Nouvelle-Aquitaine Travel Guide: places to visit, food, tips

Nouvelle-Aquitaine Travel Guide

Nouvelle-Aquitaine is a vast and captivating region spreading across southwestern France. As the largest administrative region in the country, it encompasses lush vineyards, magnificent medieval castles, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, flawless beaches, and tranquil lakes nestled amongst verdant nature reserves and regional natural parks. So, it is one of the must-see places in France


Top Attractions in Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Nouvelle-Aquitaine offers visitors a lot of options, with twelve scenic departments to explore. Make sure to include these must-see sights in your itinerary for Nouvelle-Aquitaine:

Prehistoric Cave Paintings in the Vézère Valley

Journey 20,000 years back in time as you delve into the multi-hued mystery of the Vézère Valley’s prehistoric cave paintings—humanity’s first known artistic creations. Scattered along limestone cliffs sit numerous adorned caves, with the Lascaux Caves being the most momentous. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, these caves host over 600 paintings and 1,500 engravings of animals, human figures, and abstract signs. Though access to the vulnerable original Lascaux Caves is restricted, you can admire their replica at the Lascaux IV International Centre for Parietal Art.

The Grandeur of La Dune du Pilat

The most iconic view of Nouvelle-Aquitaine is the crescent-shaped dune of Pilat, rising over 100 meters high. Climb Europe’s tallest dune to enjoy the breathtaking views of the dense Landes forest encircling Bassin d’Arcachon. Trekking the slopes will work up an appetite. Refuel at the beachside cabins that line the base of the dune, where delicious local seafood is served. 

The Medieval Grandeur of Saint-Émilion

Wandering through narrow, winding cobblestone streets past massive medieval city walls and gates rewards travelers with a view of the charming wine-producing village of Saint-Émilion. St. Émilion’s atmospheric ruins, cloisters, and catacombs reflect over a millennium of rich history and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site set among iconic vineyards. See historic châteaux before going underground to explore limestone quarries or the strange Monolithic Church, which is carved out of a single block of rock!  

The Regal Château de Versailles

No Nouvelle-Aquitaine travel guide is complete without the Palace of Versailles. Constructed as an extravagant tribute to absolute monarchy, King Louis XIV’s building in the northernmost tip of the Yvelines department is a prime example of French classical architecture, and it is located near Paris. Spend endless hours staring at the showy Chapel and Hall of Mirrors, savoring the works of great artists such as Poussin and Rubens, or meandering around the expansive symmetry of the Grand Trianon, Orangery, and Gardens. Don’t forget to watch the Musical Fountain Shows too!

Biarritz for Beachside Indulgence 

Biarritz, renowned for its excellent surfing, attracts numerous sun worshippers and surfers. Biarritz has everything you could want, from bronze lazily strolling along sandy bays backed by belle époque mansions to braveing the waves. Once you have reenergized with views of the Atlantic, browse upscale stores or indulge in tapas flavored with piment d’Espelette until the vibrant array of nightlife venues beckons!  

Bordeaux city in France
Street view near the famous La Bourse square during the morning in Bordeaux city, France

Hidden Gems and Offbeat Places in Nouvelle-Aquitaine 

Exploring the twelve vast departments of Nouvelle-Aquitaine by deviating from well-traveled paths could lead to even more fascinating discoveries. Get ready to discover places full of historic charm and locals who are committed to maintaining long-standing customs. 

Cirque de Gavarnie

The Pyrenees National Park’s Cirque de Gavarnie is an amphitheater-shaped glacier valley that attracts mountaineers and nature lovers. It is surrounded by towering pyramidal peaks. Trek difficult paths with sweeping views of roaring waterfalls against sheer cliff faces. Visit in early spring to witness spectacular thaws. Don’t forget to sample farmstead cheese like Ossau-Iraty upon returning! 

Experience Bygone Times in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, one of “The Most Beautiful Villages of France,” carries visitors back in time with its underground St. Jean Church and fortified feudal Château Monolithique, which were remarkably hewn from limestone cliffs. Explore the lively Sunday market with the chatting locals and then relax on a restored gabare boat floating through the lush river valley.

