The surrounding region
Just some of the unusual sights jostling for space in this region are: bullfighting at Mont de Marson (the “course landaise” involves vaulting over the horns and the back of the charging animal); an eco-museum at Marquèze that shows how fishermen used to cross marshy ground on stilts; and Lourdes, a site of modern pilgrimage and miracles that is visited by about four million people annually.
Oysters from the Bassin d’Arcachon (approx 40mins drive) are world-renowned. The Bassin is a large natural lagoon and its oysters are said to be the best in France. But happily for me Arcachon also has great beaches and good sailing.
The Hungry Dune
Dune du Pyla is the largest sand dune in Europe. You can’t miss it. It’s immense. It also has a life of its own, and has already swallowed trees, a road junction and an entire hotel! But if this doesn’t scare you, then it’s worth getting a view from the top (approx 40mins drive).
The world surf championships take place on Aquitaine’s beautiful coastline – a fantastic sight if you like sport and the great outdoors. But if you prefer the comfort of a fine restaurant and a generous glass of satisfying red wine, then you are also in luck, as this is the largest fine-wine making region in the world
St Emilion is gorgeous medieval hilltop village, which is surrounded by endless vineyards that produce full-bodied deep red wines – handy for keeping the 50 or so local wine shops well-stocked. Interestingly, the cobbles on every street are English. Don’t miss the Église Monolithe, as this is one church that children might actually enjoy visiting, because it’s underground and carved out of the limestone. It dates from the 9th century and is Europe’s largest subterranean church.
More than just wine
Cosmoplolitan Bordeaux is best known for its wine, the region producing a staggering 44 million or so cases per year. But the city offers more than just wine, with its majestic architecture, fountains, bridges, street cafés and every kind of shop, it is well worth a visit to soak up the atmosphere. And don’t miss the ‘Maison du Vin’, a beautiful 18th century building offering free wine tasting.
Biarritz has classy origins. In the 19th century the wife of Napoleon III fell in love with it and built a palace on the beach. Queen Victoria, Edward VI and Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson have all been regular visitors since, so you’ll be in good company when you stroll along the ‘Quai de la Grande Plage’, sink a birdie on the golf course or ride the waves in the annual Surf Festival. The Musée de la Mer is worth a trip with the children. It’s an aquarium and whaling museum with seals and sharks in pools outside. Oh, and there’s also a Musée du Chocolat, but you’re probably not interested in that!
Dax is a warm and peaceful spa town where hot springs bubble at a constant 64ºc, and you’re positively encouraged to cover yourself in mud – a sight your children will find hilarious! Before leaving, stretch your legs along the banks of the River Adou or in the colourful public gardens.