit with a pretty medieval old town, narrow cobbled streets, and historically significant buildings. Whether you are a cognac drinker or not, you are going to love Cognac.

>> Learn all about cognac with this private tour from Bordeaux with tastings

A Day of Sun, Sea, and Oysters at Arcachon

Arcachon Bay - Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Arcachon is a seaside resort town in southwest France that is known for its oyster harvesting. To visit Arcachon is to experience the authenticity of a seaside resort that has remained simple. Located on the Atlantic coast, and protected by the basin of the same name, Arcachon is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway or a vacation.

There are many fun things to do in Arcachon, between hiking, fine sandy beaches, water sports or sightseeing. And of course, there are the oysters! Sold under the name “Arcachon Cap Ferret Oysters“, this tasty shellfish is one of the rare products from 100% natural breeding in France.

In Arcachon, you can taste local oysters directly at the oyster farmer, in the restaurant, in the market, or at your home from home.

>> Click here to book your accommodation in Arcachon

Explore the Medieval Castles of Dordogne

Château de Castelnaud - France

Dordogne is well known for its mighty fortresses and fairy medieval castles. In the middle ages, the Valley of Dordogne was an important area of conflict between France and England: the famous Hundred’s Year War (1337 to 1453) between the House of Plantagenet, rulers of the Kingdom of England, and the House of Valois over the right to rule the Kingdom of France. Security against the enemy was paramount and when building a new castle the wealthy were ready to sacrifice beauty and comfort for protection.

To the north the best castles of the Loire Valley were ornate, graceful structures built to impress. These iconic châteaux were built as retreats for the nobility of Paris.  

The Dordogne Castles instead were built to protect and they were solid, imposing, fortified structures, usually in strategically important positions.

The list of most beautiful castles in France – includes some Dordogne castles like Castelnaud, Fénelon, Beynac, Commarque, and Hautefort but there are many more!

Enjoy the Pyrénées all Year-round

Rhune Mountain

Step into your hiking boots and be amazed by the variety of landscapes in the Atlantic Pyrénées, with never-ending stretches of beech and pine forests, vast pastures, and pristine lakes.

Jump on the little train of Artouste to discover the upper Ossau Valley. The train travels along the highest track in Europe, at an altitude of 2000 m, and it offers grandiose landscapes throughout the valley of Soussoueou, rich in flora and fauna.

In wintertime, we are off to the Valleys of Aspe, Barétous, and Ossau to go down the pistes and snowball fights. If you just don’t feel right on skis, never fear: there’s still lots of winter activities and wellness breaks in the Pyrénées for non-skiers!

PRACTICAL INFO & OUR FAVORITES | NOUVELLE AQUITAINE

Practical Info Best time to Visit Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France

There is no right or wrong time to visit Nouvelle-Aquitaine, it depends on the kind of holiday you are looking for.

The best time for sightseeing is during the shoulder seasons when the temperatures are mild and there are lesser crowds. Summer is great for hiking, water sports, and outdoor adventures, whilst winter is perfect for skiing in the Pyrénées. The best season to go for waves in the Basque Country is between September and March.

People interested in Bordeaux wine travel should avoid the month of September: the wineries start doing their harvests and some don’t allow tourists.

Traveling to Nouvelle-Aquitaine

BY PLANE: The main airport in the region is Bordeaux-Mérignac which proposes flights to many international destinations. The airport Biarritz-Bayonne-Anglet proposes flights to some European destinations.

>> Click here to book your flight tickets to Bordeaux

BY TRAIN: The rail network in Nouvelle-Aquitaine is organized around its main cities: Bordeaux (the biggest train station), Limoges, Poitiers, La Rochelle, and Bayonne. The main train line is the Paris-Bordeaux line via Poitiers and Angoulême and extended to Hendaye.

The territory is also crisscrossed by secondary roads, where mainly Nouvelle-Aquitaine TER trains circulate.

>> Click here to book your train tickets to Nouvelle-Aquitaine

BY CAR: For extended trips in the region, the best way for getting around is by car. If you don’t have your own car, we recommend booking in advance through platforms like RentalCar. This website takes all of the major rental companies, such as Hertz, Avis, etc, and do the comparison of prices for you. If you are starting from Paris, we recommend taking a train to the main cities in the region, such as Strasbourg, Reims, or Metz, and rent the car from there. 

Where to stay in Nouvelle-Aquitaine?

What to do in Nouvelle-Aquitaine?

  • City sightseeing, historical sightseeing
  • Hiking, cycling, canoeing, boat trips
  • Wine tasting, spirits tasting
  • Romantic, Cultural and gastronomic getaways

Useful Links

We hope that you enjoyed the main places to visit in Nouvelle-Aquitaine. If you want to learn about other regions head to this article on the Regions of France, where we have summarized the highlights of each region.

Click here to Explore the French Regions

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