Aquitaine’s reputation as a varied and enchanting destination is well-earned – whether you’re looking for relaxation or excitement, this beautiful part of south-western France is a feast for every one of the senses. To make sure you’re getting the very best of your holiday (and to clue you up if you’re thinking of going) check out our wonderful travel guide – it’s full of tips, info and the things you really shouldn’t miss when you visit unforgettable Aquitaine.
To say a destination has “something for everyone” seems like just another tired travel cliché, but in the case of Aquitaine, it’s one that this region genuinely lives up to. With Atlantic beaches, buzzy cities, medieval villages and chateau-dotted countryside in its armoury, as well as forests, mountains and vineyards aplenty, this vast and astonishingly diverse region is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser no matter who that crowd that may be. Whether coast or castle, city or country, vines or pines, Aquitaine’s menu of offerings is lengthy; choosing what to prioritise in the time you have is the tough task here.
The Typical Sights
- Lourdes – See the holy sanctuary, one of the most sacred sites in Christendom.
- Saint-Émilion Monolithic Church – Explore an underground cathedral carved from one giant hunk of rock.
- The Way of St. James – Trek along the Pyrenees section of this famous pilgrims’ journey.
- Dune of Pilat – Scramble up the highest dune in Europe.
- Place de la Bourse – Take photos of the reflections in Bordeaux’s famous Miroir d’Eau (Water Mirror).
- Virgin on the Rock – Watch the sun set over the Basque coast from this rocky outcrop.
- Gardens of Marqueyssac – Admire the artfully pruned topiary in these meticulously kept gardens.
- La Roque-Gageac – Visit this stunning village, which is ranked among the ‘most beautiful villages in France’.
- Grotte de Rouffignac – View prehistoric graffiti at this colossal tri-level cavern.
When to Visit?
Aquitaine enjoys a temperate climate, which means that – with the exception of a few of the higher-altitude mountain villages – it never becomes unpleasantly chilly. The coastal regions are particularly toasty thanks to the warming Gulf Stream influence, with spring arriving early from around mid-March. If sunbathing is on your agenda, it’s best to stick to summer, when the mercury rises to anywhere between the late 20s up to late 30s (Celsius).
Autumn is an exciting time to arrive in Aquitaine, particularly for wine enthusiasts. Between mid-September and mid-October, the harvest will reach full swing. During this time, many wineries will be up to their ears in grapes and hence will close their doors to visitors. Other wineries, however, will offer opportunities to join in with the picking and crushing. The Pyrenees vistas are particularly pretty at this time year too, as the leaves turn a gazillion shades of gold, orange and red.
- Airports: With direct flights from UK – Bordeaux airport, Bergerac airport, Biarritz airport. Other airports: Pau airport and Agen airport.
- Public transport: Aquitaine has a well-functioning rail network, with the main line running from Paris Gare Montparnasse to Bordeaux, Bayonne, Biarritz and Hendaye. Regional trains will take you further inland, running from Bordeaux out to Arcachon, Périgueux and Agen, and from Pau to Bayonne. Buses, though less regular, often connect main rail centres to smaller villages and towns.
- By Bike: Cyclists who hit the roads of Aquitaine will find themselves well catered to, with many parts of the region equipped with segregated bike lanes and safe cycle tracks. Frequently pedalled paths include the Lot Valley veloroute and the coastal Vélodyssée.
- Hiring a car: Aquitaine covers such a large area that your best bet for covering a decent chunk of it is to rent a car. Driving will also give you the freedom to travel to those quaint backwaters and rarely explored corners of the region, whose slumbering nature has ensured they never caught the attention of public transport planners. The roads in Aquitaine are generally in good nick and for the most part, pleasantly devoid of traffic jams. During the summer, there are a few exceptions – most notably the notoriously clogged D810 coastal route between Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Car rental is available at all airports and in major towns, usually in or near the central railway station.
- British Police Horses endure a tough and draining life of service, so it’s only fitting they are treated to some well-earned R&R after retirement. Meet the folks who take in these workhorses – often saving them from destruction – as well as the trusty steeds themselves at the Brantôme Police Horses sanctuary, just 10 minutes away from Brantôme town.
- Many of Aquitaine’s delightfully timeworn villages are deserving postcard contenders, though Limeuil might just take the biscuit when it comes to beauty and charm. Situated where the Dordogne and Vézère rivers meet, this golden-hued medieval port village is about as photogenic as they come.
- Biarritz’s surfing reputation is no secret, but the plaudits for its surf scene have lured in the wetsuit-clad masses and the waves can get very busy. Beat the crowds by visiting unpretentious, laid-back Lacanau in late September or October instead. Here, you’ll find a superb stretch of sandy shoreline with incoming rollers crashing in. Even in peak summer season, it’s buzzy here, though not overrun.
