Aquitaine (Now part of Nouvelle Aquitaine)
This is a triangular shaped area of France that runs along the Atlantic on the west side, and pierced at the top by the mouth of the Gironde River. The Region includes the following Departments:
Dordogne (24) with its capital city of Périgueux;
Gironde (33) with its capital city of Bordeaux;
Landes (40) with its capital of Mont de Marsan;
Pyrénées Atlantiques (64) with Pau as its capital city;
Lot et Garonne (47) with Agen as its capital city.
The vineyards of this region produce some of the great wines France. Many of the small towns have colourful markets. Select the link at the left for an outline of the most common market days. Things may change from year to year but this is what is known at the current time.
This is one of the most scenic regions in France and we have traveled here a number of times. In parts,traveling in some of the areas is like going back in time.
Travel in this region during July and August means you may see more of the back-end of camper vans than seeing the country-side. Travel in the non-peak season is more pleasant.
The Gironde Department includes the amous Medoc area. The Gironde Estuary is there the mouths of the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers merge and then flow into the Atlantic. Based on our drive through this area I don't think you could get a bad bottle of wine anywhere!
The Gironde Department is the Medoc area. Grand chateaux, as pictured to the right, were numerous. All surrounded with vineyards.
The Landes Department in along the Atlantic and is the second largest Department in Aquitaine. The Côte d'Argent beach is the longest beach in Europe and attracts many surfers. We have passed through on our way to Spain, but need to spend some more time in this area.
The Pyrénées Atlantiques is along the border of Spain.
Finally, the Lot et Garonne Department is inland. Get ready for some stunning views as the Lot and Garonne rivers eat their way through limestone rock. There are gorges and scenic towns hanging where one would think no town could exist.
This is the region of the Dordogne, one of the largest rivers in France. The river cut through the limestone cliffs over thousands of years. Villages hang from the cliffs or are located on narrow tracks on land in each bend of the river.
On our 2004 visit to this region we visited La Sauve Majeur. Located a short distance from Bordeaux, if you are planning to vist Sainte Emilion, and you should, this is very easy to find.
The Benedictine Abbey was founded 1079 and was in its time one of the greatest abbeys in the South-West of France.
Today, one walks through the ruins and the size and majestic feeling of the previous abbaye comes through.
This abbey was a major stop for pilgrims on the road to St James of Compostella. It was a serious endeavour with some 300 monks on site in the 12th century.
St Peter's Church is in the centre of the graveyard bordered. The Church was rebuilt at the end of the 12th century.
The chevet is decorated with four life-size statues set in niches: St Peter, the Virgin and Child, St James and St Michael. Above the entrance door is set a magnificent statue of St Peter, dating from the 13th century.
The interior has many paintings. Many scenes restored in 1865.The Abbey and St Peter's Church are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
On our 2011 visit to the Dordogne, we rented the Beauvert Cottage which is located about 20 minutes from St. Cyprien.
We found that St. Cyprient has a great market on Sunday mornings and of course it was the destination of my morning outing for fresh croissants. The travels books talk about an abbaye with cloisters. I am worried as there was a large sign on the road, near the church, which referred to the new "cloister apartments" - I sure hope a real estate venture did not replace the cloisters.
In the end, we were pretty busy using St. Cryprien as our base to travel around the area so we did not spend that much time, other than Sunday at the market, in the town.
So I have mentioned wine many times in our travels so of course our travels took us to Saint-Émilion.
Located in the Dordogne basin, Saint-Émilion is about 40 km east of Bordeaux. Now you can picture it on a map.
The town of Saint-Émilion is considered to be one of the most scenic sites in France. And while you may read this statement in many travel books, on our two visits here, we have always been taken with the beauty of the town and the country-side.
The golden tones of the linestone in the buildings give this a glow and colour that remains with you for some time. A breton monk, Émilion made his hermitage inone of the grottoes and then later Benedictinemonks founded a monastery. The town grew complete with defenses.