Pristine Beaches of Lac d’Hossegor

Hossegor is known for its excellent Atlantic waves; escape the maddening crowds and enjoy the relaxed surf-town atmosphere. After landing perfect barrels, relax on the peaceful lake surrounded by the fragrant pine forests of Hossegor. Beautiful views of fine sandy beaches melting into shimmering seas can be seen as rewards for cycling along the picturesque coastal path. 

Revel in History at the Royal Citadel of Villefranche-de-Conflent

Nestled within the undulating Pyrenees is the fortified settlement of Villefranche-de-Conflent, founded in 1090 to ward off invasions. Meandering atmospheric cobblestone lanes past ancient ramparts, military architecture, and medieval houses clustered under the citadel’s watch, it feels like time stands still here. The 13th-century Gothic Liberation Cathedral and its network of underground tunnels are definite highlights. 

Bordeaux city in France
Street view with beautiful buildings during the sunrise in Bordeaux city, France

Outdoor Adventures Across Nouvelle-Aquitaine’s Captivating Landscapes

Outdoor enthusiasts will be spoilt for choice with Nouvelle-Aquitaine’s five regional nature parks protecting biodiverse forests, rippling river valleys dotted with picturesque villages, and over 1000 km of Atlantic coastline punctuated by surf havens. Lace up your boots, prep your bikes or wax your surfboard, and venture forth into enchanting nature!

Cycle Endless Tranquil Trails 

Cyclers of all skill levels will find endless trails in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, which can be enjoyed by pedaling through lush Landes forest filled with the scent of sweet pine, climbing steep hills in the Pyrenean foothills, or meandering alongside the Charente rivers through the vineyards of Cognac. Explore the Marais Poitevin for local biodiversity, or ride the lush valleys of Dordogne from châteaux to quaint villages. Bike adventures await you wherever your handlebars point!

Hike and Climb Through Natural Marvels

Put on your boots and set out to explore the spectacular scenery of Nouvelle-Aquitaine from elevated viewpoints that are exclusively accessible by foot. Climb the Pyrenean peaks or explore the Pilat Grand Site de France dune system to see how tough you are. Experience the thrill of descending enormous canyons in Gouffre de Padirac or emerging with original cave art from ancient caves such as Rouffignac or Font-de-Gaume! For multi-day adventures, try the GR-36 trans-regional trail or climb sections that offer plenty of rewarding views.

Ride the Waves Along the Endless Coastline 

With popular surfing destinations like Hossegor, Biarritz, and Lacanau Ocean, Nouvelle-Aquitaine offers waves at every turn on its vast coastline. Get ready for thrilling beach breaks or silky longboard rides to put your skills to the test. For beginners, surf schools and board rentals are widely available. Enjoy breathtaking sunsets from your surf camp as you bid farewell to days spent chasing barrels.    

Kayak and Sail Aquatic Adventures

Together with the obvious Atlantic and Channel coastlines, there are plenty of opportunities for kayaking and sailing in aquatic environments that include lush wetlands, meandering rivers, and extensive inland lakes and waterways. Try your sea legs by sailing to the idyllic Ile de Ré, kayaking through the legendary Brocéliande Forest, or simply cruising the Dordogne River while taking in the picturesque towns and feudal strongholds along the way.

Beautiful vineyard at sunset. Travel around France, Bordeaux
Beautiful sky over vineyards in France

Lose Yourself in History Across Nouvelle-Aquitaine 

From prehistoric cave art and Roman ruins to resplendent châteaux and medieval cities, Nouvelle-Aquitaine harbors over six millennia of tumultuous history. Explore the halls of power, decorated with brave knights and French nobility.

Step Back in Time at Monolithic Churches

Atmospheric excursions are offered by two unusual sanctuaries carved out of single limestone massifs. See the troglodytic 12th-century Church of St. Jean at Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, which has faded 12th-century Byzantine influence frescoes and is hidden in semi-darkness. St. Mary Magdalene Basilica in Vézelay is an equally ancient place and a revered starting point for pilgrims traveling the Way of St. James trail to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. 

