We head to Aquitaine in southwest France, where two départements reign supreme…
Looking for the best of all worlds? Vast and varied, Gironde could satisfy your dreams of a coastal bolthole, big-city living in the shape of regional capital Bordeaux, or adventures further inland. It’s the number one wine-producing area of France, home to world-famous reds and vineyards with UNESCO World Heritage status. With an Atlantic shoreline lined with sought-after beach resorts (including Soulac-sur-Mer, Carcans and Hourtin); plus the Bassin d’Arcachon and its oyster parks; and the extensive Forêt des Landes to be discovered, what’s not to like?
Driving to Gironde from the northern ports will take about six hours plus, via the A10. Rail links are good – especially since the recent introduction of the TGV Océane line, which means you can get from Bordeaux to Paris in two hours. Fly to Bordeaux or Bergerac airports from the UK.
Its location on the west coast has blessed Gironde with an ‘oceanic climate’. The area around Bordeaux tends to enjoy warmer summers and milder winters, compared to the coast, although it can be wet in the summer.
Bordeaux, with its thriving wine industry, attracts lots of international investors. Property prices have risen by 10%, though, since the new TGV service was introduced. There are still bargains to be had outside the city, with village properties from €200,000 to €400,000 and maisons de maître €450,000 and up. Bordeaux is one of the most affordable areas to buy vineyards: budget €800,000-€1 million and higher.
Of course a vineyard tour is a must when in Gironde, but the Atlantic coast also offers plenty of opportunities for fun – from sunbathing to surfing. Try a boat trip along the coast or explore Gironde’s estuary or Forêt des Landes by bike – or on foot. Local specialities include lamb, tasty local shrimps and oysters and Macarons de Saint-Émilion.
East of Gironde and centred around Périgueux, this rural inland paradise is hard to beat. Dordogne covers the former province of Périgord, its lush pasture is punctuated by storybook châteaux amid rolling vineyards, honey-hued fortified villages such as Bergerac and Ribérac – as well as incredible prehistoric sites, including a magical village cut into the cliffs at Les Eyzies. Historically popular with Brits, post-Brexit Dordogne is experiencing a resurgence in interest from house buyers.
This département is just 90 minutes from London by air and has three international airports: Bergerac, Bordeaux and Brive-la-Gaillarde. Its capital, Périgueux is served by a mainline train station with regular services to Bordeaux, Limoges, Paris and elsewhere.
Generally temperate, Dordogne tends to have warmer summers and cooler winters that southern UK. Local micro-climates due, in part, to the airstream coming off the Atlantic coast to the west mean that in the summer the band stretching from Bergerac to Ribérac has more sun than elsewhere in the region.
Property prices vary wildly across Dordogne. Generally speaking, it’s cheaper to buy in the north and in particular in the Périgord-Limousin Regional Natural Park. The south from Bergerac into the wine-producing areas, east to Périgord Noir and around tourist hotspots like Sarlat is where prices are highest. Traditional stone-built houses and village properties can cost between €200,000 and €500,000, while a gîte business will set you back around €400,000-€800,000. You could snap up a châteaux for anything from €500,000 (unrestored) to €4 million.
Gloriously rural, Dordogne offers plenty of cycling, hiking and canoeing opportunities for adventurous types. It’s also a must for history fans with masses of medieval hilltop towns to explore, as well as prehistoric marvels – such as the Grotte de Lascaux, packed with dazzling examples of cave art. With duck, goose, foie gras and black truffles on the menu, and Bergerac wines or a glass of sweet Monbazillac to sip, who could ask for more?
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