Aquitaine & Midi-Pyrenees
Castles, Wineries, Chateaus, Pre-historic Caves, Charming Villages
Southwestern France, a loosely defined area spanning Aquitaine & Midi-Pyrenees, has something to offer for everyone, from castles to wineries to prehistoric caves like Lascaux, Font de Gaume and Rouffignac to Catholic pilgrimage sites. The fertile region produces a variety of fine cuisine, from the renowned beef of Limousin to the many fine Bordeaux wines, including the classic Sauternes. Aquitaine, which encompasses the Basque region of France, has its own unique culinary traditions worth exploring.
Dordogne – Prehistoric Caves & Castles
One of the highlights of Aquitaine is Bordeaux itself, a historic port-of-call and university town situated in the heart of the region’s wine-and-castle country. Many visitors make a trip to Les Eyzies de Tayac, where France’s prehistoric ancestors made their home some 40,000 years ago. Located in the Vezere Valley, Les Eyzies is located one of the most beautiful and rugged areas in the country, dotted with unusual rock formations, dramatic cliffs and prehistoric caves. Rouffignac Cave is several miles long, requiring a trip on an electric underground train to see the painted walls; Lascaux, with its prehistoric “Sistine Chapel,” is perhaps the most famous of its kind in the world. Then there is Font de Gaume and several private prehistoric caves.
The Dordogne region of France is also known for having 1001 castles – fortified castles and chateaus. Many of the castles date back to 12th – 14th century, during the Hundred Years War between France and England. Many of the castles boast spectacular locations commanding magnificent views over the Perigord countryside. Some of the more famous castles include Beynac, Castelnau,
Bordeaux, The City
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the historic city of Bordeaux has much to offer. Thanks to the bold and ambitious urban planning imposed by 18th century royal courtiers, Bordeaux boasts a number of Renaissance-era architectural wonders, including the Grand Theatre, the Tourny alleys and fountain, Quinconces Square (the second large city square in Europe), St. Andrews Cathedral, Town Hall and much more.
The Medoc Wine Region in Bordeaux
Medoc produces some of the most renowned red in Bordeaux and offer some of the best wine tasting tour opportunities in France. Bordeaux claims many divine vintages, including Margaux, Lynch Bages, Lafite Rothschild and Philippe Rothschild. Chateau Agassac, a castle straight out of a fairytale, offers a range of imaginative tours, from a wine and chocolate pairing to an outdoor tour designed to teach visitors about wine making and the property’s history in a fun and interactive way. There is also the lovely Pontet Canet with its 18th century vat room and newly appointed horses to help cultivate the vines.
Then there is town of Pauillac, another famous wine locale boasting 18 different grand cru classifications.
St. Emilion is another charming town; this medieval town, founded by a Breton monk, features a massive underground church carved out of solid limestone, and there are plenty of countryside wineries to visit en route – a must-do if you’re in Aquitaine.
Biarritz On The Coast
Another highlight of Aquitaine, Biarritz, is one of the most popular resort towns in the area. Dubbed the “Jewel of the Coast,” Biarritz has transformed itself over the centuries, from a tiny fishing village to an early 20th-century aristocratic resort whose character remains today. Visitors flock here for the glamorous beaches and waterfront casinos, but the town offers a whole lot more, as it is a gateway to Basque culture and turn-of-the-century architecture.
The Midi-Pyrenees region, halfway between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, is anchored by the historic city of Toulouse, situated on an ancient Roman settlement. The city’s many pseudo-Roman style red brick buildings give Toulouse its nickname La Ville Rose, The Pink City.
Toulouse is a short drive to some very fascinating places. You can visit Lourdes, the largest Catholic pilgrimage site in France, made famous by a 19th century girl’s visions of the Virgin Mary. Another popular trip from Toulouse is the medieval walled town of Carcassonne, a UNESCO World Heritage site with Gothic architectural treasures.