France Regions

Nouvelle-Aquitaine


All about the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region and Bordeaux

The Nouvelle-Aquitaine region is located in the southwest of France. It is made up of the former regions of Aquitaine, Poitou-Charentes, and Limousin. The capital of Nouvelle-Aquitaine is the city of Bordeaux and is roughly 350 miles from Paris. Bordeaux is easily accessible from Paris in just over two hours via high speed TGV rail.

Nouvelle-Aquitaine is one of France’s premier wine growing regions. Varieties grown in the region include Margaux, Medoc, Sauterne, and Saint-Emilion among others. A visit to the region is a delight for the wine enthusiast.

A look down from the cliffs at the beaches and resorts in Biarritz, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France.
A look down from the cliffs at the beaches and resorts in Biarritz, France.

Nouvelle-Aquitaine is also a region of wide open spaces which includes Europe’s largest untouched forest. Nouvelle-Aquitaine is also home to some of France’s best golf courses and some wonderful beaches at Biarritz.

History buffs and followers of royal intrigue will be taken with Nouvelle-Aquitaine’s past. A former duchy ruled by Eleanor of Aquitaine (wife of both Louis VII and Henry II of England). Eleanor bore ten children one of which became known as Richard the Lion-Hearted. She was considered one of Europe’s first feminists and was also one of its first romantics.

An overview map of the Aquitaine region of France.
An overview map of the Aquitaine portion of Nouvelle-Aquitaine.

Visit the website of the tourist office of Aquitaine for more information.

Bordeaux, France

How pretty is Bordeaux? Well, when Napoleon III commissioned Baron Haussmann to spruce up the squalid streets of Paris, Haussmann looked to the grandly-scaled avenues and elegant buildings of Bordeaux as his inspiration.

A couple ride their bikes along the Bordeaux riverfront path.
A couple ride their bikes along the Bordeaux riverfront path.

Bordeaux is a small city with a worldwide reach, thanks to the wine business it has dominated since at least the 13th century. Vinexpo, the largest wine fair on the planet, is held here each June.

Local wines with international fame include the First Growths of Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Margaux, Château Latour, Château Haut-Brion, Château Mouton-Rothschild.

Visit Bordeaux with us. Take a Bordeaux Day Trip From Paris.

Though there is no subway, an easy to use tram system winds through the entire city. A picturesque water taxi is also available from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily along the city’s Garonne River.

Places to see in Bordeaux

  • Esplanade des Quinconces, the biggest city-center esplanade in Europe
  • The Cathedral and the two basilicas, Unesco World Heritage Sites
  • The squares of old Bordeaux, with their craft shops and cafe terraces
  • Place de la Bourse (pictured below)
The illuminated Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux in the early evening.
The illuminated Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux in the early evening.

With almost as many museums as Paris, Bordeaux local must-sees include:

  • Musée des Beaux Arts (Fine arts museum), one of the finest painting galleries in France with paintings by painter such as Tiziano, Veronese, Rubens, Van Dyck, Frans Hals, Claude, Chardin, Delacroix, Renoir, Seurat, Matisse and Picasso
  • The archeological and history museum (Musée d’Aquitaine)
  • Musée du Vin et du Négoce (museum of the wine trade)
  • The museum of decorative arts (Musée des Arts Décoratifs)
  • Musée d’Histoire Naturelle (natural history museum)
  • Centre d’arts plastiques contemporains (CAPC) (contemporary art museum)
  • Musée National des Douanes
  • Vinorama

The Limousin Region of France

Limousin is a rural region hours south of Paris, east of Bordeaux in Nouvelle-Aquitaine. Major attractions are the huge national forests for camping, biking and hiking. A countryside drive means you’ll pass herds of chestnut red cattle and old oak forests. This very special oak is claimed solely by the house of Remy Martin. Aging in Limousin oak casks is what gives the Cognac its complex flavor.

