Aquitaine: tourism & sightseeing
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Aquitaine is among the most diverse regions of France, with magnificent long Atlantic surfing beaches, cities such as Bordeaux and Biarritz, the largest forest in France, and the lovely countryside of the Dordogne and Lot-et-Garonne departments, dotted with medieval villages, wooded valleys and medieval castles
Situated in the south-west corner of France, Aquitaine reaches Spain at its southern frontier. The Atlantic Ocean runs along the west coast of the region and the Pyrenees mountains are to the south-east.
The region is too extensive to fully explore all the possible places to visit in one trip so you will need to choose your priorities - countryside or coast, villages or cities, vineyards or castles...
How to decide where to go...
Aquitaine includes five French 'departments' so to help with your planning we mention the highlights of each department further down this page. You can then see the individual travel guides for each of these departments for much more information about the highlights. In summary the highlights include:
- The forest backed Atlantic coast of western Aquitaine, best known for the beaches, surfing and summer resorts, is to the west of the Gironde, Landes and Pyrenees-Atlantiques departments.
- In north-east Aquitaine the countryside of the Dordogne guide and Lot-et-Garonne departments is visited for the history, reflected in the castles and medieval villages, and for the beautiful and verdant countryside
- The foothills of the western Pyrenees and numerous typical Basque villages are to the south of Aquitaine in the Atlantique-Pyrenees department
- The principal city in the region and meriting a visit in its own right is Bordeaux in the Gironde department
- For the most popular coastal destinations in the region see Atlantic beaches and resorts
Departments in Aquitaine: an introduction
Gironde - north-west Aquitaine
Centred around Bordeaux, the important and impressive capital of Gironde, the department has several other notable highlights, including important coastal towns and the renowned Medoc and Saint Emilion wine regions.
Bordeaux itself has a great deal of interest for visitors: the city is listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site and is one of the most impressive cities in France. See Bordeaux for details.
To the west of Bordeaux the 19th century seaside resort of Arcachon is very attractive and you can also visit the highest sand dune in Europe at the Dune de Pilat (recommended - it's quite a sight!).
To the north of Bordeaux the Medoc peninsula has numerous popular coastal resorts such as Lacanau to the west, and the vineyards of the Medoc wine region such as Chateau Margaux to the east. Further east in Gironde we advise you to visit the UNESCO protected town and vineyards of Saint-Emilion, which is certainly one of the most attractive towns in France.
See our detailed Gironde travel guide for lots more information and highlights
Landes - coastal Aquitaine
The Landes department of western Gironde is best known for the many seaside resorts and long sandy beaches that line the coast, and for the extensive forests of the region.
The Landes department attracts large numbers of holidaymakers from spring until autumn to the popular resorts such as Biscarrosse, Capbreton, Hossegor and Mimizan. This coast forms part of the Cote d'Argent, an almost unbroken line of 120 kilometres of sandy beaches along south-west France.
This section of coast is especially popular with windsurfers because of the large Atlantic waves and the extensive beaches, which make it easy to avoid the more crowded areas, and for the lakes behind the coast which allow small children to escape the big waves when necessary!
Behind the beaches the large forest was planted by Napoleon III to reclaim the mosquito infested swamp area and is now the largest forest in Europe, with substantial cycling and walking opportiunities.
Pyrenees-Atlantiques - south-western Aquitaine
In a setting between the western Pyrenees and the Atlantic coast, the Pyrenees-Atlantiques department can offer a morning on the beach and a visit to a mountain village in the afternoon - perhaps with lunch in Biarritz in between the two!
The quiet port town of Ciboure is next to Saint-Jean-de Luz and was once home to Ravel and Matisse. While in the region be sure to venture across the border into Spain to visit historical Hondarribia.
Not far from the coast a visit to the beautiful villages of Sare, Ainhoa and La Bastide-Clairence is also recommended, to see the traditional architecture of the basque region. This Basque region also has many other small traditional towns and villages to explore such as Espelette and Itxassou, set against the backdrop of the foothills of the Pyrennes.
Further away from the coast other towns of interest include Cambo-les-Bains, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Salies-de-Bearn and Sauveterre-de-Bearn, and the town of Pau is popular with visitors, particularly because of its view to the Pyrenees mountains.
The far south-east of the department is within the Pyrenees National Park and the only place in Aquitaine where you can see high mountains.
See the detailed Pyrenees-Atlantiques guide for lots more information and highlights
Dordogne and north-eastern Aquitaine
The Dordogne, the north-eastern department of Aquitaine is famous around the world for its medieval villages and castles, the countryside of hills and forests, rivers and traditional small farms, the Dordogne and Vézére rivers, and for the many prehistoric sites.
Many first-time visitors base themselves to the south of the Dordogne either near Sarlat, one of the most beautiful towns in France and with easy access to many of the most interesting villages and castles in the region, or at Montignac which is well placed to explore the prehistoric caves of the Vézère valley.
Away from this most visited area there is also a great deal to explore
To the south you can visit beautiful villages such as Monpazier and Domme, and the historic town of Bergerac to the south-west. Further north you will discover a quieter but equally beautiful region, with riverside towns such as Brantome and its abbey, castles including the famous Chateau de Hautefort, and the scenic countryside of the Perigord-Limousin Natural Regional Park.
See the detailed Dordogne guide for lots more highlights and attractions
Lot-et-Garonne: eastern Aquitaine
While the Dordogne department is a long established destination with visitors it is only in the last 15 years that the Lot-et-Garonne department immediately to the south has become more popular as its attractions have come to be discovered and recognised.
You will find that the northern part of the Lot-et-Garonne has a lot in common with its northern neighbour, with picturesque villages such as Monflanquin and Villereal, castles such as the impressive ruins of the Chateau de Bonaguil, and rolling forested hills.
Further south the countryside becomes less forested and rather flatter. Its charm lies in the traditional market towns and unspoiled rural landscape of woodlands, quiet roads and fields of sunflowers.
A perfect place to escape from the crowds and enjoy the birdsong, in a region popular with visitors who are seeking the 'real' France of 25 years ago.
See our Lot-et-Garonne travel guide for more highlights and information
Six unmissable highlights of a visit to Aquitaine
Sarlat has the most extensive and best preserved historical centre of any town in France!
The 13th century bastide town of Monpazier is almost completely unchanged by the last 700 years!
Plenty of character from 19th century Biarritz makes it one of our favourite resorts in Aquitaine
After years of regeneration Bordeaux is now one of the most vibrant cities to be found in France.
The pretty village of Espelette is just one of several picturesque Basque villages to the south of Aquitaine
The medieval centre of Saint-Emilion and surrounding vineyards are a UNESCO protected site
You can find more local travel ideas in the Aquitaine guide.
Map of Aquitaine and places nearby
French version: Aquitaine (Francais)