Situated in France’s south west, Nouvelle-Aquitaine is a ‘super region’ for its sheer size and diversity: culture-packed towns and cities, vineyards, pine forests and a long, sweeping coastline mean there’s something here for every visitor. It’s a sociable region full of festivals and celebration, and of course, the food and wine has international renown.
The capital of Nouvelle-Aquitaine is less than a two-hour flight from the UK. Boasting UNESCO World Heritage status, it makes a beautiful city break at any time of year, with landmarks such as the famous Miroir d’Eau water feature in Place de la Bourse, and the 18th-century Grand Théâtre.
For many, Bordeaux is all about wine and its futuristic Cité du Vin museum (opened in 2016) is the beating heart of wine tourism. Designed to imitate gnarled vines and the swirl of wine in a glass, the building stands in stark contrast to the Parisian-esque architecture of much of the rest of the city. Here you can get to grips with all things viticultural in a fascinating interactive format, as well as dine in the panoramic restaurant on the 7th floor and browse a vast concept store. Other, more traditional museums include the Musée Mer Marine in the Bassins à Flot district, dedicated to the immense history of Bordeaux’s maritime past.
The city has also seen various alternative and ‘underground’ cultural projects emerge in undeveloped areas over the last decade. A former military barracks has been transformed into an urban site with skateparks, open-air graffiti gallery and France’s largest organic restaurant, known as the Darwin Ecosystem. And Les Vivres de l’Art is an artist’s workshop set up in the former Vivres de la Marine abbatoir, hosting exhibitions, concerts, festivals, and artists in residence.
Wine, Cognac and cruising
Bordeaux is the gateway to many wine appellations spread across Nouvelle-Aquitaine. There are six ‘Routes des Vins’ along which you can enjoy vineyard excursions and personalised wine tours. For something quirky, consider staying overnight in a 7,000-litre wine barrel at Saint-Jean-de-Blaignac, not far from the city. And venture further afield to Cognac, where the eponymous brandy has been distilled since the 17th century.
Whether you want to take it easy on the river or relax in the vineyards, there are plenty of water-inspired breaks from Bordeaux to explore the rest of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. CroisiEurope offers themed river cruises covering many different parts of the region: the oenology cruise whisks visitors away on an exploration of wine, prestigious chateaux and vineyards, while the nature cruise is an adventure to the very heart of the Gironde estuary. There’s also an archipelago of 10 islands scattered across the estuary, one of which – Ile Margaux – boasts its own wineries. And the Dordogne is the quintessential French river, the valley achingly attractive with its deep gorges, bold rapids and peaceful meanders enveloped by medieval villages and imposing fortresses. Markets overflow with local specialities including truffles and foie gras.
Along the coast from La Rochelle to Biarritz-Pays Basque
Love to be beside the sea? A staggering 720km of coastline edges Nouvelle-Aquitaine, home to some of France’s most beautiful beaches, renowned surfing swells and photogenic resorts. At the northern end, the limestone buildings in the port of La Rochelle gleam in the sunlight – it’s an eco-conscious town, offering self-service ‘Yélo’ bikes for visitors to explore. A bridge connects the mainland to 30km-long Ile de Ré, where two wheels are also the most popular way of getting around its network of salt marshes and quiet lanes, lined with pretty cottages and hollyhocks.
Heading south, the bay of Arcachon is best known for its oysters and magnificent Dune du Pilat, Europe’s highest sand dune. Take a day trip across the bay in a traditional wooden ‘pinasse’ boat or try a spot of fishing or birdwatching. There are 220km of cycling paths around Arcachon bay, stretching into the Landes forest, a stunning expanse of maritime pines sheltering the beaches between Biscarrosse and Hossegor.
Before you hit the Spanish border you’ll come to Biarritz in the Pays Basque, known worldwide for the quality of its surfing waves and host to several surf festivals. Biarritz retains a trace of Belle-Époque elegance; the resort was a favoured holiday retreat of Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie. Some of the other best waves sweep off the vast bay of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, a tranquil seaside resort and fishing port. If surfing isn’t your thing, there are also excellent golf courses by the sea, as well as in the vineyards and countryside.
Whether you’re visiting Nouvelle-Aquitaine for vibrant city culture or the glorious great outdoors, it makes a dream holiday destination.