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Aquitaine Travel Guide
Beynac and the Dordogne river, Aquitaine (© Iain Frazer | Dreamstime.com)
Beynac and the Dordogne river, Aquitaine.

Introduction

Aquitaine is the third largest region in mainland France (41,308 km², the same size as Switzerland). It is a vast and varied territory that can be divided in three parts: the Gironde (Bordeaux region), the Dordogne, and Gascony (Landes, Basque Country and Pyrenees). Gironde is the wine country, whose localities will be instantly recognisable for wine lovers: Médoc, Graves, Saint-Émilion, Pomerol, Entre-deux-mers, Sauternes...

The gastronomy of Aquitaine is dominated by such praised specialities as foie-gras, confit de canard (duck confit), truffles and cep mushrooms. The Basque country and Pyrennees have a completely different cuisine of their own though, much more fish oriented.

Famous people from Aquitaine include (chronologically): the politician and philosopher Michel de Montaigne, King Henri IV of France, the political thinker Montesquieu, Charles XIV John of Sweden (né Jean Bernadotte), the composer Maurice Ravel, the Nobel Prize author François Mauriac, the politician Alain Juppé, and the singer Francis Cabrel.

History

Named after the Roman province of Aquitania, Aquitaine originally expanded to all the area south and west of the Loire. This huge region became a Visigothic Kingdom in the 5th century, then was conquered by the Franks between 507 and 531. The southwest corner, near the Basque Country, became known as Gascony (a name itself related to Vascon, another term for Basque), and corresponds more closely to the boundaries of the modern region of Aquitaine.

The confusion between the terms Gascony and Aquitaine is further stressed by the existence of the ancient Aquitanian language, which was spoken in medieval Gascony, not in medieval Aquitaine. Ancient Aquitanian is thought to have been related to Proto-Basque, and therefore not part of the Indo-European linguistic family. Population genetics confirmed a similarity between Gascons and Basques that fades progressively towards Bordeaux.

Aquitaine became a powerful duchy in the Middle Ages. In 1154, it came under English rule through the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry II of England, and remained English until the early 15th century. It is during this period that Bordeaux wine was first imported in great quantity to England, where it became known as 'claret' (a corruption of the French clairet).

Attractions

Département de la Gironde

Bordeaux
Bordeaux, Aquitaine (© Claude Coquilleau - Fotolia.com)
must-see Acclaimed for its wines the world over, Bordeaux has been nicknamed the "pearl of Aquitaine" owing to the beauty of its neoclassical monuments. The port and historic centre of the city were...Read more
Cazeneuve Castle
Cazeneuve Castle, Midi-Pyrénées (© Jimjag - Fotolia.com)
very good Cazeneuve Castle is the ancestral residence of the House of Albret, whose most illustrious member was Henry IV, King of Navarre and France. Henry IV resided at some point at Cazeneuve with...Read more

Other attractions

very good Arcachon
very good Blaye
very good Château de la Brède
very good Cordouan lighthouse
good Libourne
outstanding Roquetaillade Castle
outstanding Saint-Emilion ※
very good The Great Dune of Pyla

Département des Landes

good Capbreton
very good Dax
very good Hossegor
very good Marquèze
good Mimizan
outstanding Mont-de-Marsan
outstanding Roquefort

Département des Pyrénées-Atlantiques

Biarritz
Biarritz, Aquitaine (© hassan bensliman - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Biarritz is a luxurious seaside town made popular by Napoleon III and his Spanish-born wife Eugénie. Biarritz remained the favourite resort of wealthy French families until the 1950's...Read more
Bayonne
Bayonne, Aquitaine (© MIMOHE - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding Bayonne is the cultural and economic capital of the French Basque Country. Landes of Gascony. The colourful shutters on the windows and the sound of Euskara and Gascon spoken in the streets...Read more

Other attractions

outstanding Espelette
outstanding Pau
very good Saint-Jean-de-Luz


Département de la Dordogne

Beynac-et-Cazenac
Beynac-et-Cazenac, Aquitaine (© Hans Klamm - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding A place where time seems to have stopped many centuries ago, Beynac-et-Cazenac is the typical picture postcard view of the quintessential Dordogne Valley village...Read more
Brantôme
Brantôme, Aquitaine (© Jimjag - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Brantôme is a handsome old village bathed by the river Dronne. The main sight is the imposing Benedictine Abbey of Brantôme, founded in 769 by Charlemagne, and which now houses two...Read more
Caves of the Vézère Valley
Lascaux Cave, Aquitaine (photo by Prof saxx - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)
outstanding The Vézère valley contains 147 prehistoric sites dating from the Palaeolithic, including 25 decorated caves, which are some of the most splendid of their kind in the world. The most famous...Read more
Hautefort Castle
Hautefort Castle, Aquitaine (© poliki - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Hautefort is one of the most beautiful castles in the Dordogne region. Constructed between the 16th and the 18th century, it is the quintessence of the French château gracefully blending styles...Read more

Other attractions

very good Biron Castle
very good Bourdeilles Castle
very good Castelnaud-la-Chapelle Castle
very good Commarque
very good Domme
outstanding Eymet
outstanding La Roque-Gageac
very good Losse Castle
outstanding Marqueyssac Gardens
very good Milandes Castle
very good Monpazier
very good Monbazillac Castle
very good Montfort Castle
very good Périgueux
very good Puymartin Castle
very good Saint-Amand-de-Coly
very good Saint-Jean-de-Côle
very good Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère
outstanding Sarlat-la-Canéda

Département de Lot-et-Garonne

Bonaguil Castle
Bonaguil Castle, Aquitaine (© Jimjag - Fotolia.com)
very good Completed in 1510, Bonaguil was one of the last defensive medieval castles built in France. It is located at the confines of the traditional provinces of Périgord and Quercy.

Other attractions

very good Agen
very good Nérac
very good Penne-d'Agenais
very good Villeneuve-sur-Lot
very good Villeréal

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Cities, towns, villages & historic buildings

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