Does the Aquitaine region in France appeal to you? Then read on and it may help you decide if you would like to live in Aquitaine.
Where is the Aquitaine region?
Located in the south west corner of France on the beautiful Atlantic coast Aquitaine borders Poitou Charentes and Limousin in the north, Midi-Pyrénées in the east, go south and you come to the Basque country in the Pyrénées and Spain, westwards is the Atlantic Ocean. It consists of 5 departments : Dordogne (24), Gironde (33), Landes (40), Lot-et-Garonne (47) and Pyrénées-Atlantiques (64). The capital is Bordeaux – the wine capital of the world – situated on the Gironde estuary and the river Garonne; it is one of Europe's most important ports. With its rich history (neanderthal remains were found in a cave nearby) and thousands of 18th century buildings this city is also known as the 'City of Art and History'. It has a surprisingly spacious town centre and pleasant parks. Including the suburbs there are about one million inhabitants, mostly French but you will also find many Spaniards, Portuguese, Italians, North Africans and Germans. A large number of students (roughly 10% of the population) frequent the well-known university and numerous business+management, engineering, art etc schools. You may well bump into a laser expert as this is home to the laser technology (Laser Megajoule) and to the aeronautic industry + many large companies can be found here. Tourism is also on the increase.
What is there in Aquitaine?
If you are looking for variety this region has a lot to offer! Aquitaine covers a very large area and has a long Atlantic coastline with stunning beaches that seem to go on forever. Biarritz, St Jean de Luz – where you can have Thalassotherapy which can alleviate and maybe even cure some ailments - Bayonne, Hossegor and Arcachon are popular resorts for sun-worshippers and surfers. Further inland there are rivers, plains, lakes, forests and those endless vineyards. As Aquitaine is largely agricultural there are fields producing cereals and fields of sunflowers, orchards with apples, plums and so much more for here we find melons, apricots, strawberries, kiwis, fungi, truffles, tobacco and walnuts to name just a few products. In this region, where tourism is very important to the economy, you can enjoy many water sports as well as e.g. fishing, walking, cycling, mountain biking, skiing plus there are some good, affordable golf courses.
The Dordogne (or White, Green, Black and Purple Perigord) is well known for its '1001' châteaux - and caves - but be aware that these are not all fantastic palatial creations but any manor or fortified farmhouse as long as it has some turrets or a tower or two is called a châteaux. However, they can be very impressive, just take a trip down the scenic Dordogne river and you will see some wonderful examples. Aquitaine has an incredibly turbulent and fascinating history and its rich architectural heritage is apparent everywhere you go, not only in many picturesque towns and villages such as Sarlat, Domme and Périgueux with their narrow cobbled streets. The markets – there is even a snail market! - with an abundance of good local produce, the street musicians, the (Jazz) concerts, the fêtes and ( antique) fairs they all contribute to create a very special atmosphere.
Aquitaine's many vineyards produce some good local wines but also some of the most expensive wines in the world. St Émilion, a charming village with a wine cellar on every corner or so it seems, is in the heart of one of the four wine regions, the others are Médoc, Graves and Pomerol. Bordeaux is proud to host the wine industry's biggest event: the Vinexpo. However, France is now competing with other very successful wine producers worldwide and has recently has seen the number of growers declining.
Although Bordeaux is a large city the rest of the region is sparsely populated and largely unspoilt. Towards the south – Landes- the land is surprisingly flat with large pine forested areas until you come to the beautiful Pyrénées mountains, great for hiking and rock climbing or skiing in winter. In the Basque country you may well hear the Basque language and elsewhere in Aquitaine you may come across another language called Gascon which is similar to Catalan.
Climate of the Aquitaine region:
Spring normally comes fairly early, summer can be long and hot with short but heavy showers or thunderstorms. The sun often shines in this region and the winters are mild. In the Pyrénées the summers are hot and again thunderstorms are likely but it tends to rain more in winter and of course the temperature drops as you go higher. There is good snow cover, important for winter sports!
Property in Aquitaine:
Are there Brits in Aquitaine? Is the Pope a Catholic? Go as far back as the 19th century to the elegant city of Pau when English expats supposedly accounted for 15% of the population. However, until recently Aquitaine was not as easily accessible as many other regions in France and this may well be one of the reasons why prices have not increased as rapidly as elsewhere so finding a property that doesn’t break the bank is still possible. With some low cost airlines now serving the region this may all change! The Dordogne is a very different story. This beautiful department has long been favoured by foreigners and you will find many Brits here. Prices are quite high in this part of Aquitaine.
Food and wine in Aquitaine:
You may be under the impression that this region is all about wine, well, not quite. Certainly, Bordeaux wines (or Clarets), Sauternes (the sweet white dessert wine) and Armagnac brandies are excellent and important but this region is also known for a seemingly endless list of fabulous food so we will just mention : mussels & oysters, seafood, canard (duck) and goose specialities, pâté de foie gras, pâté Basque, crèpes, truffles, cassoulet (casserole with meat & vegetables), farm cured hams, soups and stews, potted pork& rabbit and of course the Basque country has its own specialities, not least of all paella. Wonderful soft cheeses and goat's cheese, cakes , fruit tarts, pastries and chocolates from Bayonne should keep the sweet toothed happy. Did your mum used to say that prunes are good for you ? Maybe she was right after all for Agen, the prune capital of France, is apparently also the happiest city in this country.
Getting to Aquitaine:
There are several airports with direct and/or indirect flights to the United Kingdom: Bordeaux Airport, Bergerac Airport, Biarritz Airport, Pau Airport, Lourdes Airport and Perigueux Airport. Some of the airlines that fly to Aquitaine are British Airways, Air France, easyJet, Ryanair and Flybe. So low cost airlines fly to Aquitaine from the UK but as always, beware of the low cost airlines, we do not know how long the service will last. You may find skyscanner a useful website when searching for flights.
There is a good road network and generally speaking the roads are not very busy except around the bigger towns and cities. To give you an idea : Calais - Bordeaux is about 870km and takes about 8hrs 30min , Cherbourg –Bordeaux 620km (using motorway) which takes about 7hrs or Caen – Biarritz using the motorway is about 750km and takes just over 8hrs.
As always you can travel by Eurostar to Paris. The TGV high speed train from Paris serves Bordeaux (3hrs), Dax, Bayonne, Biarritz, St Jean-de-Luz,and Hendaye (5hrs 20 min), it also serves Agen (4hrs) and even Orthez and Pau (5hrs). This route map of the high speed trains may be helpful. Regular trains also serve this region.