- A welcome relief on a hot summer’s day, the idyllic, refreshingly cool waters of the Céou River – a tributary of the Dordogne – come without the sardines-in-a-tin-feeling of some of the region’s more popular coastal beaches of Aquitaine.
- Most visitors associate Aquitaine with foie gras and truffles, but this region has many, many less limelight-hogging gastronomic delights. Among the oft-overlooked gems is Espelette, a pleasant Basque village in the Pyrenees foothills that’s known for its red chilli peppers. Go during September or October and you’ll see these deceptively spicy buggers strung up to dry in the front of the houses.
Here at Oliver’s Travels, we think there are two main things required to keep kids smiling on holiday: space and stimulation. The South of France, and in particular Aquitaine, has plenty of both. First, you’ll need to select a family-friendly villa to use as your base, but that won’t be difficult. And once you’ve got that sorted, it’s time to let the fun begin.
Your pint-sized travel companions will have acres of space to run amok in Aquitaine, whether through the lush green fields, Pyrenees hills or along the sandy coastline. While away the days of your Aquitaine family break with outdoor pursuits that the whole household can get involved in, or slyly squeeze in a little education on family days out to fantastical castles and engaging, interactive museums.
To make sure your brood get their fill of holiday fun, check out our child-friendly activity suggestions below. Once you’re confident that the smaller ones are being catered to, be sure to reward yourself for your parenting efforts with some adult-oriented treats.
Fantastic Family Activities
- Aquitaine is a stunningly beautiful part of the world no matter what time of year you visit, and delving into the wonders of the landscape is a great way to get the kids interested in nature (as well as sneaking in a bit of learning and exercise to boot!)
- Le Teich Bird Reserve on the shores of Arcachon Bay makes a great day trip, and younger kids will love grabbing a pair of binoculars and spotting some feathered friends!
- As with much of the rest of France, Aquitaine has its fair share of history. There are plenty of castles and grand manor houses throughout the region that are sure to fire up the kid’s imaginations, and a bit of a selective history lesson may well have them spellbound.
- Situated on a rocky outcrop in the Lot-et-Garonne, Bonaguil Castle has loads of stuff for young visitors to explore, including tunnels and dungeons!
- There’s one thing all kids (and big kids!) love, and that’s theme parks. Aquitaine has got its fair share, from water parks to rollcoaster rides and activity centres where the kisd can try their hand at climbing or traversing ropes in the treetops.
- For a water park with a difference, try AquaPark in Biscarrosse. It’s a load of inflatables out in the open water with assault courses and trampolines, so it’s better for older kids who are good swimmers.
- And of course, thanks to its position Aquitaine has plenty to offer in the way of beaches. If you’re heading over in the sunnier months, make sure a day by the seaside is on the agenda – as well as some of the region’s sublime seafood.
- And if you’re looking for something imperssive, the Dune du Pilat is the world’s largest sand dune. Bring a picnic, head to the top and admire the spectacular views.
- All of France is famous for its gastronomy, so cooking with the kids using some unusual local ingredients – or you could try whipping up some Caneles, a delicious custard-filled cake from Bordeaux.
- The living museum of the Ecomusée de Marquèze will let kids learn how to make pastries – as well as other old-timey pursuits such as spinning wool.
If you’re looking for more family suggestions? why not visit our post on the best family activities in Aquitaine!
Best Family Friendly Beaches
- Saint Jean de Luz is very close to Spain and offers a classic day at the seaside for all families!
- You don’t have to go to the coast to enjoy the beach – lakes such as Biscarosse offer gentle water and slightly different surroundings to your usual beach.
- Moliets Plage benefits from being right next to a pine forest – so you could go for a ramble as well as a swim!
- The Dune du Pilat is less a beach and more a gigantic sand dune – it might be a tricky climb for smaller kids though.
- Biarritz can get pretty crowded and it’s quite a lively spot, but its beaches can’t be beaten for amenities (and a touch of glamour).
Aquitaine is an adaptable destination, with the potential to please a wide variety of personalities and therefore, perfect for groups. Outdoorsy types will be sated by surfing days, cycling tours, challenging Pyrenees hikes and white-water kayak rides. For history buffs, the prehistoric caves and glorious chateaux will prove a goldmine of interest. The culturally inclined will find Aquitaine’s cities – which are replete with historical, art and architectural lures – to be a boon. And as for foodies, they’ll be more than content with the gourmet provisions and top-quality Bordeaux wineries, but more on that later…
With years of practice under our belt, we think we’ve nailed the formula for a fabulous group holiday. Whether you’ve got a posse of 10 or 100, the first key ingredient for a memorable group getaway is to pick a quirky standout villa, one with enough wow-factor to impress your fellow travellers. Add in a sprinkling of unforgettable activities and Bob’s your uncle! To see to it that you get a pat on the back from your pals and to save you some precious time, we’ve scouted out some of the best group activities in the region.
