Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
Located in southwest France, Nouvelle-Aquitaine is 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 is Bordeaux and the region is divided into twelve departments: Charente, Charente-Maritime, Corrèze, Creuse, Dordogne, Gironde, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Deux-Sèvres, Vienne, and Haute-Vienne.
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 a French holiday in the mountains, Nouvelle-Aquitaine won’t disappoint. From the green Basque mountains to the peaks of Béarn, the French Pyrénées are great for hiking in the summer and skiing in the wintertime.
Last but not least, the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine is where the vines meet the ocean. If you are a wine lover, be sure to visit La Cité du Vin in Bordeaux and make a wine-tasting detour into the vineyards surrounding Bordeaux and Cognac.
With 250 kilometers of beaches, historic towns, châteaux, and vineyards, the list of Nouvelle-Aquitaine tourist attractions is long, and with something for everyone. Haven’t you visited this region yet? Let us tell you the best things to do in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France.
BY PLANE: There are two main French airports in Nouvelle-Aquitaine. The main airport in the region is Bordeaux-Mérignac (BOD) which offers flights to many international destinations, while the airport Biarritz-Bayonne-Anglet (BIQ) offers flights to some European destinations. If you don’t plan to visit Paris, consider booking a flight directly to Nouvelle-Aquitaine.
BY TRAIN: Traveling in France by train is straightforward. 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, served by regional trains (Nouvelle-Aquitaine TER trains).
Nouvelle-Aquitaine by Car
The region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine is a great place for memorable French road trips. With a car, some good tunes, and the best company, you are set for one of the best adventures in your life. Driving in France is very easy, and with the car, you can go off the beaten path to get the most out of Provence.
Recommended road trips in Nouvelle-Aquitaine:
If you don’t have your own car, we recommend booking in advance through platforms like Discover Cars. This site takes all major rental companies, such as Hertz, Avis, etc., and compares prices for you. Check out our best tips for renting a car in France.
Nouvelle-Aquitaine Tourist Attractions
What to do in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France? The list of best things to do in Nouvelle-Aquitaine includes sightseeing, coastal towns, history, and wine!
1. Visit Bordeaux and La Cité du Vin
Bordeaux is one of the most beautiful cities in France, famous for the wine regions surrounding it. Bordeaux’s historic center is listed as UNESCO World Heritage, and it is populated with beautiful 18th-century private mansions. These elegant buildings reflect the city’s wealth when it was the busiest port in France. The Port of Bordeaux was 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 Bordeaux wines and wine in general is La Cité du Vin, a fascinating museum set in a futuristic building 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.
Address: 134 Quai de Bacalan, Bordeaux; Open every day from 10 am to 7 pm
2. Explore the Basque Country
The (French) Basque Country, with its strong character and rich culture, is one of the best places to visit in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, the perfect playground for those who love the ocean, mountains, history, small towns, local specialties, and good wine. Nothing is ordinary in the Basque Country: neither the language, traditions, nor the food, but you will love it!
The best way to explore the French Basque Country is by car. This French Basque Country road trip from Biarritz is one of our favorite French road trips, and it covers the coast, small villages, and natural sights.
3. Biking around Ile-de-Ré
Lying off the coast of La Rochelle, Ile-de-Ré is an attractive and popular summer destination amongst the French, with a lively atmosphere, especially around the port.
Bikes are 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 narrow, cobbled streets on two wheels. Reach the white sand dunes and beaches, or discover the vineyards, pine forests, and famous salt marshes.
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!
4. Be Amazed by the Stone Age Cave Paintings of Lascaux
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 one of the top tourist attractions in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, and they 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.
5. Wine Tasting in Saint-Emilion
Saint-Émilion is one of the prettiest medieval towns in France, 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 with tastings 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.
6. Explore Dune du Pilat, Europe’s Largest Dune!
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.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, 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.
TIP: this small group tour from Bordeaux is a super saver and visits Arcachon Bay (with Dune de Pilat and oyster tasting) and the Médoc wine region
7. Visit one of the Cognac Houses (with Tastings)
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. It is produced in the surrounding wine-growing region, more specifically in the French departments of Charente-Maritime and Charente.
Armagnac (AOC – AOP) is a distinctive kind of brandy, produced in the Armagnac region in Gascony. It is said to be the oldest brandy in France!
Both a historical landmark in its own right as well as one of the world’s esteemed Cognac producers, the Château Royal de Cognac is a must-visit attraction for both history buffs and spirits lovers. Choose from several daily departure times, and set off on a small-group tour of the château. You’ll discover the highlights of this 10th-century landmark and will learn more from your guide about its regal lineage. Then, explore the château’s cellars, where its spirits are aged, and taste two different Baron Otard Cognacs.
8. A Day of Sun, Sea, and Oysters at Arcachon
Arcachon is a seaside town in southwest France that is known for its oyster harvesting. To visit Arcachon is to experience the authenticity of a French 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, including 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.
9. Explore the Medieval Castles of Dordogne
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 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 Castles in Dordogne, instead, were built to protect and they were solid, imposing, fortified structures, usually in strategically important positions.
Our personal list of most beautiful castles in France includes some Dordogne castles like Castelnaud, Fénelon, Beynac, Commarque, and Hautefort, but there are many more!
10. Enjoy the Pyrénées all Year-round
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 Vallée d’Ossau. The train travels along the highest track in Europe at an altitude of 2,000 m, and it offers grandiose landscapes throughout the valley of Soussoueou, rich in flora and fauna.
In wintertime, head to the Valleys of Aspe, Barétous, and Ossau for skiing and snowball fights. If you just don’t feel right on skis, never fear: there are still many winter activities and wellness breaks in the Pyrénées for non-skiers!