A map of the Limousin region in France.
A map of the Limousin region in Nouvelle-Aquitaine..

you might find a few oldsters still speaking the local dialect of Occitan, but that’s an ever-rarer experience. The region is now part of Nouvelle-Aquitaine and is anchored by the small city of Limoges, known for porcelain-making, thanks to the fine clay of the area.

Read more at the French Government Tourist Office website.

Limoges

Capital of the Limousin region in portion of Nouvelle-Aquitaine.

This capital of the Limousin region and the third biggest city in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, like many French towns in central France, dates back 2 millennia to the Romans, when it was called Augustorotum, after the Emperor Augustus. The city was among the earliest in France to be evangelized to Christianity, by St. Martial, in the 3rd century. Constant raids by German tribes had the city largely abandoned for centuries, until the Abbey of St. Martial was built, and his remains entombed.

Limoges became a center for music and arts from the 9th to the the 14th centuries, when its fortifications were breached and it was invaded by Edward the Black Prince. Today, Limoges is known worldwide for its porcelain industry. Limoges porcelain is made from kaolin, which is abundant in the area.  Les Halles market is packed with a range of food stuffs such as fois gras and noisette (a locally produced hazelnut liqueur).  Many visitors to the area arrive via train to Limoges original 1920’s era train station.

Perhaps the most unexpected fact about Limoges is its famed basketball team. Limoges was the first French city to deliver a 1st place win for France in the European basketball league, and hosts international basketball expos and tournaments to this day.

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Charming Poitou-Charentes, France


Poitou-Charentes the Heart of Cognac country

The Poitou-Charentes region is one of Nouvelle-Aquitaine’s best kept secrets: a sunny and serene land of green meadows, sandy beaches, pine forests, marshlands and Romanesque churches overlooking a luminous landscape of cognac vineyards. Poitou-Charentes is a region whose unspoiled treasures and timeless rhythm welcome its visitors with Old World charm.

Places to Visit in Poitou-Charentes

Cognac: The world’s best-known brandy comes from the peaceful countryside surrounding the Charente River one hundred miles north of the city of Bordeaux. This slow moving river, which King François I called the loveliest river in his kingdom, passes through a placid landscape of vineyards bathed by a clear and radiant light. 

Visit Cognac with our “Ultimate Cognac Tour“.

Cognac, the medieval town which bears the name of the region, is a charming town filled with narrow cobbled streets and elegant Renaissance facades. World famous cognac houses such as Camus, Hennessy, Martell, Otard, Prince Hubert de Polignac, Rémy-Martin, Courvoisier, and Renault-Bisquit are located here; each  has its own secret and unique process for mixing the various blends of its eaux-de-vie.

Join a guided tour to learn about the double-distilling process that goes on in copper stills before the aging process continues in oak barrels.  Some cognacs age over 100 years. 

Angouleme: Crowning a hill with a superb view of the valley between the Charente and Anguienne rivers, the city is surrounded by medieval ramparts. The Cathedral of St-Pierre is a fine example of Romanesque architecture.

La Rochelle: La Rochelle is most famous for its old harbor and its three outstanding preserved medieval towers. For the locals, that familiar, inviting sight doesn’t just symbolize the port’s rich history: it’s also a haven of style, good times and lively quayside cafes.

The vibrant lifestyle of La Rochelle attracts an international set and there are trendy bars and excellent restaurants aplenty. The town is full of fascinating details: look out for the huge chain on the restaurant-filled Cours des Dames, under the Tour de la Chaine. It used to be slung across the mouth of the harbor, between la Tour de la Chaine and its fellow sentinel, the Tour Saint-Nicolas.

Poitou-Charentes: An image of La Rochelle from the harbor at sunset.
An image of La Rochelle from the harbor at sunset.