Recommended Activities to Enjoy with Your Group of Friends
- The varied landscapes of Aquitaine – from coastal marshes to inland forests, vineyards and more – are perfect explored by bike, especially if a bunch of you go out for a ride together.
- We’d recommend Bike Hire Direct as a great place to hire some cycles from!
- Take to the water! Though the Dordogne is arguably France’s most picturesque river, there’s plenty of stretches in Aquitaine that rival it for a walk or something a bit more hands-on.
- Brantome Canoe hires (as you’d expect) canoes out for a trip down the river Dronne.
- Learn to surf! Aquitaine has some of the best surfing in Europe, with Biarritz in particular proving popular with boarders.
- Surf en Buch can sort you out with equipment and lessons.
- There’s a huge amount of history in Aquitaine to explore – including churches, castles and a whole load more. Great for a more sedate day out (and you might learn a thing or two too).
- Saint-Émilion’s church is a great place to start – and it’s a wonderful village to visit too.
Want more suggestions? Read our post on the best group activities in Aquitaine!
Eating well in Aquitaine requires no great effort. This is, after all, France’s leading farming region and the home of such gastronomic treasures as foie gras, Arcachon oysters, Bayonne ham, Aquitaine caviar and black Périgord truffles. Then there are its excellent dairy products, among them the nutty Cabécou goat’s cheese and rich and buttery Ossau-iraty, and all manner of fruit and vegetables, from the fiery Espelette pepper to the sublimely sweet Périgord strawberry.
Of course, there is one Aquitaine product that eclipses all others: wine. Aquitaine’s vineyards are world-famous, and represent more than 30 percent of all French wine production. The majority are found around Bordeaux, where there are more opportunities for Bordeaux vineyard visits and food and wine tours than one could ever fit into one trip. And if you tire of Bordeaux’s bounty of exceptional pours, you can always take a trip to Aquitaine’s other lauded wine-producing regions such as Bergerac, Monbazillac and Pécharmant. Wine takes centre stage in Aquitaine, but it isn’t the only boozy player; wine-based aperitif Lillet and Armagnac brandy, a common digestif, are also produced here.
Aquitaine has so many superlative food and drink experiences that deciding where and what to eat are often hardest part, which is why we’ve put together a list of a few of our favourites. One last word of advice, if you’re coming here, ditch the diet…
- Papy Fait de la Résistance in Bordeaux is a great local haunt that serves up the best of French food made with fresh local ingredients.
- Fancy a little fine dining? Briketenia might be hidden in the hills of Guéthary, but its Michelin star and superlative food is well worth searching out.
- Bayonne’s Chez Martin is a pretty hip restaurant serving delicate dishes in an artisnal style – but it’s not so formal that the whole family won’t be welcome too.
- For a truly refined French dining experience, Les Frères Ibarboure in Bidart offers a grand 18th Century dining room with views over the immaculate lawns, and the food is equally impressive with a range of French classics to choose from.
You can find our full list of breathtaking restaurants on our blog: best food experiences in Aquitaine!
Best Dishes to Try
- Aquitaine is famed for its duck and goose dishes, so if you’re a meat-eater you’d be crazy not to try some of the local confit de canard or the rich, buttery decadence of foie gras.
- Just about sneaking into modern-day Aquitaine, the historical region of Périgord is where you’ll find some of the world’s best black truffles. Pricey but definitely worth it!
- Similar to Spain’s famous Serrano ham, Bayonne ham is air dried and makes for a delicious snack or amuse-bouche with a glass of local wine.
- A sweet treat that’s bound to be loved by adults and kids alike are Canelés, glazed cakes filled with yummy, rum-flavoured custard.
Best Foodie Experiences
- Chateau Cantenac is a delightful winery found in Saint-Émilion, which as any good connoisseur knows is right at the heart of the world’s best wines. Drop in an see what the fuss is all about.
- The tasting menu at L’Impertinent in Biarritz is a great way to enjoy the wonderful range of Southern France’s flavours in one sitting.
- On your travels through Aquitaine you might find a branch of Maison Pariès – a renowned local chocolatier that’s well worth visiting.
- Les Belles Perdrix de Troplong Mondot is a combined restaurant and winery that excels at pairing the right wine with your meal – and the views are absolutely breathtaking too.