Trail Tales of Past Glory at Castles

The stormy legacy of Nouvelle-Aquitaine is preserved in strongholds, spanning from the heyday of dukedoms ruling vast swathes of land through religious wars and the Hundred Years War with England. Admire the imposing Château de Châlus-Chabrol, the fabled fortress La Rochelle built by Joan of Arc, and the enchanting Chambord, which has 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces, and 84 staircases!  

Salt of the Earth at Salies-De-Béarn

Soak in the thermal saltwater springs that were originally found in Salies-de-Béarn by shepherds and their salt-starved sheep, and transport yourself back in time to the reign of Gaston Phoebus in the fourteenth century! Henry IV and other royals frequented the baths during their prime. Enjoy a range of spa treatments today, or just relax and imagine old courtly chats held in the Moorish-style vapour bathhouse or while sipping healing saline.

Sacred Pilgrim Paths to Santiago De Compostela

Walk in the footsteps of millions of pilgrims traversing Europe on epic odysseys to Santiago de Compostela along four historic routes: the Way of Vézelay, the Le Puy Route, the Arles Route, and the Tours Route crisscrossing Nouvelle-Aquitaine. Pay homage at venerated pilgrimage sites like Limoges Cathedral or Rocamadour’s Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary to earn your credentials as a pilgrim! 

Savor Nouvelle-Aquitaine’s Bountiful Harvests and Legendary Wines

Gourmets will be inundated with options when savoring the rich produce of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, which is skillfully prepared by innovative chefs from farm to table. Enjoy freshly caught seafood straight from Atlantic trawlers, recently harvested fruits and vegetables taken from verdant orchards, or locally crafted specialties refined using age-old recipes. Not to mention the wine, which is the nectar of the gods and is abundant in this liquid treasure trove!  

Toast with Aged Cognacs and Legendary Vintages 

Reputably producing revered Cabernets, Saint-Émilion and Médoc are among the world’s top appellation wine producing regions, and Cognac distilleries house spirits that have been aged for generations in oak barrels. Nouvelle-Aquitaine is a prime example of this. Explore Bordeaux and the Charente valley by swirling and sniffing your way along wine trails. Most estates provide tours of the vineyard or cellar along with tastings that reveal long-kept secrets of winemaking. 

Partake in Bountiful Local Produce

Beyond its wine industry, Nouvelle-Aquitaine’s pristine countryside satisfies the most specialized palates. Harvest sweet prunes in Agen, oysters on the salty Atlantic coast, uncommon Perigord truffles, silky foie gras from duck farms, and even responsibly grown caviar from white sturgeons! Remember to include sweet treats such as Saint-Émilion macarons and the perfectly rounded cheese known as only from the Nouveauvelle mouna. 

Saint Emilion,France,House and vineyard in the Bordeaux region near St. Emilion
House and vineyard in the Bordeaux region near St. Emilion

Family-Friendly Activities in Nouvelle-Aquitaine

With boundless beaches, amusement parks, zoos, and cultural distractions, Nouvelle-Aquitaine delivers non-stop family entertainment. Embark on exciting day trips immersed in nature, history, or thrills! 

Discover Prehistory Up Close 

Though original cave paintings are rare, prehistoric times are brought to life, especially for young visitors to interactive museums. Kids can express their creativity by painting animal shapes at Lascaux IV or by pretending to be apprentice archaeologists searching for prehistoric human relics. Similar multimedia experiences await at the La Ferrassie Neanderthal site and the National Prehistory Museum near Les Eyzies in the Vézère Valley.

Frolic at Aquatic Parks and Zoos

When the weather is nice, enjoy a splash around in the expansive themed lagoons of AquaLand by Biarritz or the Lacanau Ocean, or watch the amazing dolphin acts at Planète Sauvage Safari Park. Children love getting to know strays such as lemurs, wallabies, monkeys, and exotic birds! In Mérignac, discover and have fun at the interactive Récréalle Kid’s Museum. Then, unleash your inner Tarzan and conquer the treetop rope courses at Forest Adventure parks!

