Aquitaine is a diverse region in south western France, encompassing flat plains, pine forests, lagoons, vineyards (including the town of Cognac, where brandy is made), and the French Pyrenees. As you approach the Pyrenees, the culture takes on Spanish influences particularly in the great resort towns of Bayonne and Biarritz.
Aquitaine is made of 5 departments: Gironde, Landes, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Lot et Garonne, and Dordogne. Aquitaine was a kingdom in the middle ages, later to become a duchy. Aquitaine became French in 1137 with the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Louis VII, but their marriage was annulled in 1152. Eleanor’s new husband became Henry II of England in 1154, and at that time Aquitaine became an English possession, which it remained until the Hundred Years’ War ended in 1453.
The Department of La Gironde provides a sandy coastline abutting nearly half a million hectares of pine trees to the east, with rivers and lakes in inland areas. La Gironde is a wine-producing area centered around the city of Bordeaux. The Historic section of Bordeaux is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its outstanding examples of 18th century architecture.
Landes also features a long coastline, as well as pine forests that were planted to stabilize the sand dunes there. Tourism is its great draw in summer, due to its attractive coastal resorts, as well as thermal spas and hot springs. The city of Dax has been visited for its hot mud treatments since Roman times. Surfers flock to coastal resorts like Capbreton and Hossegor for some of the best Atlantic waves.
The Pyrénées-Atlantiques region has a population of over three million, and boasts astonishing natural beauty, particularly with the peaks, gorges, and waterfalls of the Pyrenees, which remain a huge draw for fishermen, winter sports enthusiasts, and walkers. The beaches of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques have some of the best surfing in Europe. Cities in this department include Saint Jean de Luz, Pau, Orthez, Biarritz, and Bayonne.
Lot et Garonne is home to the charming city of Agen, as well as the vineyards of Duras, which also produces prunes, figs, and truffles. Geographically, the area consists of rolling hills and corn fields, with warm season sports like fishing, cycling, and canoeing drawing visitors. The area is also rich with castles and ruins from Neolithic to Gallo-Roman times.
Dordogne’s northeastern area is also home to rolling green hills, as well as prairie and forests, which give way to limestone plateaus and the Dordogne valley vineyards. Southeastern Dordogne is filled with prehistoric sites, as well as castles and caves, including the most important of Europe’s prehistoric caves at Lascaux. Dordogne is the place to go to enjoy medieval architecture as well as amazing geological formations.
A region as diverse as Aquitaine is also home to rich and varied history. The region was a Protestant Huguenot stronghold in the 16th and 17th centuries, and in modern times is home to a number of successful sports teams. Football, rugby, basketball, and surfing are among the most popular sports in the region. There is no lack of amazing places to see and things to do in Aquitaine. The problem may be in narrowing down the activities to fit into a short holiday.