Aquitaine is the bit in the bottom left-hand corner of France. 30,000 years ago, it was inhabited by Neanderthal Man, who was notoriously messy and never tidied his cave. Only recently, another untidy Neanderthal cave was discovered near Bourg-sur-Gironde, and archaeologists are still busy picking up stone axes, half-eaten boxes of Narwhal nuggets and unwashed underpants. Neanderthal Man’s descendants can still be seen in Bordeaux today, usually when Girondins de Bordeaux are playing at home.
Bordeaux was sacked in 276 by Vandals. They came back in 409 and sacked it again, this time properly. It was then sacked in 414 by Visigoths and finally in 498 by the Franks. These were dark days for Bordeaux, but a great time to be a barbarian. After 498 there was nothing left to sack and the barbarians turned their attention elsewhere.
From 1152 to 1453 Aquitaine was part of England. Hurrah. The locals knew this because suddenly the trains were late and the food tasted dreadful. Here’s how it happened. Eleanor of Aquitaine had been married to Louis VII of France (if you want to read about Eleanor and Louis’ disastrous holiday on the Second Crusade, see our guide to Poitou-Charentes).
Eleanor then remarried, to a nice English chap called Henry. Within months of their marriage, Henry was made King of England. Which was nice. This meant that their two boys Richard and John, and all their successors got to be Dukes of Aquitaine, as well as King of England.
Present-day Aquitaine has much to offer. The Dordogne is famous for its truffles. (To hunt for truffles, you’ll need a truffle-pig and a truffle-stick: the pig to find the truffles and the stick to stop the pig eating them.) In the Basque region (the southern bit near Spain,) bull-fighting is popular, though not with the bulls. The Dune de Pilat is the largest sand-dune in Europe, and it’s moving inland at a rate of 5 metres a year (they MOVE?) The Bassin d’Arachon is a huge lagoon famous for oysters. Oysters can change sex several times during their life-span. This indicates frivolity on their part. Gender reassignment is a serious matter and should only be undertaken after much consideration.
Bordeaux is also the centre of France’s aeronautic industry, and produces the cockpit of the A380 airbus, the boosters of the Ariane 5 rocket and the M51 missile. Now that would make quite a plane. In case you were wondering, the Ariane 5 is an expendable launch system designed to deliver payloads into geostationary transfer orbit, while the M51 is a missile with six independently targetable TN75 thermonuclear warheads.
Almost as alarming as Aquitaine’s nuclear capability is the Vine Pull Scheme. Not content with turning millions of bottles of drinkable wine into industrial alcohol every year (see our guide to Languedoc-Roussillon) the EU (boo hiss) have decided to reduce the wine lake further by paying farmers to tear up their vines! This must be stopped!
© 2008 richardheacock @ mac.com
Aquitaine is located in southwest France and enjoys mile upon mile of uncrowded golden beaches. It is interesting to note that this region spans a quarter of the country’s Atlantic coastline. The region is bounded to the south by Spain, to the east by the Midi-Pyrenees, to the north by Poitou-Charentes and the Limousin and to the west by the Atlantic ocean. The region is split up into 5 departments: Dordogne, Landes, Gironde, Lot-et-Garonne, Pyrenees-Atlantiques.
The Aquitaine’s diversity of landscape makes it an ideal place to both live and enjoy a vacation. Imagine the luminescence of the coastline where mussels and oysters are still cultivated as they have been for generations. Surfers and sun seekers enjoy the beaches and major surfing championships. Inland villages on the salt marshes maintain a life and culture unspoilt by time. In the Pyrenees hikers seek hidden mountain trails and skiers the thrill of the slopes.
Bordeaux as the capital and main city of Aquitaine has much to offer from the visitors point of view. Take a balloon ride over wine producing vines. Marvel at its splendid architecture, visit palatial mansions and enjoy shopping and numerous cultural events throughout the year. The area around Bordeaux is renowned for producing some of the worlds finest wines. Many at very reasonable prices. As you can imagine visits to wine estates and wine tasting are very popular and may require prior booking.
Enjoy skiing and hiking in the unspoilt Pyrenean Mountains, untroubled by crowds of visitors.
Frolic on unspoilt beaches and go deep sea fishing.
Take time to improve your golf handicap on courses that welcome both the experienced and inexperienced player.
Aquitaine is a region to enjoy all the seasons. Spring begins to blossom from March onwards when the weather tends to be warm but changeable with temperatures of 13°C. Summer bursts forth in May with temperatures ranging from 19°C to 23°C in June. During the main holiday months of July and August the temperatures can rise to 35°C. Autumn is beautiful with the climate gradually creeping down to 10°C in the winter months. A perfect opportunity to throw another log on the fire and enjoy the local wines. Over 2,200 hours have been documented in this region with rainfall being well distributed over all areas.
Until recently it has been relatively difficult to fly to the Aquitaine region but with the introduction of low cost airlines this has now changed with the journey taking just 2 hours flying time. There are now seven airports serving
the region and it is also possible to fly into Spain.
Some travellers prefer to take the ferry and car option. After taking a ferry to the north coast port of St Malo there is a 6-7 hour drive to Bordeaux or 8-9 hours to Biarritz – which is no further than driving to Provence or the Côte d’Azur. Why not break your journey and stop at a charming family run hotel or perhaps a luxurious Chateau for the night?
Another option is to take a ferry to Santander or Bilbao in Spain. Then there is a much shorter drive (1.5 hrs Bilbao-Biarritz) along the coast road and up into the Aquitaine region. Because the crossing is much longer, the ferries covering this route are bigger and have more facilities for adults and children alike. Some ferries even boast an onboard swimming pool. The trip is also an ideal opportunity for spotting dolphins, pilot, minke and sperm whales.
It is also possible to travel to Aquitaine by train with your own car. Catch the Eurotunnel connection at Folkestone or Ashford terminals. Once in Calais transfer to Rail Europe’s local services.
Bordeaux – is the capital and main city of the Aquitaine. Take time to visit palatial mansions, contemplate in a beautiful church, or just enjoy the shopping and numerous cultural events this vibrant city has to offer.
Pau – is a lively university town famous as the birth place of King Henry 1V. Take time to Visit the Chateau de Pau which houses the Gobelin 16th-century Tapestries woven by Flemish weavers.
Bayonne – from its inception in Roman times Bayonne first enjoyed prosperity as the gate keeper of one of the main roads to Spain as well as being a prosperous port. With its beautiful cathedral and pedestrian shopping centre Bayonne has attractions for all visitors.
Biarritz – first gained favour as a whaling port but was transformed into a resort for the rich and famous in the 19th century. It has three excellent beaches and claims to have the best surfing conditions in Europe.
Perigueux – is a lively medieval market town. Dominated by its Cathedral St. Front, it has many interesting archaeological sites for exploration.
There are many property hotspots in the Aquitaine. In particular Bordeaux, Archachon, Biarritz / Bayonne and the Dordogne Valley have seen an explosion in prices. The Dordogne Valley maybe cooling but prices on the coast are still buoyant.
Apartments: 150,000 + euros (Coast)
Farmhouses: 175,000 euros (needs renovation)
Townhouses: 120,000 euros
Villas: 210,000 euros
Land: from 20 euros per sq. m
Aquitaine Property SelectionListed below are the departments in the region of Aquitaine; the number of properties in each department are denoted in brackets - click on a department to see the properties available.
All the properties in Aquitaine by department.
(Number in brackets = number of properties)
Dordogne Property (698)
Gironde Property (122)
Landes Property (8)
Lot et Garonne Property (515)
Pyrénées Atlantiques Property (31)