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Aquitaine

Aquitaine

The third largest region in France and one of the most southerly, Aquitaine is bordered by The Pyrenees and Spain to the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. It comprises the 5 departments of Dordogne, Gironde, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne and Pyrenees- Atlantique.

Aquitaine enjoys a pleasantly mild climate with cool winters and warm summers and this, along with the diverse nature of its landscape and coastline and being within easy travelling distance of the UK, have made it a popular destination for British holiday makers and second homeowners.

Being one of the oldest inhabited areas of Europe, Aquitaine possesses a rich heritage of historical and cultural sites of interest which caters for a wide variety of tastes. One of the most prominent of these is the Lascaux prehistoric cave paintings designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

The region also provides access to part of the French Basque country in the south and the Pyrenees National Park which will appeal to lovers of the outdoors as will Les Landes de Gascony, an area of large pine plantations with the trees being used for industrial purposes and to protect the soil along the coast from erosion. The Pyrenees also offer a long skiing season which is a bonus for winter sports enthusiasts.

The 250 km of coastline provide excellent facilities for those wishing to partake in water sports with surfing and yachting being particularly popular along with bathing in the exhilarating Atlantic breakers. The main resorts are St Jean de Luz, situated on the Spanish border, Biarritz, a sophisticated resort well known for its casino-style night-life and Arcachon with its marina and sandy beaches.

The regional capital, Bordeaux, lies on the River Garonne where it meets the Gironde Estuary and is a busy port. Bordeaux, with its wealth of fine historic buildings and famous Art Gallery, is becoming an increasingly popular destination for weekend breaks from the UK. Flights to the city are now available from several main UK airports.

Bordeaux has undergone a metamorphosis in recent years and is now a smart city which offers not only up-market restaurants but also a more artisan cuisine for those who choose to explore the many interesting side streets. The city is also home to a plethora of theatres and open year markets. A varied array of festivals takes place throughout the year making it an attractive destination for any season.

Another interesting location is the smaller, yet historic and charming city of St Emilion, located in the centre of a major wine producing area. Dating back to medieval times, the city contains several churches and museums to explore. On Tuesdays throughout July and August a market of local produce is held. It is also possible to follow the famous Wine Route through the vineyards surrounding the city.

Running through the region is the River Garonne section of the Canal des Deux Mers which starts in Bordeaux and joins the Canal du Midi at Toulouse from where it runs to the Mediterranean at Sete. Built in the second half of the 17th century, the canal is regarded as an engineering masterpiece with its designer, Pierre-Paul Riquet, considered by some as the French equivalent of Brunel!

Nowadays it is a popular tourist attraction and it is possible to boat, cycle or even walk its entire 240km length, thus providing access to other areas of southern France. It was featured in Rick Stein’s TV series ‘Rick Stein’s French Odyssey’ in which he demonstrated some local specialities. Noted as a manmade structure of great beauty, the canal is also home to wildlife and some may prefer to just sit quietly fishing on its banks, taking in the view.

Most people who visit France are interested in sampling the local cuisine and wines.
This region certainly has plenty to offer. Aquitaine is the largest producer of fine wines in the world and wine connoisseurs will be spoilt for choice. They will certainly recognise and appreciate the opportunity to sample the wines from the well known vineyards of Medoc, St Emilion , Pomer and Sauternes. However, there are also a number of lesser known but very acceptable labels to try.

The cuisine is quite varied but tends to be rural in nature and generally rather on the heavy side. Take, for example, Garbure – a thick vegetable soup or Ttoro, a fish soup served in St Jean de Lutz. Those whose tastes prefer a less strongly flavoured cheese may like to try Tomme – a hard cheese made in the Pyrenees. It is a fairly bland cheese with a distinctive black skin.

Of course, the area is widely known for its world famous foie gras which is available in a variety of forms which determines the price. This luxurious item, along with black truffles, oysters, asparagus and walnuts, forms the basis of many local dishes. Food also gives rise to a number of markets and festivals. Truffle markets are held in January in numerous locations and oyster festivals are held during the summer around the Bay of Arachon.

All in all, for food and wine lovers, Aquitaine is one of the gourmet high-spots of France. It is an area which has retained its amazing cultural heritage but has also introduced some stylish modern features.

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