The Gironde is the largest department in France covering an area of 6,650 sq. miles. It boasts 119km of magnificent Atlantic surf fringed with beautiful sandy beaches and its million acres of pine forest offer a wealth of cycle tracks and country walks.
The Medoc is renowned for its vineyards and impressive châteaux. Here, practically every town and village lays claim to a great vintage – a little wine tasting is highly recommended.
Bassin d’Arcachon is a vast indentation in the pine forest and has the air of a lagoon. It is subject to the tides, and is protected from the winds by the Cap Ferret headland. The “bassin” owes its unique character to the endless sandbanks uncovered at low tide. There are over 10km of sandy beaches leading up to the Dune du Pyla which is the highest sand dune in Europe: 2.7kms long, 500m wide and 104m high. There are two ways to reach the summit, either an arduous walk. up the sand or to climb the 190 steps. It is certainly worth the effort to witness the views, especially the western horizon at sunset. Two spots near Arcachon which may be of interest are Aqualand at Gujan Mestras, which is great for children and Le Teich Ornithological Park, a site of international importance in terms of the conservation of endangered birds, where over 260 species have settled.
Bordeaux, the capital of the Gironde department occupies a crescent-shaped bend of the Garonne river. The marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry II of England in 1152 meant that Bordeaux became an English dominion. The English discovery of the pale red liquid known as “claret” led to an overwhelming demand for the wine. Indeed wine was an everyday drink in England at that time. The town itself has beautiful wide avenues and esplanades bordered by elegant buildings. The old quarter with its narrow picturesque streets are enlivened by a thousand small shops and restaurants.
St Emilion situated in a region of vineyards and hillsides crowned with châteaux owes its unique charm to the stone ramparts, steep narrow streets, delightful little squares and houses also built of old stones.
A department with over 100km of lovely sandy beaches and a variety of inland lakes but not renowned for interesting places to visit. It is dominated by the largest expanse of pine forest in Europe covering an area of over 600,000 hectares and also boasts about 2,300 hours of sunshine a year, 1,440 of those between 1st May and 31st October.
The Beaches of the West Coast The wonderful foaming breakers of the beaches attract all levels of surfers and swimmers. It is, however, important to remember that the pounding sea can be dangerous for those who are not strong swimmers and a red flag is always displayed on the beaches when the tide is going out as there is a fierce undertow. It is foolish to ignore these red warning flags.
The lakes of Sanguinet and Léon are safe for swimming and are perfect for windsurfers, yachtsmen, canoeists and anglers. The flatness of the surrounding countryside and many long straight stretches of road make sightseeing by bicycle the perfect way to view the region – not too strenuous but a great way to keep fit. The villages and towns all have a special French charm.
Dax founded by the Romans is the largest spa in France. The hot spring itself with 2,660 cubic metres of water at 63ºC is a very impressive sight and famous for its curative properties. The Gothic cathedral, the arena and archeological collections at the Borda museum are all worth a visit.
Bayonne is right on the borders of the Landes and Basque country and has a long tradition as a port. There is a wealth of medieval architecture demonstrating both Gascon and Basque influences. The walled town contains many treasures including the glorious Gothic Cathédrale Ste Marie famous for its spires and charming cloisters.
A department which has about 30km of coast on the Atlantic Ocean, has a border with Spain and is delightfully situated in the foothills of the Pyrénées. It is also steeped in its own unique Basque culture. You are perfectly situated for quick visits across the border into Spain and for day trips into the mountains to appreciate the beautiful and dramatic scenery of the Pyrénées.
Biarritz is a beautifully elegant town famed for its hortensia flowers, and the attractive promenades along the cliffs, in particular the one starting from the Grand Plage, around the Rocher de la Vierge to the southern beaches. This is the surfing centre of France and probably Europe. It also has 4 golf courses within a 15km radius of the town.
Saint Jean-de-Luz is not only a picturesque fishing port but also one of the most fashionable and cosmopolitan resorts in France. It has a medieval background and evidence of Spanish and Moorish influence. Its beautiful white houses contrast with the green slopes of the Basque mountains and the magnificent bay is surrounded by beaches and protected by dykes. St Jean-de-Luz is a town of traditions and here you will discover all the specialities of the Basque game of Pelote.
Oloron Sainte Marie A typical Haut Béarn town just a few miles inland was an important stopping place on the Road to Santiago de Compostella worth a visit to see its cathedral.
Le Train de la Rhune A 4.2km tourist train ride up La Rhune which is 900m high and on the edge of the Pyrenean foothills, near Ascain. www.rhune.com Two caves worth visiting in the foothills of the Pyrénées are:the Grottes de Betharram and the Grottes d’Isturitz et d’Oxocelhaya.
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