The Convent of the Cordeliers has a 14th Century Cloister. Off the Place du Marché are the windows of a church that was carved out of the solid rock that the town sits upon. The doorway of this church dates fromthe 14th Century, and the church itself was built by the monks in the 9th to 12th Centuries -- 300 years.
Also heading out from the Place du Marché you can reach the Place des Créneaux with its monastry buildings, the bell town of the underground church and there are cloisters.
Oh yes the wine. There are plenty of shops to visit. But, as pictured to the right I found the Vignobles & Chateaux shop. There it was a pleasing atmosphere and I was able to taste and buy wine. Patrick was gracious in showing me wine, and then selecting a range of wines that were in my price range which I must admit was lower than many of the wines of the store! And that is an important aspect as who wants to go to a wine store and leave because they can't afford anything.
He looked after everything to get the wines shipped back to Vancouver. Thanks Patrick! The did arrive in fine shape. All I had to do is mortgage my house to pay the duty. It was good to hear from him again years later. Yes, we will be back!
While in Saint-Ëmilion we stayed at Palais Cardinal which is one of our Great Places To Stay.
Sarlat is a medieval town build around a large Benedictine abbey. It is one of the most popular towns in the Dordogne.
Walk along the Rue de la Republique. It will take you along the full length of the old town. There are of narrow streets that lead off on either side. The cathedral is to the south-east of Sarlat, with the attractive Place de Payrou and Hotel de la Boétie. The Place de la Liberté all make the town very scenic.
Along the streets are impressive 14th and 16th mansions.
We visisted Chateau de Fenelon on our 2011 trip and enjoyed the time at the chateau very much.
The castle actually dates back to the 13th century. The buildings today are a result of 16th renovations. The castle was a Cathare stronghold during the 12 and 13th centuries and it went on to play a strategic role duing the Hundred Years War. The renovations and refurbishments which took place in the 15th century are in Gothic style and following this more fortifications were added for the Wars of Religion.
It is privately held, and the visit provides access the grounds and through numerous rooms on various floors of themain castle.
A good stop.
The Château de Marqueyssac is a 17th century chateau and gardens located at Vézac, in the Dordogne.
It was built in the 17th century by Bertrand Vernet de Marqueyssac, Counselor to Louis XIV.
Located on the on cliffs overlooking the Dordogne Valley it is known for its gardens, but we found on our 2011 visit that it is a great location for walking along the trails. Lots of elevation changes so while we are not talking about mountain climbing, this is not someplace someone short of breath would do very well.
Between 1830 and 1840, Julien Bessières constructed a chapel and a grand alley one hundred meters long for horseback rides. In the 1860s, the new owner, Julien de Cervel, began to plant thousands of boxwood trees - today there are over 150,000 - and had them carved in fantastic shapes, many in groups of rounded shapes like flocks of sheep. He also added linden trees, cypress trees, and stone pine from Italy, and introduced the cyclamen from Naples. There are five kilometers of waling trails.
After a period where everything fell into decay, in 1996 the gardens were restored.
The Castle Castelnaud is located where the Dordogne Céou rivers meet, between the towns of Domme and Beynac.
The walk fromt he parking lot, up the hill to the entrance of the castle, and then the many flights of stairs is worth it. It is an interesting castle to walk about, and it provides magnificent views across the surrounding countryside. You can see the Castle Beynac standing across the Dordogne River.
The castle was built in the 12th century. It is rich in history. The owner supported the cathars and got chased away by the Albigensian crusade of Simon de Montfort. Later taking the side of the English during the Hundred Years War, the chateau was a useful base waging war in the area. During the The Middle Ages attention was focused on neighbours such as the Chateau Beynac which you look at across the river valley.
The castle changed hands nine times between the French and the English, as each fought to control the region. The owners, the Caumont family, ended up moving to the much more comfortable Chateau des Milandes just along the valley.
The defense sysem of the castle is interesting. Inside there is a museum with battlements of the middle ages including a collection of arms and armaments.
We enjoyed our visist, but be aware, there is a fair bit of walking uphill to get to the castle, and three to floor floors of stairs to get up to the main floors... hey they built them that way for protection!