New Aquitaine boasts France’s longest coastline, with 720km lapped by the Atlantic Ocean. From Île de Ré to the Basque coast, this is a kingdom of watersports, cycling trails and lively seaside resorts. Biarritz is a paradise for surfers, with fabulous waves and an internationally-renowned surfing festival every year; you can also play golf here with the sea as a backdrop. Further north is the bay of Arcachon with its magnificent Dune du Pilat, trips in pinasses (traditional wooden boats), fishing tourism and Vélodyssée cycle route.
The New Aquitaine coastline begins with La Rochelle, probably France’s most photographed port. Stroll in the shady streets lined with arcades, whose names evoke the town’s history: rue des Merciers, rue des Anglais, rue de la Réforme. In the morning, feast eyes and tastebuds on the town’s market, set up in the 19th-century covered market hall – and in the afternoon, relax at the beach or take part in one of the coast’s water activities. Come evening it’s party time in La Rochelle, with a great choice of pubs, bars, nightclubs and a lively casino... you can even take a tour of the town after dark!
From La Rochelle you can get across to the picturesque Île de Ré, a 30km-long island connected by a bridge to the mainland. Perhaps the best way to tour it is by bicycle; explore its 10 quaint villages, passing pretty rows of white houses with blue, green and grey shutters and hollyhocks. Don’t miss the island’s salt marshes, Bois de Trousse Chemise forest (mentioned in a French song by Charles Aznavour) and the Lilleau-des-Niges nature reserve. Spend time sunbathing on the gorgeous white sandy Conche beach, and make the most of the seawater treatments at a thalassotherapy centre in Ars-en-Ré, La Flotte-en-Ré or Sainte-Marie-de-Ré.