From rolling forests to surfers dream beaches, from spectacular caves to towering gorges; the Southwest’s countryside appeal makes it a terrific spot for active, adventurous travelers. Offering ample opportunities for biking, hiking, rock climbing, and horseback riding, this region has it all. With so many off-road retreats, Southwest France comes with a caveat: take it slow! There is much to discover and you’ll miss the real beauty if you rush it.The best time to visit is spring and fall, only because summer brings lots of tourists.
As in any rural setting in France, the people of this region take the time to enjoy life. They also take the time to indulge in great food and the gastronomy in the Southwest is arguably unparalleled in France. A few of the regional specialties of Southwest France are: Bordeaux wine, pate de foie gras, truffles, Basque fish chowder or spicy veal stew, pruneaux (prunes), and gateau aux noix — sweet cakes filled with locally grown walnuts.
The Four regions that make up the Southwest are Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrenees, Poitou-Charentes and Languedoc – Roussillon.
The Aquitaine encompasses the land along the Atlantic seaboard, and inland, as far as the great pine forests of the Landes. The wine growing region of Bordeaux is found here with its impressive chateaux and many miles of rich vineyards.
Dordogne, often characterized as the “Gateway to the South of France,” is locally known as Perigord. The Dordogne’s striking natural landscape is dotted with beautiful medieval villages, country farms, mystical caves, riverside chateaux and prehistoric cave paintings. The area’s four rivers (Dordogne, Isle, Dronne and Auvezere) invite visitors in their canoes and kayaks to take a riverside glimpse of the romantic medieval castles and fortresses.
The Midi-Pyrenees is the land bordering Spain along the Pyrenees Mountains. This area is varied and unique. The Basque people inhabit the southeast corner in the towns of Bayonne, Biarritz and St Jean de Luz. The Basque are very welcoming of tourists and proud of their heritage. Further inland, you will find the religiously important town of Lourdes; visited by more than four million people a year.
The snow laden Pyrenees Mountains are wild and beautiful, and provide a natural border with Spain. This region offers more than 1,000 miles of hiking trails, as well as fishing, camping, skiing, and rock climbing.
Further north is Poitou-Charentes. Set between the châteaux of the Loire Valley and the Bordeaux vineyards, Poitou-Charentes is one of the sunniest parts of the French western coast. Its mild climate – 2,250 hours of sunshine per year – makes it desirable to visit anytime from early spring to late autumn. A 300-mile coastline with fine sandy beaches, backed by fragrant pine forests, lively resorts such as La Rochelle, Royan and the islands of Oléron, Aix and Ré provide attractions to tempt everyone.
Poitou-Charentes is where you will find the producers of Cognac and the wonderful French brandy Armagnac.
The Languedoc – Roussillon region stretches from the Mediterranean to bordering Provence, and on to the Midi-Pyranees. This area encompasses the departments of the Aude, Gard, Herault, Lozere, and Pyrenees Orientales. Flat Mediterranean beaches, that are less crowded than those in Provence, open the door to the rest of this interesting and beautiful region. In summer and winter, mountain resorts offer one more way to explore Languedoc-Roussillon.
France’s Southwest region is the place to go for an active vacation, to enjoy France’s gastronomic bounty or its religious heritage. If you have already been to France, next time try the Southwest Region.
Written by Terri Fogarty for EuropeUpClose.com