EDITOR'S NOTE: We know watching some of our series is a great way to capture a glimpse of a new place or recapture the feeling of visiting a gorgeous destination. To expand upon this glimpse, we worked with travel writer Sophie Nadeau to take you on a tour of France region by region. This series of articles will explore the hidden gems and adventures within a different region of France.

Wine, sea, and superb sunsets: those who are in search of a region of France that is a little off the beaten tracks from the usual suspects, but merits a visit nonetheless, would do well to head to Nouvelle Aquitaine. Home to the likes of Bordeaux, the Bay of Arcachon, and Biarritz, here are some of the must-sees of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, as well as those hidden gems which are a little lesser-known…

Andernos les Bains Oyster Village

What is Nouvelle-Aquitaine known for?

Nouvelle-Aquitaine is particularly well-known for its sheer diversity, which is perhaps not surprising since it is the largest region of France (including overseas territories). The area is slightly bigger than the country of Austria and was only created in 2014, when the former regions of Aquitaine, Limousin and Poitou-Charentes were merged to create one super region.

As well as incredible gastronomy (think walnuts, wines, truffles, and mushrooms, among other culinary delights), other highlights of Nouvelle-Aquitaine include the French Basque Country, the cave paintings of Lascaux, and the capital city of Bordeaux, but more on all these later…

Cap Ferret

Beach near Cap Ferret

The crowning jewel of the bay of Arcachon is Cap Ferret, a town which began life as a small and simple fishing village but has since been transformed as the ideal French getaway resort in the summertime for those in the know.

Located right at the tip of a peninsula jutting out towards the Atlantic Ocean, Cap Ferret is particularly well-known for its spectacular beaches, which are a veritable surfer’s paradise. Meanwhile, other beaches are more suited to bathing and sunbathing thanks to their golden sandy stretches and spectacular scenery.

The best time to head to Cap Ferret is undoubtedly in the summertime when all the cafés and chic shops in town are open and the balmy summer evenings offer a welcome reprieve from the hot sun of the day.

The town is a particularly good place to indulge in a favorite French pastime: ‘the art of the apéro’. This is a pre-dinner drink, typically served with a snack and is the perfect way to wind down with friends, a few drinks following a glorious day on the beach or strolling through town.

Cap Ferret boasts its very own oyster village, a part of the town where visitors can sample local oysters served out of little beach shacks. There are just a handful of things on the menu: shrimp, oysters, or paté, all washed down with some local white wine. Those who are interested about the business of oyster farming would do well to watch the Murder In: Arcachon episode, now streaming on MHz Choice.

For an even greater insight into Cap Ferret’s enviable location on the Bay of Arcachon, climbing the 300+ steps of the lighthouse is an absolute must. Though the lighthouse is no longer in use, the view from the top over the bay is unparalleled and gives visitors a greater idea of the lay of the land. On a clear day, it’s even possible to see all the way to the Dune du Pilat, which is the largest sand dune in Europe and is best viewed from afar to truly appreciate its size and grandeur.

Biarritz

Further down the coastline from the Bay of Arcachon, in a place where France borders Spain, visitors will soon discover the French Basque country. Much like other outlying regions of Metropolitan France, the French Basque country retains its own unique cultures and traditions to this day, and even its own language, that of Basque.

Much like Cap Ferret in the north, Biarritz is a summer resort. There are a couple of particularly stand-out attractions for which the French Basque town is particularly famous, one man made and one natural.

The lighthouse of Biarritz lies on the fringes of the town and can be climbed for a fee. The other emblem is that of the Rocher de la Vierge (The Rock of the Virgin in English), a titanic rock that juts out to sea, and is shaped like the hull of a ship. This attraction is best seen at sunset and is free to visit. After watching sunset at the Rocher, be sure to head to Crampotte 30 where the catch of the day is served up with fresh salads, crisp baguette, and tasty sangria.

Guéthary

Guethary French-Basque Country

Of course, Biarritz is fairly well-known when it comes to Nouvelle-Aquitaine. So those looking to head off the beaten tourist track in this area of the world, would do well by heading to Guéthary, a little fishing village which has remained frozen in time for centuries.

While fairly compact and small, meaning that the little village can be visited over the course of a couple of hours, there are some truly stunning views to enjoy, as well as a little taste of rural French life outside of the big city. Guéthary’s port itself is unique in that it is a dry port, meaning that fishing boats are hauled in and out of the water each time with each use, as opposed to mooring boats in the water directly.

