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Aquitaine holiday guide

Posted on 21 July 2015 by

Aquitaine holiday guide

Sandy shores and shady forests make Aquitaine the perfect choice for outdoor enthusiasts. Pictures and words by Gillian Thornton.

What to Expect

With 250 kilometres of fine, clean sand, the Atlantic coast of Aquitaine is Europe’s largest beach. Between small, family-friendly seaside resorts like Biscarosse-Plage, Mimizan-Plage and Contis-Plage lie miles of undeveloped shoreline, fringed by dunes.

Body boarding on Aquitaine coast

This is a paradise for anyone who loves water sports, beach games or just chilling out on the sands, whilst behind the shore, the Landes forest is a pine-scented natural playground for families. Europe’s largest forest, it covers a triangle of land 150 km wide and 200km long, criss-crossed with marked trails that offer an open invitation for hiking, cycling and horse-riding.

Keen cyclists can pedal from one end of Aquitaine’s Atlantic shoreline to the other, now part of the Velodyssée EuoBike trail, but there are plenty of less challenging trails suitable for family outings and numerous places to hire wheels for all ages.

The Landes de Gascogne Regional Nature Park lies east of the great lakes, beginning a few miles south-west of Bordeaux and including the southern shore of the Bay of Arcachon, a shallow ‘inland sea’ with the colours of a lagoon. South of Arcachon, the vast lakes of Biscarrosse-Parentis and Cazaux-Sanguinet offer a full range of watersports. Legendary sea plane pilot Antoine de Saint Exupéry – author of The Little Prince – tested aircraft here in the 1930s and is commemorated in Biscarrosse, one of several lakeside small lakeside towns which cater for active families.

Must-see Sites

Dune du Pilat – Created by sand blown in from offshore sand banks, this desert-like dune is the largest in Europe at 104 metres high.  Climb the steep ladder to the summit for panoramic views over Arcachon Bay.  You can even paraglide from the summit.

Arcachon – Arcachon was a popular luxury resort for European aristocracy in the 19th century but today is better known for the high quality oysters farmed in the bay.

Bordeaux – Take a day out to visit Aquitaine’s elegant regional capital, one of France’s most popular cities.  Expect grand buildings; huge squares, and sweeping river views, plus music, museums and restaurants to suit every taste and budget.

Saint-Emilion – A must for lovers of wine and history.  Look down over the rooftops from the chateau tower, visit the monolithic church, and stroll the medieval town.  Browse wine shops to your heart’s content but don’t forget to sample the macaroons.

Saint Emilion

Hidden Gems

Marquèze – Absorb the atmosphere of an authentic 19th century forest farm, now an open air museum in the Landes de Gascogne Regional Nature Park.  Visit the buildings, meet the animals and discover traditional methods and machinery.

Bayonne – Take a day trip to discover a different lifestyle and language in this colourful riverside town, dubbed the capital of French Basque Country, but also French Capital of Chocolate.  Each chocolate maker has his own delicious speciality.

Bayonne - a hidden gem in Aquitaine

Biarritz – Popular with the Belle Epoque aristocracy, elegant Biarritz has a vibrant contemporary buzz too thanks to being surf capital of Europe.   Walk the winding promenade, visit the aquarium, and chill out over lunch beside the fishing harbour.

Main beach at Biarritz

The vineyards of Graves and Sauternes – Explore the vineyards south of Bordeaux along the self-drive Graves and Sauternes Wine Route.   Local tourist offices can advise on producers to visit where you can try before buying at vineyard-direct prices.

Local Flavours

With 97 appellations and 15 different wine territories, Aquitaine boasts some of the most famous names in the industry – Bordeaux and the Médoc, Graves, Sauternes and Saint-Emilion. Wine connoisseurs will be spoilt for choice, but there are plenty of affordable bottles too.  You’ll also find a tempting choice of fresh produce to add local flavour to your self-catering holiday menus – buy at weekly markets and roadside stalls for the freshest seasonal fruit and veg.

Pick up some Bayonne cured ham for a summer salad or starter, particularly delicious with a plate of fresh melon. The surface is rubbed with locally produced salt and with crushed pimentos from Espelette near to Biarritz. Seafood is always available along the coast, but the real local speciality is those famous Arcachon oysters.

And for dessert or just a treat with coffee, indulge in a cannelé. This scrumptious small cake has a moist filling, a crispy caramel coating, and is flavoured with run, orange blossom and vanilla, taking its name from the fluted copper mould in which it is baked.

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Do something different and spend time with an oyster farmer in the Bay of Arcachon, sailing out to the oyster beds in a flat-bottomed boat and watching him at work. Boats take just four or five passengers, so everyone gets a good view and the chance to ask questions, as well as sample freshly harvested oysters on the way back. Details from the town tourist office.

Mimizan and Mont-de-Marsan have both been awarded top score of 4 Flowers in the most recent ranking of floral towns and villages.  The Villes-et-Villages-Fleuris competition was launched in 1959 and communities that take part are judged by a jury made up of professionals from tourism, horticulture and the environment. Expect lots of colour, texture and inspiration for your own desirable plot.

Tourist information from

Where to stay

Siblu’s La Réserve holiday village, on the banks of Biscarosse, is a popular choice with holidaymakers who want to explore the region. There is also a wide selection of static caravans for people looking to buy a holiday home in Aquitaine.

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