The third of la Rochelle’s seafront towers is la Tour de la Lanterne, in which a huge candle was lit nightly as a beacon for incoming ships. In total La Rochelle is an exuberant town at any time of the year, but it excels during the summer with an international film festival and in mid-July, the nation’s top musical happening, les Francofolies, in which French-speaking musicians and music-lovers from all over the world congregate. The songs may be French, but the ambiance is universal!

Marais Poitevin: The waterways of the “Marais Poitevin” in Nouvelle-Aquitaine are sometimes likened to the bayou of Cajun country, for man hardly appears to have made an impact on the landscape. But unlike the bayou, this is not an uninviting, alligator-rich swampland! In fact, the maze of canals are all man-made. They date from the middle ages, when monks started a huge project to drain the Golfe du Poitou (a huge nearby bay).

The more picturesque name given to the area, “La Venise Verte” or “Green Venice” is a hint that getting around by car in the town might be easier said than done. Roads are so scarce around these parts that city-dwellers may be disoriented.  Take heed.

A canal in the "Marais Poitevin" in Poitou-Charentes, France.
A canal in the “Marais Poitevin” in Cognac, France.

The surface of the water gives the impression that you could walk over it. Of course you can’t-even if you set foot in the pastures, you’ll notice that the “terra” is not as “firma” as you’d expect! The land is waterlogged to such an extend that if you jump up and down on it, it moves! One of the best ways of exploring the network of waterways is to hire a boat, which you can do with or without a guide. Once you know a little of the marshland’s history, you might wish to hire a boat alone.

Coulon, an irresistible photogenic little town about 5 miles from Niort, is the home base for most aquatic tours, although other ideal starting points include Arcais, La Garette and St-Hilaire-La-Palud. An alternative: take to the winding back roads on bicycle, in a horse-drawn caravan or by pony.

Ile de Re: Linked to the mainland by a toll bridge, the island of Ile de Re is surprisingly flat. Whitewashed houses with green shutters, narrow little streets bordered with bright hollyhocks, long fine sandy beaches, colored church spires rising from villages and harbors, salt pans that form as patchwork of watery fields, make the island a paradise for holiday makers and a haven for cyclists.

An aerial view of the old lighthouse on the Ile de Re in the Cognac region of France.
An aerial view of the old lighthouse on the Ile de Re in the Cognac region of France.

Poitiers: Set on a majestic hilltop above the river Clain, this is one of France’s oldest cities and the 4th largest city in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, filled with history and tales of antiquity; whether it be Joan of Arc, Richard the Lionhearted or Eleanor of Aquitaine. The visitor will discover a trove of Romanesque art and architecture, museums, a 4th century Baptistery (one of the oldest Christian edifices in France as well as the entirely renovated Romanesque church of Notre-Dame-La-Grande.

Futuroscope: Located just 5 miles from Poitiers, this science amusement park is a voyage into a wonderland of new technology devoted to the moving image. With the most advanced film projection techniques, the world’s largest screens and a multitude of mind boggling activities to choose from, it is no wonder that Futuroscope draws nearly 3 million visitors annually.

Saintes: Located on the banks of the Charente river, this 2000 year old town in Poitou-Charentes was once the Roman capital of southwestern France. The presence of one of the oldest remaining amphitheaters as well as Roman baths, which may be visited, attests to this. Between visits to the cathedral of St-Pierre and the church of St-Eutrope, be sure to stroll through the wonderful medieval city of narrow streets and markets.

Getting to the Poitou-Charentes Region in Nouvelle-Aquitaine

By air:
Regular services:
Poitiers – London (Ryanair); 
La Rochelle – London (Ryanair); 

Poitiers, La Rochelle and Angouleme airports have scheduled flights to Clermont-Ferrand which allows connections to all major French cities (Paris, Dijon, Mulhouse, Strasbourg, Marseille, Toulon, Nice, etc.) by air.
 