Amusement Parks Promise Thrills

For children craving rides spinning dizzily skyward or scream-inducing vertiginous plummets, Puy du Fou historical theme park packs plenty plus spectacular live shows. Or embrace your inner Gaul at Parc Astérix! When seeking gentler pursuits, nothing beats Trencadís Park’s life-size figurines from French tales. Little ones also adore mini-train rides exploring botanical parks like La Palmyre.

Dino Fanatics Unite! 

Dino digs and museums bring immediate delight to young paleontologists, from massive T-Rex skeletons to fossilized dinosaur eggs and petrified footprints at Angeac-Charente or Montreuil-sur-Mer’s Parc des Dinosaures, which is home to over 100 roaring, mechanical beasts! More secrets about the Jurassic Period are revealed through interactive tablets, sandbox fossil hunts, and custom workshops.

Essential Information for Traveling Across Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Nouvelle-Aquitaine spans twelve departments and a wide range of terrain, so making the most of your time when planning a trip requires careful consideration of peak travel times, weather patterns, and transportation logistics.

Choosing Optimal Travel Times

Although the Atlantic coast is still cool and the Pyrenean peaks are still thawing, summertime in the Mediterranean promises sunny temperatures. Choose spring or autumn if you want milder weather. Tourists swarm in July and August, so it is worth planning to avoid the crush.

Getting Around Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Traveling between cities in Nouvelle-Aquitaine is made easier by public transportation options such as regional buses, trains, ferries, and even bicycle rentals. Hop-on, hop-off sightseeing tickets can be cheaper with urban tourist passes. Having your wheels also makes it possible to make side trips into quaint backcountry villages.

Travel Considerations: Although many heritage sites in Nouvelle-Aquitaine are wheelchair, family, and pet-friendly, there are obstacles to be overcome due to the medieval cobblestone lanes. Seek accessibility guidance beforehand to maximize your experience. As a large region, also consider structuring longer trips by zones (Atlantic, Pyrenees, interior countryside, etc.).

Lodging and Dining

From hotels to holiday rentals like seaside cottages or farmstead B&Bs to campgrounds, accommodations suit every budget and travel style. The local tourist office is a handy resource. Agrturism farms also welcome volunteerism for immersive experiences! Make reservations at Michelin-starred restaurants or for tasting menus of fine dining that showcase local flavors.


Sources of information that were used when preparing this article: 


What are the must-see attractions in Nouvelle-Aquitaine?

Some of the top attractions you don’t want to miss are:

* The prehistoric Lascaux Caves paintings
* The towering sand dunes of Dune du Pilat
* The medieval grandeur of Saint-Émilion village and vineyards
* Iconic castles like Chambord, Chenonceau, and Azay-le-Rideau
* The elegant beaches and world-class surfing of Biarritz
* The La Rochelle medieval seaport and towers

What are the best local dishes to try in Nouvelle-Aquitaine?

Some iconic regional specialties to savor include:

* Oysters, mussels, and fresh seafood along the Atlantic coast
* Foie gras and preserved duck or goose products
* Hearty beef stews like Beef Bordeaux
* Wild truffles and pâté from Périgord
* Sheep’s milk cheeses like Ossau-Iraty
* Macarons and other delicacies from Saint-Émilion bakeries
* Sweet Bordeaux canelés cakes

What are the best outdoor activities to do in Nouvelle-Aquitaine?

Some top outdoor pursuits are:

* Surfing or beachgoing all along the swimmable Atlantic coast
* Cycling through wine country trails and medieval villages
* Sailing to offshore islands like Ile de Ré
* Golfing at championship courses dotting the coast and hinterlands
* Hiking in the Pyrenees mountains and forests
* Kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding on rivers and lakes
* Taking guided nature walks through regional parks and wetlands

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