South Western France
As France’s southernmost region, Aquitaine thrives by both land and sea. Thanks to its vast and varied landscape it has, to the north, hills and woodland, seaports and gorgeous vineyards all around the Garonne River valley in the middle, and in the south, great forests, a stretch of the Pyrenees Mountains and the majestic lands of the Basque Country.
If you’re in search of a French region where you can hike on some days and bask in the sun along the shore on others, Aquitaine is the place for you. It is the epitome of unrestrained beauty — it is soft, it is calm, it is relaxing. No wonder it is known today to most people as a place to buy vacation homes.
Travel to Dordogne in the north, famous for being one of the country’s gastronomic capitals (foie gras and truffles abound) and a site of prehistoric civilization. It is in Dordogne where Lascaux, origin site of the Paleolithic cave paintings, stands. If backpacking, camping and sporting gear sound more intriguing to you, then go down to the southern area of Les Landes, a densely forested region — which is today home to a massive timber industry — and trek along the regions of the Pyrénées Atlantiques and the Basque Country.
If, however, your heart beckons you to taste wines, visit Bordeaux, where you’ll find some of the finest. Bordeaux is home to a renowned historic center, the largest public square in Europe, a fine arts museum housing the works of masters including Picasso, Matisse, Seurat and Renoir.
Today this region is not known at all for being a traditionally historic area of France. Located in the very south, it is the largest region of France, and borders Spain to the south. This region does, however, encompass many historic provinces that have since been merged geographically, so it is no surprise that inhabitants identify themselves with the cultures and traditions within their own provinces, rather than with the region.
You will want to visit Toulouse, the region’s biggest city. In fact, outside of this region that encompasses Toulouse, you will find mostly a rural area, with vast stretches of agricultural land. The lower area of Haute Garonne and the departments of Tarn and Gers comprise some of the most fertile cultivated lands in France. With Gaullo-Roman roots and a history of battles and conquests on its land, it’s no wonder that Toulouse became a center of art and culture. Starting from the 15th century, it saw a golden age flourish, and is today the fourth largest metropolitan area in France, after Paris, Lyon and Marseille.
Here you can visit Capitole de Toulouse, which houses the city hall and the city theater; the Canal du Midi, constructed in the 17th century; the Saint-Sernin Basilica, which is the largest Romanesque-style church in Europe; a series of art museums, and other magnificent cathedrals and basilicas.