Southwestern France is perhaps the most culturally, architecturally and geographically diverse of all France's regions. With Atlantic coastline characterized by long expanses of sandy beaches, thriving port towns, stunning mountainous regions, and of course, world-famous vineyards, it is an elegant, serene destination that encompasses both the Dordogne and Aquitaine, with such beautiful cities as Bordeaux and Toulouse.
Aquitaine is an area commonly known as being a âsurfer's paradise', with the high Atlantic waves coming in off the coast. As well as this, it is also an excellent destination for families, with its caves, kayaking and family theme park, or for culture vultures, with the French and the Basque cultures combining to create beautiful, interesting architecture. Toulouse, for instance, known as France's âpink city', due to its stunning terracotta architecture, mixes French culture with that of their Spanish neighbors, with tapas and salsa dancing popular imports. The city is constantly buzzing, with a thriving techno scene, but also with its bustling food markets and atmospheric yet refined tea rooms (salons de the).
Another of Aquitaine's most important cities is Bordeaux. It has worked hard to cast off its image of a city in disrepair, with a new tramway system installed and a huge number of restorations completed, both of major buildings and of near derelict riverbanks. That does not, however, mean that the city has lost any of its authenticity. Indeed, the gothic Saint-Michel church and the Sunday-morning flea market are signs of a city very much in touch with its past. Near Bordeaux can be found the Canal du Midi, which runs from Bordeaux right into the Mediterranean, through the city of Clairac, where the âAbbaye des Automates', an exquisite miniature working model of a medieval village, can be found. The region is a popular destination for kayakers, with a 7km-long stretch of particularly stunning coastline perfect for either relaxing on the beach or for kayaking or sailing.
The Dordogne region is known for its small farming villages, its rolling hills and its huge number of castles, reckoned by some to be as many as 1001. Sarlat and Bergerac are perhaps the two most important towns in the region, Sarlat known for its UNESCO World Heritage site town center, and Bergerac for its traditional old town and lively market on a Saturday morning.
This area also incorporates large swathes of the Pyrenees, the mountain range separating France and Spain. The towns here include Lourdes, the famous Catholic pilgrimage site. The whole region is known as a hikers' hotspot, with its high peaks, streams and forest areas, but sections are also perfectly set out for skiing and mountain biking, making an ideal destination for adventure-lovers and thrill-seekers.
Food and Dining
Southwestern France is a particularly important wine-producing region, with food taking somewhat of a backseat. Bordeaux especially is known as France's wine capital, famous for its red wines, such as those from Medoc, Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. As well as wine, Cognac and Armagnac are produced in this region, so for connoisseurs of all things grape, the Southwest will be right up your street.
This region is particularly popular with carnivores, with meat, such as goose, duck, salt lamb and beef, all featuring prominently in the cuisine. The most famous dish is cassoulet, a sausage and bean stew mixed with meat and goose fat. However, for vegetarians, the local specialty is the Perigord truffles found here, which are especially popular in omelets.
Bordeaux also has its own airport, as do Biarritz, Toulouse and Bergerac to name just a few, all of which are served by major international airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet, flying from major European cities. There is also the option of train travel into both Bordeaux and other stations. Indeed, from London, Bordeaux is now accessible in a little under six hours, and trains are also available from Spain, Italy and other areas of the country.