There are a smattering of small boutiques to peruse; Ederra (a womenswear brand selling clothing and jewelry) and Yaoya (a Basque and Japanese epicerie) are two of my favorites. Meanwhile, those looking for refreshments can grab an ice cream at the ever so quaint Chez Kutsu or grab a drink on a terrace overlooking the sea on the smattering of bars close to the sea.

Bayonne

Bayonne is a somewhat overlooked city just a few kilometers inland from the sea and Biarritz. A maze of cobbled lanes, timber-framed homes, and one of the grandest Gothic cathedrals in southwest France, it’s easy to discover Bayonne over the course of a day. The city is also from where the policewoman Maddy Etcheban hails in the Murder In: Biarritz episode.

Start by heading to the illustrious cathedral, whose imposing spire can be seen from almost every angle in town. The ecclesiastical building was constructed between the 13th and 17th centuries and features painted façades and beautiful stained windows. Next door, the Cathedral cloisters are free to visit and are some of the best-preserved cloisters in southern France.

Those who want to sample a little local life and snack on local produce should head to the covered market, known as Les Halles in French. Almost every French town and city of note has at least one covered market, typically constructed during the 19th-century, and open most mornings of the week. Local Basque specialties that are a must-try (seafood aside) include Gâteau Basque (a sweet treat filled with cream or black cherry jam) and ewes’ milk cheese.

Bordeaux

Bordeaux is a must-visit while in the region, and not just because it boasts the world’s largest urban UNESCO World Heritage site. Bordeaux is one of those cities that many Parisians say they would move to if they didn’t live in Paris and, upon arrival in the city, it’s not hard to see why.

Much of the city center (medieval elements aside) is constructed in a Haussmannian fashion, with wide boulevards and the limestone façades complete with cute balconies that are so commonplace in Paris. If you are a wine lover, then you’ve undoubtedly heard of Bordeaux before thanks to the eponymous wine which comes from the area surrounding the city. More information about the winegrowing process can be found at one of Bordeaux’s wine museums.

As well as the Musée du Vin et du Négoce, which tells the story of wine in Bordeaux set in a wine cellar, the Cité du Vin is set against a futuristic building and is so extensive that it takes several hours to visit.

Thanks to the sprawling size of Bordeaux, there are several locations where it’s possible to escape the crowds and get a little off the beaten path. Some of the more interesting places to head to include the eco urban living of Darwin Eco-système (bars, events, food spots) and the ruins of the Roman amphitheater in the form of Palais Galien. Bordeaux even has its own miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty, which can be found in Place Picard.

Limoges

Limoges, France

Though Limoges is one of the largest cities in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, it is undoubtedly one of the most overlooked destinations despite its handful of charming attractions and the fact that it has fewer crowds than other towns and cities in the area.

Limoges is most famous for its porcelain and its enamels on metal. Today, many examples of these fine ceramics can be found in a museum dedicated entirely to them: ​​Musée national Adrien Dubouché.

Elsewhere in the city, one must-see highlight of Limoges is the Quartier de la Boucherie, a historic area which is centered around rue de la Boucherie. The area is home to cobbled lanes, timber-framed houses, and numerous independent boutiques and eateries.

Of particular note is the small chapel dedicated to Saint Aurelien which was constructed between the 15th and 17th-centuries and boasts plenty of intricate detailing.

A final note

Though this is by no means an exhaustive guide to Nouvelle-Aquitaine, the area is just too vast and varied to completely cover. However, I do hope that this has given you a taste of what southwestern France has to offer. From snacking on Basque cakes to following in the footsteps of the Romans to snapping photos of beautiful vistas, this is one area of France that should be on your bucket list! For a closer look at Nouvelle-Aquitaine, be sure to check out the Murder In… episodes set and shot in the region.

Series featuring Nouvelle-Aquitaine on MHz Choice


About the Author
Sophie Nadeau is a British Canadian travel writer currently residing in Paris with her French husband. She has been lucky enough to have lived in several different countries and has run her travel blog, solosophie.com, full time since 2017. With a particular interest in history and culture (especially if there’s a château visit involved), she spends her spare time painting, reading, cooking up vegetarian recipes, spending too much looking up dog photos online, and researching new hidden gems to discover.

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