By train:
The high-speed Atlantic TGV links Paris Montparnasse station with:

  • Poitiers (1 hr 30 mins)
  • Angouléme (2 hrs 15 mins)
  • Niort (2 hrs 12 mins)
  • La Rochelle (2 hrs 51 mins.

Four direct daily return services with Lille Europe and European fast trains from the North such as Thalys (Belgium, Netherlands) and Eurostar (London) to Poitiers and Angouléme.

Return services to Paris connecting in Bordeaux or direct from Angouléme and Poitiers. 

By car:

From Paris, take direction Orleans – Bordeaux motorway A 10 (toll highway) or Nationale Road 10 (same directions). Three hours drive to Poitiers and 4 hrs 30 minutes to Angouléme, Cognac, La Rochelle.Musems in the Poitou-Charentes Regions

Sports and Leisure in Poitou-Charentes

While Poitou-Charentes as a region would seem to be all about a carefully-made luxury drink made from very particular white grapes (Ugni blanc in case you wondered), it’s an outdoor paradise as well. From the Marais Poitevin’s flat-bottomed boat tours through the so-called “bayou of France”, to canoeing and house-boating on the Charente river, to sailing and wind-surfing along the Atlantic coast, Poitou-Charentes is a water-lovers dream. Inland, the region’s lovely rolling hills are made for cycling, and of course, well-laid-out golf courses. Fourteen to be precise. 

Spa afficionados swear by the centers at Royan, Châtelaillon, lIe de Re and lIe d’Oléron, especially for thalassotherapy, that very distinct French sea water therapy.

Gastronomy in the Cognac Region

From the simplest to the most refined, restaurants in Poitou-Charentes offer modern gastronomy inherited from regional recipes. World famous eau-de-vie Cognac is made in this region and this palatable brew is present in many recipes.

Rochefort cheese on a black platter.
Nouvelle-Aquitaine: The home of Rochefort cheese.

If you are determined to sample seafood as fresh as can be, Poitou-Charentes in Nouvelle-Aquitaine is the right place to be since its coast overflows with bounty: a great variety of seafood from sea-bass, dover sole, mullet, halibut, frog fish, skate, sea bream, to scallops, clams and of course mussels and oysters (ideally from the Marennes-Oleron beds).

A must try in Poitou-Charentes is the “ceteaux” or wedge sole­. Typically served ­ grilled or pan fried with lemon and butter. The fish is carried by the tide from the open sea round the ile d’Oleron and are only found in the region.

The best butter in France comes from the Poitou-Charentes department in Nouvelle-Aquitaine. For over a hundred years, regional production companies have remained faithful to traditional production techniques that are unparalleled worldwide.

Also famous are the local goat cheeses. A perfect way to end any meal while visiting Poitou-Charentes. The region is also one of the top producers of quality beef, pork, and lamb in France.

Poitou-Charentes lamb and beef are much-prized ingredients, in no small part because of the luxuriant ancient grasses of the region that fatten the free-range animals, raised in the time-honored way.  Locals celebrate special occasions with slow-roasted pork, or sometimes baby goat with sorrel and green garlic. Though Cognac is dominant, local lighter red wines are gaining in reputation and complement goat and pork very well.

Cognac is a white wine produced and double distilled into an “eau-de-vie”.  Some do indeed think of it as the “water of life”, which is the English translation. Cognac results from blending and aging different eau-de-vie vintages in Limousin oak barrels. Aging is inimally two years, but could be 100!.. Once transferred out of the oak wood casks into bottles, like whiskey, Cognac stops aging. The designations are precise:  

V.S. (Very Special) two and half years old

V.O. (Very Old), V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale), Réserve must be at least four and half years old

X.O. (eXtra Old), Réserve, Extra, Hors d’Age and Napoleon six and half years or older

One of the most popular things to do in Nouvelle-Aquitaine is to visit the city of Cognac for a tour and tasting. Check out our “Ultimate Cognac Tour” for details.

For additional information, visit the Poitou-Charentes website.