The Atlantic Coast & Aquitaine

The Atlantic Coast & Aquitaine

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Let’s concentrate on the coast from La Rochelle, Saintes,
Cognac and Angoulême to the Phare de Cordioan, the lighthouse at the
mouth of the Gironde, and St-Emilion, Bordeaux and Arcachon. The Côte
d’Argent, the long stretch of coast from the Gironde to Bayonne, is
special, filled with tiny villages and seaside resorts. Mimizan-Plage
and Cabreton are worth a stay, as is Bordeaux, filled with treasures
and a history as the crossroads of European trade.

 

La
Rochelle is the largest yachting center on the coast, boasting a 15th
century Tour de la Lanterne with a great view. There are museums, an
impressive aquarium, towers on both sides of the harbor entrance, and
cobbled streets filled with souvenir-seeking tourists and seaside
restaurants during the summer.

 

La Rochelle’s
rival city, Rochefort, is located south of Ile d’Oléron (connected by a
causeway). Stop in Rochefort and see the Marine Museum or the
extravagant home of author Pierre Loti. A side trip to Ile d’Aix by
ferry will take you to a place where Napoleon was kept before being
sent to St. Helena. There is even an interesting Napoleon museum filled
with memorabilia.

 

The Romanesque church,
Ste-Radegonde, at Talmont with its apse shaped like the bow of a ship
is worth a visit. The town of white houses overlooks the Gironde and
the houses are covered with roses in summer.

 

Another
nearby center is the town of Cognac. Located on the Charente between
Saintes, with its Arch of Germanicus (9 A.D.), and Angoulême, Cognac
boasts some of the finest distilleries in the world. Otard operates in
a famous château where Francois I was born.  Remy-Martin offers a
train to show you around. But, my personal favorite is Hennessey. Here,
one can take a tour on both sides of the river and learn how cognac is
made. The visitors’ facilities are first class with films and souvenirs
and a chance to taste Hennessey’s specially blended product. Look for
the black lichen stains on the roofs. This, so goes the joke, is the
portion of cognac that goes to heaven.

 

Angouleme,
with ramparts overlooking the Charente, has a famous collection of
cartoon prints from Asterix, Tintin, Flash Gordon and Snoopy. It, too,
is worth a visit, especially with children.

 

South
east of Angoulême and due east of Bordeaux in a sea of vineyards is the
tiny town of St-Emilion. This is, by far, one of those towns you
shouldn’t miss. It looks just how an old country village should look.
But, there’s more to see than meets the eye. Walk to the tourist office
on the upper level, gather your maps and information, and descend the
narrow steps to the Place du Marché. Here, under a sun umbrella, you
can eat or drink in the atmosphere of one of the most pleasant towns in
France. Visit the wine merchants for a premier crus classe, or walk
through the narrow streets and medieval houses. Tour the Hermit’s Cave
or catacombs or climb to the top of the bell tower for a bird’s eye
view. There’s parking at the east end of the village near the school.

 

The
Aquitaine has the world’s longest beaches, the highest sand dune in
Europe, and the first paintings of the history of mankind. It has a
unique lighthouse, truffles, beauty and a certain joie de vivre. It has
been the magnet for tourists with some of the best beaches in Europe.
It is central to the history of France, often referred to as “the other
south.”

 

Bordeaux, while located about sixty
miles from the sea, is one of France’s major ports, dating back to
Roman times. Give it some time. It’s sprawling and important. Perhaps
the shipments of wine from Bordeaux dating back to the Hundred Years
War had something to do with that. Today, the Bordeaux region
encompasses almost 400,000 acres and produces about 45 million cases of
wine each year. Goods from the west flow into France through
Bordeaux.  Historically, this is the land of Eleanor and was once
part of England. Wars were fought over it. This was the city where
(Bordeaux) deputies, including Concordat, formed the Girondins, which
held a majority in the Legislative Assembly during the Revolution.

 

Bordeaux’s
main city center boasts broad avenues and tree-filled squares. Walk on
the Esplanade des Quinconces to the monument of the Girondins. It
commemorates those sent to the guillotine by Robespierre during the
Reign of Terror. Other sites not to be missed are the massive, restored
Basilique St-Michel, Museum of Fine Art at 20 Cours d’Albert and Musée
d’Aquitaine with relics from pre-Roman times.

 

Walk
along the tree-lined facades of the Quai. The mood is set by the
Garonne River, and the terraces provide a great view. Two majestic
buildings, the customs building and stock exchange, on Cours du Chapeau
Rouge date back to the 18th century. Also located close to the water is
the Classical-style Grand Theatre on the Place de la Comédie, crowned
by twelve huge statues of muses and goddesses. It is one of the finest
theatres in France. In the St. Andrews Cathedral, Eleanor of Aquitaine
married the future Louis VII. Her dowry consisted of practically all of
southwestern France. She took it all back when she was divorced and
later married the man who became Henry II of England. Before you head
south, visit some of the great wine producing chateaux like Chateau
Margaux, Cheval Blanc and Latour in nearby Pouillac in the Medoc. The
Bordeaux Tourist Office can tell you about available wine tours.

 

West
of Bordeaux is the resort town of Arcachon with a fine sea front
walkway, the Boulevard de la Mer. Just south of the basin is the Dune
du Pilat and other large sand dunes used as gun emplacements by the
Germans during WWII. It is a difficult ascent on foot, but the view is
worth the effort. Below, the Côte d’Argent, the world’s longest sand
beach and home of the first European surfers, awaits you. Resorts dot
the coast while the inland is almost entirely forested. This
under-populated area was once swampland. By 1970, the forest became a
nature park. At the southern end you’ll find Mont-de-Marsan, a French
bullfighting center where a less bloody version of bullfighting is very
popular.

 

Biarritz was once a whaling
port, but Napoleon III came here for a holiday in 1854 and made the
rest just history. Here, the place to be seen is the sumptuous Hotel du
Palais, but Biarritz has lost some of its glitter over the years. There
also is a promenade with great views of the Golfe de Gascogne and the
Basque country to the south. Rivaling the Côte d’Azur, Biarritz can be
a memorable place for a sunny beach holiday.

 

 

Arnie

 

 

Some important contact information

 

Aquitaine
Tourist Board
                      
(+ 33) (0)5 56 01 70 00 
                                                           
www.crt.cr-aquitaine.fr

 

St. Emilion Tourist Information (+ 33) (0)5 57 24 72 03

 

Bordeaux
Tourist
Office                       
(+ 33) (0)5 56 44 28 41


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